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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

A Tortilla Is not a Potato Omelet!

I know it isn’t a world hunger size problem but I have been grappling with the Spanish tortilla for some time now. I am a fairly accomplished cook so if I prepare a dish two or three times I feel like I have it down. Not so with the Spanish tortilla. The tortilla is a very tricky species.

I ducked into a restaurant on Capital Hill last week which was featuring the food of Spain on their revolving menu. In the past I have been happy with the meals that I have had at this place. I ordered the tortilla. I even asked the waitress if this was a good call on my part and she reassured me that I was making a good choice. What I got was a potato omelet with a side of potatoes. Someone at that restaurant needs to take a trip to Spain to see first-hand what a tortilla is all about. A Spanish tortilla is not an omelet with potatoes inside.

A Spanish tortilla isn’t to be confused with the Mexican staple with the same name. A Mexican tortilla is a bit of maza harina, mixed with a little water, rolled out, and baked. The Spanish version looks like a pie made with eggs and potatoes. Like a piece of pie, you cannot make a Spanish tortilla to order in a restaurant. It is a fairly involved affair that takes at least 30 minutes if the potatoes have been prepared in advance. Restaurants in Spain have their tortillas displayed on counters or in glass cases. When you order they slice a piece off and throw it on a plate.

The potatoes must be cut thinly and sautéed in olive oil until they are tender. When the potatoes are ready you add in the beaten eggs. The tortilla must be cooked on both sides which requires flipping the whole thing in mid preparation. I have found that the easiest way to flip the tortilla is to turn it into another pan. Some people finish the dish in the oven to insure that it has cooked through thoroughly.

I topped my tortilla with caramelized onions for strictly esthetic purposes. I was fairly happy with the finished product. The problem now is that I have a 12 egg pie in my refrigerator—a cholesterol claymore mine. It would probably be safer to store plutonium in my apartment. I can actually hear my arteries hardening like the creaking timbers of an old ship. I can’t help myself, because a Spanish tortilla is something that I get a craving for every so often and I always give in. Instead of making this dish it would probably be easier to take another trip to Madrid.

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