One of breakfast’s best characteristics is its flexibility. Nearly anything can be breakfast, whether it’s sweet or savory, snacky or grand. But rarely can breakfast food take on the role of happy hour accompaniment; marinated olives, beer cheese, fried almonds, and corn nuts stand firmly in the realm of bar nibble. But Spanish tortilla, or tortilla española, is here to challenge that. A Spanish tortilla is a bit like the Italian fritatta, the main difference being in the mandatory and enthusiastic presence of potatoes. Sliced thinly and fried until tender in olive oil, potatoes make up the body of tortilla española, with eggs taking a supporting role.
The result is pleasantly dense and rich, just the sort of thing you might like to nibble on in small wedges or cubes as you sip a glass of wine. And in Spain, that’s exactly what you do. There, tortilla is not a breakfast food but a tapa, something to set out with the olives and beers—and it is never eaten hot, but at room temperature or even cold, straight from the fridge.
Spanish tortillas rarely contain anything but potato and egg, save maybe for a bit of sliced white onion fried along with the potatoes. But it made me think of my other favorite Spanish snack, patatas bravas, the little fried potatoes with pimentón, served with garlicky aioli.
This recipe gives you the option to combine the two tapas into one smoky, slightly spicy tortilla—but you could also leave out the pimentón, tomato paste, and cayenne and make a traditional tortilla, if you like. It’s the perfect make-ahead dish for a lazy weekend brunch party. Just slice and serve with coffee, beer, or a flute full of of cava-topped sherry.
Photo by Caroline Lange
Note: Tortillas are classically made entirely in the pan, a process that requires the cook to flip the tortilla halfway through in order to ensure that it cooks evenly. As you might expect, this requires some practice. I skirt a possible flipping disaster by finishing the tortilla in the oven.
3 large russet potatoes, about 1 pound, scrubbed (you can also peel if you like, but I leave the skins on)
2 teaspoons pimentón (hot smoked paprika)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup olive oil (this sounds like a lot, but you’ll actually drain most off)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
8 large eggs
For the garlicky mayonnaise
3 big cloves of garlic, minced
Fat pinch of kosher salt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
How to Make It
Preheat the oven to 350° F and pull out a large cast iron pan; I use an 8-inch pan.
Thinly slice the potatoes and toss them with the pimentón, cayenne, and salt. Meanwhile, preheat the cast-iron pan over medium-high heat.
When the pan is very hot, add the oil; it should immediately begin to shimmer. Carefully add a slice of potato to the hot oil. If the oil begins to bubble vigorously around it, add the rest of the potatoes; if not, wait a few more minutes for the oil to really heat up.
Fry the potatoes in the oil until they are just tender, turning them every few minutes so that they cook evenly. While they fry, crack the eggs and whisk them together in a medium bowl.
Remove the fried potatoes to a bowl and drain all but 2 tablespoons of the oil very! carefully! into a glass jar or an aluminum can. (You can reuse this oil to fry other things, if you like, as long as you don’t mind that they’ll taste like pimentón—chickpeas or carrots or both would be very good!)
Return the pan to the stove over medium heat, add the tomato paste, and stir well to combine until the oil and the tomato paste are more or less unified. Pour the tomatoey oil over the potatoes, toss gently to combine, and then add the potatoes back to the pan. Pour the eggs over the potatoes, then set the pan in the oven.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the center is just set. Let cool until warm, lukewarm, or cold, then invert the whole shebang onto a large plate or serving board. (Gently loosen the tortilla from the sides and bottom of the pan with a knife or a spatula first.) Slice into wedges or squares and serve.
If you’d like, serve it with a dollop of garlicky mayonnaise: Sprinkle the minced garlic with a big pinch of salt and use the edge of your knife to scrape it into a paste by pressing the edge of the blade down and pulling it across your cutting board.
Stir the garlic into the mayonnaise and let it sit for at least 10 minutes before serving with the tortilla.