Saturday, 27 July 2013

How to make an authentic Spanish omelette

I have been asked on numerous occasions exactly how to make that most delicious of Spanish delicacies, the potato and onion omelette. This is comfort food, Spanish style, and I generally end up making one a week. It's a versatile dish, though, and can be poshed-up for dinner parties. It also keeps, so any leftovers can be eaten the following day - in Spain it's common to eat a slice, in baguette-style bread, as a mid-morning snack. 

Anyway, as my mum swears she still hasn't mastered the operation (despite all my hints and tips throughout the years) I thought it was about time I wrote down, once and for all how it's done. I don't declare myself an expert, what I can say is that I have been making them successfully (with the odd blip) for over a decade and a half and R swears he's going to put me in for a Spanish-omelette-making competition come the fiesta season, so here goes:

Now, as for ingredients, the quantity will depend on how big and thick you want your omelette to be. However, for the novice tortilla chef, I'd suggest a smaller frying pan (no bigger than 24 cm across), and therefore a smaller omelette, as the flipping process can be a bit tricky, even when you've done it many times.

To start off with then, you'll need two medium sized potatoes, a small onion and five or six eggs. The potato-onion ratio can vary - there are quite a few Spaniards who even omit the onion altogether, I myself like quite a lot of it - but the egg-potato one is very important. You need enough eggs to cover the potato-onion mix once everything is in the bowl together, but not to drown it- bear this in mind when progressing to larger, grander omelettes! 

About the right ratio of potato/onion:omelette - if you're not sure how many eggs to use to begin with, start off with a few, you can always add one or two if need be

So, you need to peel and chop the potatoes. The pieces need to be fairly small, in cubes of about 0.5 cm, and fairly evenly cut. The onion should be finely chopped.

Next, heat a good finger of oil in the frying pan for the potatoes, which will be cooked in a couple of batches (sometimes even three for a monster omelette). I am well aware that using this amount of oil is completely offensive to the British psyche, but if you want the real deal, then that's how it's done. I've seen English recipes that boil the potatoes first, but this is a big no-no in my book - you don't get the same taste, plus the potatoes will stick once you get them in the frying pan. No, if you want the authentic tortilla de patata then get that oil in your pan! 

So, you need to cook the potatoes (sprinkled with salt) slowly, on a medium-low heat - the idea is not to brown then, or for them to be crispy, but instead to reach a squishy, melt-in-the-mouth stage. This is sometimes hard to tell, since they won't be changing colour much. I generally do the three-cube test - if I can try three of them in a row and they're all done to perfection, then that batch is done. You'll have to be patient though, as this process can take a long time.

While the potatoes are cooking, break the eggs into a large bowl and give them a good beating. As your batches of potatoes cook, add them to the eggs and give it all a good mix. The onion can be cooked with the potatoes if you have room, or after. If you cook it with the potatoes, add it about five minutes after and cook until it's soft and translucent, don't let it brown very much, or get crispy.

Once everything is fried and mixed together with the egg, empty most of the oil out of the pan, (the Spanish tend to keep oil for reuse, it's up to you) turn down the heat slightly and pour all the mixture into the pan. Leave it to cook until the bottom of the omelette is just starting to turn brown and can be gently unstuck from the frying pan with a spatula.

 Now, here comes the trickiest manoeuvre of the whole procedure - the first flip - and for this you will need a large, flat plate or pan lid - it needs to be bigger than the pan and as flat as possible. 

Cover the frying pan with it and hold it in place with one hand; with the other hold the frying pan and when you're ready, flip it all over so the omelette ends up on the plate/lid. I normally count to three to psych myself up before doing this, and do it over the sink since I've had some disastrous moments in my years of tortilla-making - cleaning up a omelette-gone-wrong is much easier if it's half fallen into the kitchen sink rather than onto the hob. However, let's be positive and assume that everything has gone swimmingly well and we now have our omelette sitting on the plate. Place the pan back onto the hob, and slide the tortilla back in there, using the spatula to help if necessary.

At this point, you need to tuck the edge of the omelette under so the tortilla is rounded into its authentic shape.

Tucking the edge under

From this point on, its easy: cook this side of the tortilla until it starts to brown and then keep flipping it until it's cooked.

However, since being here, I have discovered that traditionally an omelette will be made hours before it's eaten and taken out of the frying pan before the eggs have completely cooked - as it cools, so the eggs cook and the omelette solidifies. If you can get it right it means that you end up with a fluffier, lighter omelette instead of one that's heavier and dries out quicker (not so good if you fancy nibbling on leftovers the following day). This does need a bit of practice though, as there are lots of variables such as omelette size, how hot it got in the pan, how many flips it had and the potato-egg ratio. It's quite common practice here to eat an omelette with the egg still sightly runny in the middle, and many people prefer it that way. Personally, I also prefer this method, though I don't like it too gooey in the middle. If I can, I'll leave my tortilla for between one and two hours before eating and then enjoy it while it's still lukewarm with a plain salad and a generous dollop of mayonnaise.

For those who prefer not to wait, you'll need to keep turning the omelette over until it's cooked to suit your taste - you can poke it with a fork in the middle and peep in to see if it's done. Even if you do it this way, I'd still leave it to sit for five or ten minutes before tucking in.

As with all dishes, your tortilla will (should) get better with practice, or perhaps trial and error is a more correct way of putting it. Once you get the hang of it though, you can make them bigger, thicker and tastier. Enjoy!