Recently I wrote about Barrafina, in my opinion the best tapas restaurant in London. One of the dishes I didn’t write about is their tortilla. It’s a melting in the middle Spanish omelette that’s perfectly judged and makes an amazing quick dinner. However, I’d never managed to get mine to be good enough to warrant sharing with you – until now. Barrafina’s tortillas are remarkable in that they are thick and flavoursome throughout the whole of the tortilla, not just around the filling and they are never dry. The secret, a little patience – you leave the onions and potatoes in the egg mixture for 10 minutes (or up to a day) before cooking.
I discovered this trick almost by accident. I was making a tortilla for dinner and also making stock at the same time. I’d just been to the butcher and they’d kindly given me some free veal bones so I was very excited to make some veal stock. The veal bones were happily browned and I’d placed them in the stockpot with the browned vegetables and water. The stock seemed to be happily simmering away until just after I’d mixed together the slow cooked onions (regular readers will know how much I adore these onions) and the cooked potatoes together with my egg ready to go into the pan. Suddenly the stock pot bubbled over and start to spill. I tried to take it off the heat and in my usual clumsy way I spilt quite a lot of the stock over the electric counter top. I frantically tried to clean it up before the inevitable struck but lo and behold the stovetop fuse blew because the liquid had gotten into the wires. Fast forward twenty minutes and I’d managed to fix the fuse and the wires had dried out. I came back to my eggs (now absolutely starving) and discovered they had gone wonderful and thick as the starch leached out of the potatoes. They’d also taken on the colour of the onions slightly and you could smell that the sweet and savoury onions had permeated the entire mixture. It was the best tortilla I’d ever made.
It was around this time I also discovered the other mistake I’d been making. I had always struggled to get a really even cook all the way through the tortilla. I had tried starting on the hob and finishing in the oven, I’d tried all the cooking on the hob or all the cooking on the oven(which works brilliantly for my Quiche Lorraine frittata). I’d even once tried to flip it like a pancake but only succeeded in getting egg all over the walls (not a popular decision). The method of starting on the hob and finishing in the oven was the best, but, having now discovered how to get the egg mixture exactly how I wanted I was determined to solve this! Despite how much of a disaster the pancake flip was, I was convinced the only way to get an even cook with a melting middle was flipping the tortilla. So the next time I was at Barrafina, and after a few courage fortifying sherries, I asked the chefs whether they flipped theirs. The answer: flip onto a plate and slide back in. I tried this at home and was surprised to find that the runny egg on the top didn’t just spill out, instead it all slides neatly back into your pan – the only trick is a bit of bravery.
You can put whatever filling you like in the tortillas, I love how versatile the different flavour combinations are. My mum used to make really fantastic Spanish omelettes (although they were more of a traditional omelette than a tortilla). In fact, growing up I had the distinct impression a Spanish omelette was very grown up and sophisticated – not to say “a little bit fancy”. Mum would always sauté little cubes of potatoes with some onions, throw in some peas and maybe a little ham before smothering them in eggs. I loved them, and my favourite bit was the little bits of crunch you got from the potato cubes – the only problem was they got a little bit soggy because of the eggs. As a little bonus recipe, I’ve included below a way to have a crispy layer of potatoes on the top – really delicious and reminds me of home, especially with some honey, roasted garlic and paprika aioli (mayonnaise)!
Finally to round off how much I’m in love with this new way of cooking tortilla – it also makes it totally TimedEating. The slow cooked onions can be made a week in advance, the potatoes can be cooked days in advance or even be left over potatoes and the egg mixture wants to be left to muddle for up to a day (though 10 minutes is fine if you’re in a rush). You can then pull the whole thing together in 5 minutes cooking time – just like Nieves does at Barrafina.
- 2 onions worth of slow cooked onions (recipe here). You can also quickly fry red onions for 10 minutes if you don’t have any slow cooked onions.
- 2-3 large potatoes, in 3mm slices (or left over sliced pre-cooked if you want to use left-overs)
- 5 eggs
- Salt and pepper
- Any extra fillings you want (see below for suggestions)
- Skip this step if you’re using pre-cooked potatoes (then simply slice into 3mm thick slices). Heat some neutral oil (enough to cover the potatoes) over a low-medium heat until just simmering and add the potatoes. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until tender and ready to eat but not breaking apart. You could boil the potatoes if you don’t want to cook in oil but cooking in oil has two major advantages, firstly it improves the flavour but secondly cooking at a low temperature in oil draws the starch to the surface of the potato, this means it thickens the egg more when you leave it in.
- Drain and pat dry with kitchen paper, season the potatoes and leave to cool. Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat until homogenous. Season liberally with sea salt and add in the potatoes and onions. If you want a crispy crust of potatoes, reserve enough potato slices to cover the bottom of your pan.
- If you are using additional flavourings, you can either add now or add just before frying, it depends whether you want the flavour to permeate or to be little pockets of flavour (goats cheese) or slightly crispy (morcilla/black pudding). In any case, place the egg mixture to one side and leave for between 10 minutes and a day (if leaving more than 30 minutes then you should refrigerate it and take out 10 minutes before cooking so it reaches room temperature.
- OPTIONAL STEP: If you want a crispy potato top then lightly coat a pan with oil and lay the potato slices in an overlapping pattern on the bottom of the pan. Place two small knobs of butter on top of the potatoes and place on a low-medium heat for 10 minutes. The potatoes should crisp up and go golden brown.
- Turn the heat to medium high and add the room temperature egg mixture to the pan. If using flavourings you want to add last minute like cooked peas then add just before adding to the pan.
- Cook for 2-3 minutes until the edges are set and the bottom cooked. You should see a little bit of uncooked egg on the top. Take a clean plate and invert the tortilla onto the plate before sliding back into the pan. You may need to use a spatula to straighten the edges
- Cook for an additional 60-90 seconds and turn out onto a plate. Serve straight away. The centre should be slightly runny whilst the top should be golden. Goes really well with a crisp salad and some aioli.
Tip: It’s best to use a straight edged pan, otherwise the “slope” of the tortilla will make it slightly harder to put back into the pan once you’ve flipped it. It’s not a disaster, just a little harder.
Favourite flavour combinations: Traditional (as above), with crispy fried morcilla and peas and finally, my absolute favourite, manchego, spring onion and fried iberico ham. Play around as much as you like. If you like a certain cuisine, pick some regional flavourings and throw them in. I draw the line at gummy bears though – no-one should ever create a gummy bear tortilla – unless someone tries it and it’s delicious in which case you heard it here first folks!