Monday, August 31, 2009

The other tortilla...and a quick digression to Puerto Rico

Because "tortillas" are so prevalent in our society, as well as in a bunch of other societies (with Mexico leading the pack), the "tortilla Española" is a little confusing to Americans. This dish has nothing to do with flour, corn, or tacos. It is actually more like a potato and egg omelet.

I still don't know very much about tortilla Española, though my awareness of it has slowly increased in recent seems to keep coming up here and there. I first heard of it in about 2003, when Intermezzo (my main employer) almost ran a recipe for it but ended up cutting the article. has only two recipes for TE*, the earliest dating back to 2000. (Epicurious is the website of Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines, and has thousands of recipes in its database.) I think the TE is an ordinary, everyday food eaten throughout Spain in many variations; I don't remember eating it when I was there, though I think many bars offered little portions of it as tapas.

But finally, I did eat Puerto Rico. Scott and I went to San Juan and the British Virgin Islands last fall. In San Juan we stayed at this tiny, fabulous, really inexpensive guesthouse called Andalucia. It was in a great location with many amazing restaurants nearby. The neighborhood (Ocean Park) was not built up and touristy and just sketchy enough to be charming but not dangerous.

Across the street from Andalucia is a hugely popular bakery/restaurant/deli called Kasalta. We ate there every day for breakfast, most days for lunch, and after dinner each night we'd stop by on the way back to the guesthouse for baked goods to eat in bed while watching bad TV. The best thing we had there was a sandwich called the "Elena Ruth." This was a baguette with roasted turkey (like from a real roast turkey, not cold cuts), cranberry sauce, Swiss cheese and mayo, served toasted and warm. To many people who know me as a vegetarian and mayonnaise hater, it is no doubt very strange to hear me praising this sandwich. I could do a whole separate blog on the vegetarian thing, but the super-short version is, I sometimes eat meat when I'm traveling. And the Elena Ruth is amazing! We would take them to the beach with cans of Coke and a cookie for dessert. Sandy perfection.

But breakfast at Kasalta was also pretty awesome. This is where we first had the tortilla. I knew what it was by sight and by name: a thick, golden, firm cake cut into wedges (links to pics below). Served cold right out of the display case, the tortilla was a dense layer of egg and potato...mild yet nourishing, rich with olive oil, and just excellent with a cup of coffee.

Back to the present. I'd been thinking that potatoes were an ideal choice for a package-free carb, and a lot easier than rolling out pasta. The only problem is, I don't LOVE potatoes. I mean, they are fine, but...never my first choice.

But when I got my eggs from Mr. Milagro, it suddenly struck me that tortilla Española was kind of a perfect food. And with the inevitable addition of roasted hatch chiles--they are in everything I eat this month--it was sounding better and better.

I used a combination of a recipe in my big yellow Gourmet cookbook (probably the same one they have online) and the step-by-step instructions I found in this article. The first thing to do, in either case, was "poach" the potatoes (Yukon golds) in a huge amount of olive oil. How "poaching" in oil is different from deep frying, I'm not quite sure. But I did it. I sliced the potatoes ( method, and what I remembered from Kasalta) rather than dicing (Gourmet), heated up a huge amount of olive oil (which I'd recently bought in bulk from Wheatsville Coop) and added minced onion and the potato slices. Immediately I knew what I had done wrong--added too much stuff at once and lowered the temperature of the oil. So I removed half, and kept on poaching.

Apologies for this stupid picture. I was trying to reduce the resolution, and cropped out one corner instead.

When they were tender enough to eat, I transferred them with a slotted spoon to a strainer set over a bowl, added salt, and let them drain. Then I did the other half, strained them, etc. Then, though this put me at risk for third-degree burns, I strained the oil through a strainer and into a jar to reuse. The potatoes didn't seem to have absorbed that much.

Then I tossed up the potatoes with like, 4 or 5 eggs, a good amount of previously roasted and chopped hatch chiles, salt, and pepper. The mixture went back into the pot to cook.

Once again, I immediately sensed a mistake. I just KNEW that they were going to stick and that I would not be able to do the "flip" so beautifully illustrated in I needed seasoned cast iron without the high walls, and I didn't have it. Can you believe I don't have a cast iron pan? Ridiculous.

So I tried to flip it, spilled egg everywhere, swore creatively, and shoveled it as best I could back into the pan to finish cooking. Then, I "transferred" (scooped) the whole thing onto a plate for serving. It doesn't look like the About pictures, does it?

However! it was awesome anyway. We ate it for dinner, and I had it cold the next day for breakfast. Just goes to show you can totally screw up and still have a great meal. But I would like to try it again with the right kind of cookware and see if I can get the perfect little cake. Maybe I'll try to make minis in my nonstick omelet pan.

In the meantime, I urge everyone to go to Puerto Rico. It is a pretty cheap destination, the food is amazing, and you don't even need a passport.

*Just realized Epicurious has a few more recipes if you search "Spanish omelet."

1 comment:

  1. Oh! Oh! I had some of this at the Foodportunity thing. This Cap Hill Restaurant Dinette brought it. It was so f'ing good! I'm going to make this. Thanks...