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Tortilla de Patatas a.k.a. Tortilla Española


  • 4 lb large boiling potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 medium sized white onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 10 large eggs
  • 1 quart (approx) pure olive oil
  • salt
  • pinch cayenne pepper (optional)

Poach potato and onion slices in oil to just cover until potatoes are cooked but not falling apart. Use low heat and do not allow to brown. Drain and reserve oil for other uses.

Beat eggs just long enough to mix whites and yolks, add cooked potatoes and onion, season with salt, pepper, and cayenne, then mix taking care that potato slices do not break (use a rubber spatula and a folding action).

In a 10 inch frying pan, put enough fresh olive oil (not from the reserved oil above) to just coat the bottom and sides, heat until you see a little smoke, swirl to coat sides of pan again, add mixture from step 2 and carefully push down with spatula to make the surface flat. Turn heat down immediately to lowest possible, cover with a flat lid or platter and cook until golden brown.

Flip pan onto the lid to turn out the tortilla, slide back into the pan, cover again, and cook until the second side is golden brown. Turn tortilla out onto a platter.

TO SERVE: Cut into wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature. Garnish with olives and a dab of aioli if you want to.


The optional cayenne pepper (or a few drops of Tabasco) is a personal preference. But its purpose is NOT to make this dish spicy! If you use it, make it very little – it will perk up the flavor; if you ever make Hollandaise sauce, try it there too.

If you tried this recipe and:

  • Your tortilla looks like the one in the picture;
  • You can see layers of potato slices, not just one dense mass;
  • It’s moist, yet the egg in the center is set, not runny,

You did it right! If not, here are some things to watch the next time:

  • If egg stuck to the pan, you did not initially heat the pan and coating oil enough.
  • If the color of the surface is right but the egg in the center is not completely set (still runny), your heat was too high.
  • If the color is not even, i.e. very dark center and pale near the edges, your burner is too small for the pan. Try putting the pan over two burners and turn it every few minutes, so all areas spend some time right on top of the heat source. You can check progress of the browning by peeking: insert the rubber spatula between the pan side and the tortilla, then lift slightly to see what is going on.
  • If the egg is rubbery, you beat it too long.
  • If you cannot see layers of slices, you cooked the potatoes too long, so they are more like mashed potatoes. You did not use baking potatoes right?
  • The finished tortilla this size is commonly called a frittata in this country. Resist the temptation to cook it in the oven – you will end up with a dry, somewhat crumbly mess (that is the reason why very often you get a mediocre product in so many restaurants; a lot of cooks were taught that frittata is baked. Look at the definition on the introduction to recipes).

In Spanish homes, the tortilla is, of course, made much smaller. In that case. the low heat is not critical and the turning out and flipping are very easy. Just cook the potatoes as described above and make an omelette as you normally would, but do not fold it (i.e. make a little frittata).

Some purists insist that you should not add the onions (when I make it at home, the only time I use onion is when I have some already peeled left over from some other cooking session). In a restaurant scenario, where it is more practical to make the big one described above, the real contribution of the onion is its moisture. Some people like to add a little minced garlic in the initial cooking; that is OK too – a matter of taste.

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