Or “how to make a classic tapas dish with potato chips.”
(Apologies, faithful readers, for the unannounced hiatus. But the stove is turned back on now.)
There’s probably some people who will turn up their noses at the idea of using American junk food to make classic Spanish tapas. I’ve got two things to say about that. One, that’s more deliciousness for me. Two, if it’s good enough for James Beard Award winning chef Jose Andres – who is credited with bringing tapas to America to begin with – it’s good enough for me.
Mexican tortillas are flat things made out of wheat or corn flour. The Spanish conquistadors and colonists that arrived in Mexico saw the local women making flat cakes out of maize. It reminded them of the “little cakes” or “tortillas” made in their homeland. Of course, food culture being the prolific cross-pollinator that it is, it wasn’t very long before the potatoes of South America found their way back across the Atlantic ocean, ending up in Spanish tortillas.
Tortillas Espanola are very simply made with eggs, potatoes, and onions. Like an omelette, it can absorb some bits and bobs (Jose Andres includes pimentos and pancetta in his) but you have to be careful not to overwhelm the eggs holding it together. Personally I prefer the simpler version myself. In the old-school method, you slice the potatoes thinly and cook them slowly in olive oil. That takes away from the tapas tradition of being a small snack that’s easy to make to sell more beer. In this method the chips are hydrated back into potato slices with the moisture from the eggs and oil.
J. Kenji-Alt of Serious Eats uses salt and vinegar chips in his recipe, but I think salt and vinegar chips are vile. Still, it does demonstrate the versatility of the recipe. I just lifted his recipe for “Cheaty Aioli” directly from his site because it’s amazing (just try not to eat it with a spoon). The aioli is not just a traditional accompaniment, but is a mandatory sauce to this dish.
There’s a little bit of technique to this recipe, but it isn’t hard. Unlike a fritatta which is finished in the over, a tortilla is flipped. The easiest way is putting a lid on the skillet and inverting the pan so the tortilla falls onto the lid. Then slide the tortilla off the lid back into the skillet.
Spanish Tortilla with Potato Chips and Cheaty Aioli
Procs: A meal for two or apps for four
Time: 15 minutes
Difficulty: One weird trick
- Non-stick skillet, about 10 inches across
- Lid for the skillet, or at least about the size of the skillet.
- Mixing bowl
- Medium sized bowl (heavy ceramic is the most convenient, but any material is fine)
Kenji-Alt’s Cheaty Aioli
(This recipe comes directly from J. Kenji-Alt’s Spanish tortilla recipe.)
- 2 cloves of garlic, grated on a microplane or minced finely (because the garlic is such a key taste use fresh, not pre-minced, pre-peeled, or jarred)
- 1/2 cup of mayonnaise
- 3 tbsp of your best extra virgin olive oil. (No, I’m not gonna call it EVOO)
- 2 tsp of water
Potato Chip Spanish Tortilla
- 1 white or yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup of your not-best extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 5 eggs (or 6 if you need a bit more binding)
- 2 overflowing handfuls of potato chips, gently smushed. (About 3 cups)
- Kosher Salt (use a lighter touch than you might depending on the saltiness of your chips)
- Fresh ground pepper
Miniboss: Cheaty Aioli
Start here. Making the aioli first will let the flavors marry a bit while you make the tortilla. It will also be ready to go as soon as the tortilla is out of the pan.
- In the medium bowl, whisk together the grated garlic and mayonnaise.
- Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly as you go until it is blended in.
- Slowly drizzle in the water, whisking constantly as you go until it is blended in.
- Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Pour half the oil in the non-skillet on medium-high heat. Heat until the oil is shimmery and happy-looking. The smell coming off the oil will probably smell very nice.
- Add the onion slices and stir frequently. You want them soft and slightly browned on the edges. Once they are cooked, pour the onions and oil into the mixing bowl.
- Whisk the eggs and onions together. Season with salt and pepper. Again, use a light touch with the salt depending on how salty the chips are. You can always adjust the salt on the finished dish.
- Fold in the potato chips. Get them good and covered in the egg and onion mixture.
- Wipe out the skillet and add the other half of the oil. Return to medium high heat. When the oil looks shimmery and happy, pour in the egg mixture.
- Stir the egg mixture for 10-15 seconds, then even out the top with your spatula.
- Let the eggs sit for 2 minutes.
- Time for the “one weird trick”. Put the lid over the skillet and flip the whole thing upside down. Do this with confidence and authority. The cooked side of the tortilla will be up on the lid. Slide the tortilla off the lid and back into the skillet so the uncooked side is down in the skillet.
- Use the spatula to tuck in the edges of the tortilla in so it’s pretty. Let it sit for another two minutes.
- Flip the tortilla onto a cutting board. Cut into pieces and serve piping hot or at room temperature. If you haven’t eaten all of the aioli with a spoon then accompany the tortilla with the sauce.
I use two different kinds of extra-virgin olive oil in this recipe. Good extra-virgin olive oil has a complex taste: grassy, peppery, fruity, etc. All these flavor compounds get cooked off quickly, so you don’t want to use the really good stuff when you’ll be heating it.
Now, if all you have is a jar of store-brand extra virgin olive oil you can certainly use that without hurting anything. The Cheaty Aioli won’t be *quite* as good as it could be, but the argument could be made that it’s not real aioli anyway.
On the other hand, if what you have is a super-good (and pricey) extra-virgin olive oil then it’s worth adding a bottle of “cooking” extra virgin olive oil your pantry.