Tortilla Española

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Tortilla española is my favorite Spanish dish. It is usually served with other tapas, which when I cook usually means something simple like mushrooms or shrimp sautéed with garlic and parsley. This is a simple dish, with only three primary ingredients: potatoes, onions, and egg. Some traditional tortillas omit onion, but I love the sweet flavor it adds.

Equipment wise, all you need for this dish are a paring knife and a non-stick frying pan. I use a non-stick 10 inch T-fal pan which is perfect for this recipe. You will also need a large mixing bowl and two large plates, and a prep bowl is useful to keep a pile of salt at hand. The slicing step is much easier if you have a mandoline, but I cooked plenty of tortillas before I had one, too.

The total time from start to finish is about an hour and a half. Most of that time is spent waiting for the potatoes to cook and cool, so it is most fun to cook this with some wine and a friendly companion close at hand.


3-4  russet potatoes
2  white onions
4  eggs
1  cup olive oil
1-2  Tbsp. Kosher salt


First, slice the potatoes and onions. You can slice the onions in advance, but do the potatoes right before cooking, as Russet potatoes will darken if exposed to air for a long time. If you end up peeling or slicing the potatoes a little in advance, you can delay the darkening by wrapping exposed potatoes in damp paper towels.

  1. Slice the onions into 1/8 inch half rings. Separate the slices so the onions are not in clumps.
  2. Peel the potatoes and slice them crosswise into 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick slices.

Next, cook the potatoes and onions in olive oil. The idea is to boil them, not deep fry them. At the end of the process, the potatoes and onions should be soft, not crispy. In a traditional tortilla, the potatoes never brown at all. In practice, mine are usually a little brown, and this is fine. This is the most time consuming and messy part of this recipe.

  1. Pour the olive oil into a nonstick frying pan over medium heat, hot enough that the onions sizzle when they contact the oil, but not so hot that the potatoes deep fry and brown.
  2. Slide potato slices into the bottom of the pan by placing overlapping slices together to form a solid potato layer. Sprinkle with Kosher salt.
  3. Add a layer of onions on top of the potato layer. Sprinkle with Kosher salt.
  4. Continue alternating potato and onion layers, until the pan is full (you may have some excess potato and onion left over). Press gently down on the potato and onion mixture and carefully tilt the pan to distribute the oil as evenly as possible.
  5. Cook until the potatoes begin to break down and the onions are completely softened, about a 1/2 hour to 45 minutes. Turn the mixture mixture occasionally so that the layers on the bottom do not brown. Note that it is probably impossible to do this without spilling some oil.
  6. Remove the pan from heat, and drain the excess oil by pouring the mixture into a strainer. You can reserve the oil for further cooking; it is now nicely flavored with potato and onion. Set the potato and onion mixture aside to cool.

Next, prepare the tortilla for frying.

  1. Beat the 4 eggs in a large mixing bowl.
  2. After the potatoes and onion have cooled enough that they are no longer steaming, pour it into the beaten eggs, and mix to coat. You should end up with a cohesive, thick mixture of egg, potato, and onion.
  3. Set the mixture aside for 5-10 minutes.

Finally, cook the tortilla:

  1. Heat 2-3 tsp. of the reserved oil in a nonstick frying pan over high heat.
  2. Pour the egg, potato, and onion mixture into the pan. Shake to settle. Lower heat to medium high, and wait for the bottom to set (3-4 minutes).
  3. When the bottom has set (the top will still be raw and jiggly, but you should be able to shake the pan and see that the bottom has cooked enough that it is solid and able to hold its shape), it is time to flip the tortilla! First, remove the pan from heat. Invert a large plate over the pan and, in one motion, flip the pan over so that the tortilla ends up on the plate. It should be solid and slightly browned on top.
  4. Clean out your frying pan with a paper towel and heat 1-2 tsp of the reserved oil over high heat.
  5. Slide the half cooked tortilla from the plate into the frying pan, so that the bottom half can be cooked.
  6. Cook until the bottom has set. The tortilla should be solid, about an inch thick, and have rounded edges.
  7. Slide or invert the tortilla onto a serving plate.

Traditionally, tortilla is served at room temperature, cut into wedges. It is also delicious when fresh and hot, but you need to let it sit for at least 10-15 minutes as it becomes much easier to slice when it has cooled down and set a bit.

I've read that Spanish white wine is a traditional accompaniment for this dish, but I prefer red wines in general. In the past, I've enjoyed temperanillo blends. Another good idea is to mix up some sangría. I love it that the Spanish aren't anal about their wines like the French; this is a country where you can mix wine with fruit and sugar, and put the whole thing on ice!

Leftover tortilla is excellent for sandwiches on soft egg or onion rolls. This is a common bocadillo (sandwich) for lunch in Spain. If an inch of egg, potato, and onion is too much for you, you can carefully slice the tortilla in half lengthwise.

This recipe is adapted from Tapas by Penelope Casas, a great collection of tapas recipes. Penelope Casas is the author of The Foods and Wines of Spain, a more or less definitive cookbook for Spanish cuisine.

Andrew Ho (