La Cocina Espanol: Tortilla de Patatas

When Dave and I finally arrived at our lovely little casita de madera in Villaverde, a town of approximately 20 people near los Picos de Europa national park, I was pleasantly pleased to discover we had a well-stocked little kitchen. No oven or fancy cookware, but a nice supply of the basics: two electric burners, wide sink, array of pots and pans, tiny fridge--perfect for our 5-day stay. For the whole trip, I'd been anxiously looking forward to getting out there to cook, but when game time rolled around, I totally dropped the ball, spending our first night sprawled out on the bed, headachey and carsick from several hours of driving on winding mountain roads (Dave eventually learned to be a mountain-driving pro, but that first day... phew...). Luckily, my funny honey put together a delicious, fantastic meal (chicken in alioli, or garlic, sauce) that left both of us impressed, but rather than starting the Spanish food posts with that, I'm going with the quintessential Spanish meal, and the first Spanish food I cooked: the humble yet delicious potato omelet.

The potato omelet, or tortilla de Espana, is a large, fluffy, and potato-stuffed, resembling more quiche than American omelet, which is thin and flat in comparison. It also has little to do with the American tortilla, a flatbread made from corn or wheat. You can get a tortilla de patatas in any bar in Spain, usually for lunch or dinner (breakfast in Spain consisting of little more than tea or coffee with a croissant or hot chocolate with churros), but it's not too difficult to make (unless you are una Americana trying it for the first time).

As usual, I followed the directions in Penelope Casas' The Food and Wines of Spain, which Dave and I pored over for the extent of the trip (she will get her own post in due time). Since the instructions were, essentially, slice and fry potatoes, beat eggs, fry and flip, I figured we would be on easy street (I was also hampered by not having a referential photograph). My tortilla de Espana turned out a little thin, a little crumbly, but quite delicious, with the sweetly charred potato bits setting off the simplicity of the eggs. In truth, it looked like any typical American potato omelet rather than the thicker, cakier version in Spain. Since I only discovered this upon my return to the homeland, and it tasted good anyway, Dave and I feasted, pleasantly naive.

Upon further research, I would suggest beating the eggs until they are very, very fluffy and doubling the number you think you would want (Dave and I went with four eggs, but should have either used a smaller pan or gone with 6-8). This will help the eggs rise a few inches and the potatoes to set evenly. Also, when cooking the potatoes, try to think of it as boiling in oil, rather than frying. The potatoes should be soft and loose, not cooked together (frequent stirring helps). I heavily garlicked my oil, since I love garlic, and omitted the onions, since I don't love onions. Flipping the tortilla also seems to be one of those things you need practice (and courage) to do correctly (and even then you might run into some trouble. See Child, Julia).

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 gloves of garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
1-2 large potatoes, washed, peeled, and sliced
8 large eggs
salt and pepper to taste

In a large frying pan, heat oil over medium-high heat until rippling
Add garlic, periodically crushing with a large spoon
When garlic is very lightly browned, remove and throw away
Add potatoes, stirring frequently until they are soft and thoroughly cooked
Remove potatoes and pour out oil (it can be saved and reused if you like)
Beat eggs until light and fluffy (a small amount of milk can be added, if desired)
Add potatoes to egg mixture and cook over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes
Using a plate or wide spatula (or your own wits), flip tortilla and cook the other side
When thoroughly cooked, flip again; both sides should be well-browned
Remove from pan and season with salt and pepper

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