Spanish Omelette (Tortilla Española)

I know that the world hardly needs another recipe for Spanish Omelet, or if we want to be authentic about it, tortilla española.  (Sorry, I was a Spanish major, I can’t help myself).

Tortilla Espanola (Spanish Omelet) (2 of 3)

It’s always surprising to me how much I love this simple dish–just eggs, potatoes, olive oil, with some onions to add some extra sweetness and complexity.  But like so many classics, it is one of those cases where the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts.  I make it so often that the word “tortilla” immediately brings this egg and potato cake to mind, rather than the Mexican version that is more like a crepe.

OK, so I love it–but back to the point, why another post?  Because over time I’ve figured a few tricks that might not be totally authentic, but certainly make things a lot easier for me.  Maybe they will for you too.

The standard technique requires you to flip the partly-cooked tortilla over onto a plate, and slide it back into the pan to cook the other side.  I’m always taken aback by this step.  Think about it:  one side of your tortilla searingly hot, the other runny with uncooked eggs.  Maneuvering a heavy, even hotter pan over a large platter.  Maybe I lack a certain grace and dexterity, but this often ends poorly for me, and even when I’ve pulled it off, the stress of the lead-up did not make for a relaxing kitchen experience.

And then, I really really hate thinly slicing that many potatoes.  They slip, they stick to the knife, they are hard to get evenly cut, and there’s a lot of them.  And then you have to do the same with the onion.

If you’re with me on either or both of these obstacles, keep reading.

Tortilla Espanola (Spanish Omelet) (1 of 3)

To avoid, quite literally, egg on my face,  I run the tortilla under the broiler rather than attempt feats of flipping.  I treat it like the frittata that it essentially is.  This works like a charm to finish off the tortilla, but with one caveat–it works really quickly as well.  You’ll have to keep a close eye so as not to overcook your tortilla at the home stretch.  It takes a few minutes at most, so your time hovering by the oven will be brief.

As for that chopping–I’ve found a mandoline to be essential.  If you’re adept with the knife, you can skip this, but I love the quick work it makes of things.  I am fully willing to admit that I spent a long time being terrified of a mandoline.  Given how liable I am to slice my fingers when merely peeling potatoes, I shudder to think…but my mother-in-law gave me a cut-resistant glove along with a mandoline and this was just the armor I needed.  Perhaps its more psychological than anything else, but that glove has me reaching for the mandoline without trepidation, able to take full advantage of the speed it offers while preserving my fingertips–and making tortilla more often than ever before.


Finally, unlike most members of the omelet family, tortilla is best enjoyed at room temperature.  If you allow it to cool before slicing, it firms up nicely and each savory triangle releases from the skillet that much more easily.  Enjoy as is, or even on a baguette for a delicious sandwich.

Tortilla Espanola (Spanish Omelet) (3 of 3)

Tortilla Española (Spanish Omelet)

  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 lbs potatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 6-8 eggs
  • kosher salt to taste
Peel the potatoes, slice as thinly as possible and halve or quarter the slices (depending on the size of the potato).  Do the same with your onion.  I find it easiest to halve the root, then slice thinly, then halve the resulting slices.
Heat the oil in a 10-12 inch heavy skillet (I prefer cast iron).  Drop a slice of potato into the oil.  When bubbles form at the edges, the oil is ready.  Add the potatoes and onions all at once, and cook over low heat, stirring frequently.  You are more poaching the potatoes in the oil rather than frying them, which is why you want to cook over a low, gentle heat.  This also minimizes sticking, (though I admit I always have some potatoes that cling to the pan).  Stir frequently to bring the cooked potatoes up from the bottom and turn the uncooked potatoes into the oil, ensuring that everything cooks evenly.  The potatoes will go from opaque to hinting at a shimmering translucence.
When the potatoes are cooked, drain them over a deep plate–you’ll be reserving the oil.  As they cool, crack your eggs into a large bowl and beat them lightly.  Pour a few tablespoons of the reserved oil back into the pan and heat.  When the oil is hot, dump the potatoes into the eggs, turn them to coat, and pour into the pan.  Pat the mixture out evenly over the surface of the skillet.
Place a rack at the top level of your oven and heat the broiler.
Cook gently until the tortilla firms up around the edges, then slide under the broiler.  Depending on how long your broiler has been preheating, this could take just two minutes or up to 5 minutes.  Check after two minutes and every minute thereafter.
Remove, allow to cool to room temparature in the skillet, slice and serve.
Note you can reserve the extra oil in the refrigerator for other uses, though I admit I’m not very good about re-using it, despite best intentions.  The prolific use of olive oil makes this dish a bit of a luxury, but I still find it worth it.

Tortilla Espanola (Spanish Omelet) (1 of 1)-2



21 thoughts on “Spanish Omelette (Tortilla Española)

  1. I had forgotten all about this! And yet, it was one of the first things a roommate and I learned to cook after college.. We a couple of disasters (nothing QUITE like the fiasco of handmade Chinese noodles on the ceiling, but that’s another story). You’re irght about the room temp thing, although now am at an age when I don’t necessary want a delicious omelette waiting for me to casually pass by and… Good post. Ken

    • Hmmm, Chinese noodles on the ceiling, that sounds like quite an intriguing story! You’re right, this isn’t exactly a light meal, but it sure is good.

  2. I used to cut potatoes with a knife but about seven years ago I learned from a friend to use the “mandolina” and I do love the result. Really a good hint Sara. Another thing I used to do was to put salt to potato when it was already poached and blended with eggs, now, I put salt when I add potatoes to oil and there is a great difference. The flavor of potatoes does really improve a lot.

  3. This looks delicious! I just need to get over the idea of…did that really say 1 cup of oil?! 😉 Seriously, though, my hubby and I would love this!

    • I know…which is why I mentioned it can be reused, supposedly (not that I had helpful suggestions). Not sure if it’s the expense, but if your concerned about calories, I can tell you a lot of it really does drain away. It’s really worth it!

  4. Hi there, lovely post. I am from Valencia, Spain and make tortilla de patatas every week, tortilla de patatas since tortilla is like frittata in Italian you usually accompany it with the things you put inside, so being strict you would call this one you are featuring tortilla de patatas con cebolla. You can make tortillas of whatever you like.
    I do not know what a broiler is and I do not use one to flip it over, I use something very simple a plate that fits on my pan, turn over the tortilla and slip it back to the pan and voila there you go you have flipped it over in an easy way. I have never heard of anybody hear using the oven to finish your tortilla that was funny.

    • A broiler is a heating element on the top of the oven that you can slide food under–sort of like the reverse of a grill. I have been meaning to try tortilla with other ingredients but this is so good all on its own…

  5. Love ‘tortilla de patatas’ as well. Great recipe. I have been living in Spain for the last 7 years and a trick for flipping the tortilla, a true blooded Spaniard taught me, is to use a frying pan or a skillet that has a lid that fits and use the lid instead of a plate. It fits perfectly and using the handle makes it all much more steady. I hope this helps.

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