Tortilla de Patata is to a Spaniard what the Sunday roast is to a Brit: the key ingredients are basically the same in every household, but the devil is in the detail… and nobody makes it quite like mum.
Some like them slightly runny in the middle (strongly recommended), others like them fully set; some like them thick, other prefer them thin…
In short: there are as many ways to make tortillas as there are Spanish families, and there are usually heavy discussions about who’s mom makes the best.
The very basics are potatoes, eggs, olive oil and salt. For me (and I like to think the majority of Spaniards) onion is an absolute must.
But patatas are not low carb, so what to do!?
I need to tread carefully here – to some this might sound like sacrilage, but hear me out.
The trick is cauliflower – yes, cauliflower. It doesn’t have the (faint) taste of potato of the traditional tortilla (obviously), but not only does it deliver a delicious tortilla that (almost) tastes like the original, but it also looks exactly like one.
I mean, if some people go the length of calling “tortilla” odd creations with ham and cheese what is so wrong with a little cauliflower?
The two key things to bear in mind with this this version of the tortilla (as with the real one) are:
- It’s almost impossible to over-salt it, so do be generous with the salt! I was taught you need to add a generous pinch of salt for each of the ingredients: a pinch for the onions, another for the cauliflower, and one for each of the eggs.
- Absolutely never finish the tortilla in the oven – tortillas are flipped. It sounds scary but it’s very simple (details in the method below).
It’s hard to believe that something as simple and with as few ingredients can be so delicious.
I propose 2 ways to prepare the ingredients – one by steaming the cauliflower and one by frying it. Both take around the same time, but the frying version is slightly more hands on because it requires you watching over and moving the vegetables around as they fry. I don’t always bother with this method, but if you can be bothered it’s the recommended way!
- 1 medium-sized cauliflower
- 1 medium onion, diced into small pieces
- 6 eggs
- Plenty of Maldon (or Kosher) salt
- Plenty of extra virgin olive oil (200ml or so)
Preparing the Vegetables Method 1 – Frying only
This is the more delicious but also slightly more involved way of preparing the ingredients to make the tortilla. If you can’t be bothered, skip to Method 2 below.
Start by adding enough oil to a large non-stick frying pan to come up 1-2cm up the sides, and begin to heat the oil.
Meanwhile, roughly chop the cauliflower (tender stem included) into small(ish) pieces, roughly the same size.
Once the oil is hot (it sizzles if you sprinkle one drop of water in), add the cauliflower and diced onion into the pan.
Cook the vegetables over medium heat for 15-20min or so, and use a couple of forks to, very frequently, gently move and flip the vegetables around in the oil so they cook slowly and evenly all around.
You want the vegetables to poach, not fry, so that they soften but don’t get much colour (not really brown), so adjust the heat accordingly.
Once the cauliflower is tender (you can easily slide a fork through it) and the onion is translucent, use a slotted spoon to scoop the vegetables out of the oil, dripping as much of the oil as possible (without going mental about it), and place them in a large bowl.
Let it cool for a few minutes so you don’t scramble the eggs in the next step.
If you’ve used this method, now skip to “Making The Tortilla” below.
Preparing the Vegetables Method 2 – Steaming & Frying
This method uses less oil and is the slightly lazier way of preparing the cauliflower. I tend to use this method mostly, as I can be pottering around doing other stuff instead of spending 15min flipping the vegetables as they poach, but at least once make the fried version because it’s worth the hassle!
Add a thin layer of oil to a big non-stick frying pan, cook the onion over medium-low heat for a 15min or so until translucent. Stir occasionally so it doesn’t burn, and cook it until just soft, before it browns.
Meanwhile, steam the cauliflower (for 15min or so) until tender.
Once cooked, roughly chop the cauliflower (tender stem included) into small(ish) bits, roughly the same size.
Add the chopped, steamed cauliflower and the translucent onion into a large bowl and let it cool for a few minutes so you don’t scramble the eggs in the next step.
Now on to “Making The Tortilla” below.
Making the Tortilla
Whichever method you’ve chosen to prepare the vegetables, we all find ourselves here – with our cooked and softened cauliflower and onion in a large bowl.
Now, add two (generous) pinches of salt to the vegetables. One pinch is for the cauliflower, the other pinch is for the onion.
Then, crack the eggs into a smaller bowl, add a pinch of salt per egg and beat them well so no clear streaks of egg white remain.
Now that the vegetables will have cooled a little, pour the eggs over them and using a spatula or wooden spoon gently mix everything very well. You don’t want to mash the vegetables in the process, so be gentle, but it’s ok if some of the cauliflower does mush!
Pour most of the oil out of the non-stick pan, but leave a couple of tablespoons in there, and heat it to medium high.
Pour the vegetable/egg mix into the pan, and cook it for 3-5min or so, until the bottom begins to get a very light golden colour (use a spatula to peek underneath if you want!) and the egg begins to visibly set around the edges of the pan.
Now for the tricky part – flipping the tortilla. I like to do this over the kitchen sink although I’ve not failed at this in decades, because you never know.
Place a large plate over the pan – it needs to just about cover the edges of the pan, or be the same size (not smaller). Place your (I do left) hand over the middle of the plate, the other hand grabs the handle of the pan firmly, and in one confident committed movement, flip the tortilla into the plate. A bit of momentum helps!
You should now have the tortilla, cooked side up (raw side down) on the plate.
If your pan has a tendency to stick, add a tiny bit more oil to the pan, and place it back over the heat.
Use a spatula to carefully slide the tortilla cooked side up back onto the hot pan.
If any of the liquid egg remains on the plate, simply use the spatula to slide it over onto the cooked side of the tortilla, and spread it around. The residual heat of the tortilla will finish cooking it
Fry the tortilla this way round for a further 5min or so until golden brown. During this time use the spatula to tuck down the edges of the tortilla to get a nice, rounded sealed perimeter.
Soft and slightly runny in the middle is best – judge this by using the spatula to gently push down on the tortilla as it cooks and assess how much wobble remains.
Adjust cooking times accordingly if you prefer to have a fully solid centre, but it’s better with a slightly creamy middle.
Finally, slide (or flip) the tortilla onto a clean plate, ready to eat.
Tortillas are (almost) always sliced into wedges, and usually eaten with a slice of bread on the side.
In Madrid a tortilla needs to be eaten with mayonnaise; in Bilbao it’s usually eaten alongside some roasted red peppers.
Tortillas for dinner, whilst still hot out of the pan, are the ultimate homemade comfort food.
The next day, leftovers (if any remain!) cold for breakfast, is almost worth saving some the night before!