this has been my mission. to leave no pan unturned, no eggs unflipped. to conduct countless hours of questioning and listless field research. I will slice. I will sauté. I will beat, pour, wait. -inhale- flip, and eat. I spent 11 months in spain, and have a lifetime ahead of me- as an introduction became a desire, an affirmation is consummated, an embryo becomes a fetus becomes a silhouette becomes a heartbeat. I will at the very least come to understand the simple perfection that is- the tortilla de patata.
notes from the field (del campo):
“If you asked all of us teachers to make a tortilla, you would end up with 20 different tortillas- each person thinking there’s is the best.” so then what makes each one different? “It depends. It depends on how you cut the potatoes, on how many eggs you use, on how long you cook the onion… do you use onion by the way?” this was a question? I couldn’t help but question the integrity of a dish where you could reduce the list of ingredients by 1/3 and it was still acceptable. “Mine though…mine is the best.”
-Esther Hernandez, 1 nov 2013, teacher’s lounge.
“The secret?” They looked at each other and laughed. “Lots of practice, right?” She agreed. “I’ve been making tortillas everyday for about 8 years. It’s practice, and knowing just what each one needs,” she spoke of the omelet as if it was one of the students she served, sincere and frank.
-cafe de IES Manuel de Falla, 31 oct 2013
“The tortilla has 4 main ingredients- eggs, potato, onion, and love. The last one, that is the secret.” I gave him a sideways glance, the one that says- that was cute, now get real and tell me the damn secret.”Ok, my secret? My said, lowering his voice. “You must have very high heat. And patience. And when it’s time, make sure your moves are quick and direct.” he imitated flipping the tortilla as I sipped my caipirinha, wondering if we were still talking about cooking.
-Alvaro, arguelles, madrid. 6 nov, 2013
“This one. This is crap.” He said, as he grabbed a slice of the free tortilla and took a bite. “It’s crap but I am hungry.” I asked him why. “You try,” he said, handing me a slice. As I bit into it I was both angry and overjoyed. It was crap! And I could tell that it was crap! I felt like a novice wine drinker, spitting out an immature red for the first time at a tasting. I felt like a sailor finally gaining his sea legs, standing tall and unwavering during the storm. It was crap, CRAP I tell you!
-4 nov 2013, malasana, madrid.
As we sat in the plaza that night, surrounded by the pure history of Madrid- narrow streets, stone churches, street lights barely illuminating secret stone pathways down narrow alleyways, public fountains decorated with blue and white tiles, intricate ironwork showing faces and inscriptions. People moving along, basking in the moonlit of a cool autumn Sunday evening. Couples lost in embrace. And as he leaned over he pointed, and with all the reverence of a conquistador, finally bringing into vision the land he was seeking… and I knew he was going to share with me a secret of this mysterious city. “There,” he pointed, speaking slowly, with reverence. “There is where you will find the best tortilla in all of Madrid.”
-Xico, 13 October 2013, plaza de la puerta cerrada, madrid.
“so i hear this is where you come to have the best tortilla in all of madrid,” i asked, with a smile on my face. the waiter’s face turned from playful to grave in an instant. i was confused. “i must be honest- you cannot find that here. but i will tell you that everyone in all of spain will agree on who makes the best tortilla in all of the country,” he said. i leaned in. “their grandmothers.”
-juana loca, la latina, madrid, spain.
so here, i suppose, is the fruits of my research:
3 large potatoes (of the russet variety or similar)
1 medium spanish onion
olive oil. lots of it.
peel potatoes and slice into slices about 1/8″ thick and about the size of half-dollars or so. slice onion, thinnish. heat a medium-sized, non-stick frying pan on medium high heat with some oil in it. add sliced potato and onion and enough oil to nearly cover them, about 1/4 cup of oil (really). add salt (don’t be shy here- we have 4 ingredients. the salt marries them all together.) cook, for about 25 minutes, or until the whole troop is soft and salty and maybe a few parts are slightly golden. flip only when necessary- mostly let these all sit and meld together into a love circle of magic. (this is a loose translation or a very technical spanish cooking term, of course.)
when potatoes are tinder, strain potato and onion mixture through a metal colander over a bowl, capturing all of the residual oil (this can be reused on any dish, just keep in mind that it will be quite onion-infused.) let these sit and cool and mesh.
once they are cool, crack all eggs into a bowl and add just the teeniest splash of cold water. beat like crazy.
slowly mix in egg and potato- do not beat anymore, just mix.
heat pan over med to med-low heat. add a tiny pinch of the infused oil. once hot, pour in egg-potato-onion mixture all at once.
this is where things get serious.
shake pan gently as this cooks, letting the heat permeate evenly but the mixture not get too attached to the pan. slowly begin to work a spatula or other such tool around the edges, peaking to see how things are firming up as you shake gently.
grab a round plate that will fit inside the frying pan, covering the surface of the tortilla. when the tortilla is just firm but still quite raw on top, place plate upside-down over tortilla.
with one hand pressing plate tightly to the pan, FLIP the whole sha-bang over. don’t be scared, don’t hesitate. DO IT.
you should have a semi-done tortilla on the plate, raw-side down. now shimmy the raw side onto the frying pan so it begins to cook. begin to work the sides of the tortilla with your spatula, gently tucking in the sides and consequently puffing up your proud little tortilla.
after just a few minutes it will be done. the ideal tortilla is still runny on the inside but just firm enough to stay together. slide back onto the plate, let sit for 5 minutes.
slice, share, eat, die.