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FOOD & DRINK

Recipe: How to make a classic Spanish tortilla de patatas

This is how to make a perfect, and utterly delicious, Spanish torilla.

Recipe: How to make a classic Spanish tortilla de patatas
Photo: Federico Galarraga/Flickr

For many, lockdown is proving the perfect opportunity to improve culinary skills and what better dish to start with than the simple and yet utterly delicious Spanish classic, the tortilla de patatas.

The Local  asked food blogger and expat chef Carla Bigio to explain the secret to making a delicious tortilla de patatas.

The simple yet hugely satisfying potato omelette is the staple of practically every Spanish menu, from the hole in the wall bars to the fanciest of restaurants. 

But it is also a dish that divides opinion like no other – onions or no onions? and runny or dry? being the two most debated questions when it comes to the popular dish.

 The Local asked American expat chef Carla Bigio, who lives in Barcelona, to share her recipe with us. 

Bigio lives and works in Barcelona, where in 2004 she opened her own restaurant. These days, she teaches people to cook mouth-watering Spanish recipes both from home and from a cooking school in the city. 

Tortilla de patatas (serves four) 

Ingredients 

Six eggs

Two potatoes, peeled, cut in half, and sliced horizontally

One large onion, sliced

Salt

One litre of olive oil (trust me on this)

The process 

In a large stockpot over medium high heat, add 3/4 litres of olive oil. When it is hot but not smoking, add the potatoes and onions. Lower heat to medium. Cook, poaching the potatoes and onions until the potatoes are fork tender, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, crack your eggs and beat. Add salt. At this time, get all the things you are going to need for the tortilla. A large plate, two frying pans, one medium, one smaller (optional). IMPORTANT NOTE:  THEY MUST BE NON-STICK FRYING PANS. If not, your tortilla will stick and the whole process is ruined.

When your potatoes and onions are done, strain them, reserving two tbsp of oil. Let them cool for at least 10 minutes. When your potatoes are cool enough to touch, then mix them in with your scrambled eggs.

In a medium frying pan, add one tbsp of your reserved oil. Heat over medium heat until almost smoking.

Now add your egg and potato mixture, and as soon as it hits the pan, start stirring the eggs so that they coagulate and the uncooked part goes to the bottom, and you get some cooked egg on top……like this:

Simultaneously, as you are stirring the centre, with your wooden spoon, drag it along the edges to make sure that it is drying up.

This enables you to make sure that the tortilla is not sticking on the edges, so it will flip loosely onto your large plate. Keep doing these movements until you see little runniness in the middle, and it seems like it is drying up.

When you feel that there won’t be enough egg mix lost when you do “The Flip”, then place your large plate (it must be larger than the circumference of your frying pan) on top of the pan,

And with a flick of your wrist, flip the tortilla onto the plate, and then slide back into the frying pan.

At this point, you can choose if you want to place it into a smaller frying pan. I learned this tip from a proper Catalan, who said always move your tortilla into a smaller frying pan to get that nice rounded shape.

If you do switch to a smaller frying pan, then add the remaining one tbsp of olive oil, and heat over a low flame. Either way, if you do or you don’t, you have to start to tuck in the edges of the tortilla, to give it a nice round shape on the edges. And, now the key is if you want it a bit runny, or “JUICY” as they would say here, you either cook it for two more minutes, or seven more minutes. Since I like mine in between, I cook it for five more minutes.

Slide it back on a clean plate, let rest for at least five minutes, and serve warm with nice crusty tomato bread.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

 Carla can be found blogging at Expatchef where she shares her favourite recipes from Spain.

We also love this video from Robert L Strauss and his daughter, who learnt how to cook a tortilla (with onions) while studying Spanish in Barcelona.

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FOOD & DRINK

Where can you get free tapas in Spain?

Not everywhere will offer you free tapas in Spain, but there are some cities where the tradition lives on. Read on to find out where they are, how you can get a free 'tapa' and the slight differences between each place.

Where can you get free tapas in Spain?

Tapas are an important part of Spanish culture, not only because of the gastronomical aspect but because of the social aspect of sharing dishes too. 

The word ‘tapa’ – meaning ‘lid’ – is thought to derive from a 13th-century law passed by a Castilian king requiring taverns to serve food with alcohol, perhaps in a bid to avoid inebriation of the serfs.

A ‘tapa’ was a small plate of ham or olives used as a lid to keep insects and dust away from a drink and usually came free. 

The tradition of free tapas has died out across much of Spain, but there are still some cities where it is alive and well. Most of these cities can be found in three regions – the eastern part of Andalusia, Castilla y León and Galicia. 

READ ALSO: Fourteen classic Spanish dishes to celebrate World Tapas Day

Granada

Granada is the undisputed king of free tapas in Spain, famed for its offerings which can be anything from a piece of Spanish tortilla to almost a whole meal, such as a mini burger and fries or small fried fish. It works like this – each time you buy a drink, you will be given a free tapas dish. If you order consecutive drinks in the same bar, each of the tapa dishes you get will be different. Free tapa will come with everything from beer and wine to soft drinks and sparkling water, but not with coffee or tea. Keep in mind that the price of drinks in Granada is slightly higher than in some Spanish cities, which helps to cover the cost of the food.

Calle Navas, Calle Virgen del Rosario and the area around the Cathedral offer some of the best tapas in the city. Remember that if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, ask for una tapa vegetariana o tapa vegana. While most bars in the city should have a suitable alternative, some of the more rough and ready ones might not, or you may just get something simple like bread and cheese. One of Granada’s best-loved vegetarian tapas dishes is berenjena con miel (deep fried aubergine drizzled with treacle). 

READ ALSO: What to order at a restaurant in each region of Spain

Almería

Just southeast of Granada on the coast, Almería is another of Spain’s great free-tapas cities. The tradition is a little different here than in other Spanish cities because you get to choose your tapa instead of just getting a surprise. Many of the tapas menus here are vast and you’ll be spoilt for choice. It could be anything from a goat’s cheese and caramelised onion montadito (small sandwich) to paté on toast. Almeríans love their toast, so don’t be surprised if you find many different variations of topped toasts on the menu.

You’ll also have to speak up here, waiters will often come over to ask for your drink order, but not come back and ask for your tapa order. It’s best to tell your waiter what you want when your drinks arrive.

You may be able to get a free pulpo (octopus) tapa in Galicia. Photo: MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP

Jaén

The city and province of the same name to the north of Granada is also known for its tapa gratis when ordering a drink. Like in Granada, here you’ll be given the tapa of the house and generally won’t be given a choice in what you get. The prices of beers here are not as high as in Almería, but tapas portions are generally pretty generous, meaning you can easily have enough for dinner by going to just a few places.

Dishes here may include a plate of migas (fried breadcrumbs or flour with pieces of meat and fried peppers) or morcilla (blood sausage or black pudding). You can try asking for a vegetarian or vegan tapa here too, but the bars may not be as accommodating as the ones in Granada and may not have so many options, although they will try with what they have. 

León

It’s not just the eastern provinces of Andalusia where you can get free tapas. One of the best foodie cities in northern Spain that has carried on this tradition is León. Some of the most typical tapas dishes you may be served here include patatas leonesas (León-style potatoes), or morcilla de León (blood sausage or black pudding from León).

During the pandemic, a few bars in León started charging around €0.30 to €0.50 for tapas, but you’ll be happy to know that the majority of them still offer it for free. Bars will generally charge less for the wine, beers and other drinks here than in Granada too. The best places to go are around the famed Barrio del Húmedo or the Barrio Romántico. There are even some bars that will offer free tapas with your coffee order for breakfast here, which is unheard of elsewhere. 

Ávila

In almost every bar in Ávila you will be served a free tapa along with your drink. You’re unlikely to be served a simple piece of bread with a topping, here the dishes are almost like mini meals. Much of the cuisine here is based on meat, so you might expect a small plate of stewed wild boar or kidney with potatoes.

You will also find that they’re pretty big compared to free tapas in some other cities and filling too, but along with that, you will be paying slightly above average for your drink. The best street to head to for free tapas here is Calle San Segundo.

Alcalá de Henares

There may only be some bars left in Madrid that will offer you a free tapa with your drink, but head just east to the student town of Alcalá de Henares and you’ll find that they’re given out freely. Lots of places here will let you choose what you want too. You’ll pay above average for a caña here, around 3, but for that you’ll get a fairly decent tapa which could include patatas bravas, burgers or scrambled eggs with potatoes.

READ ALSO: Top ten Madrid bars serving free tapas, one for each barrio

Santiago de Compostela

When you’ve finally completed the Camino, what could be better than sitting down to a nice cold beer and plate of free tapas? The majority of bars here offer simple tapa such as a piece of bread with some type of meat on top, such as jamón or sausage or a small slice of tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette).

Lugo
Another Galician place, known for offering free tapas is the walled city of Lugo. Here you’ll be given a free snack with your glass of Albariño wine or beer. Lugo’s tapas scene works differently from elsewhere too, here a waiter will come around with a tray of various types of dishes and you’ll select the one you like the look of best. These may include anything from pulpo (octopus) to empanadas (Galician-style pies), tortilla rellena (filled omelette) or anchoas (anchovies).

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