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Everything You Need To Know About The Spanish Omelette

Sometimes the simple things are the best, and anyone who has tried a warm slice of Spanish omelet, known locally as ‘tortilla de patatas‘, will have to agree. Read on to discover everything you need to know about this national culinary treasure, from its humble origins to the secrets of its preparation.


The Origins

Until recently legend attributed its invention to General Tomás de Zumalacárregui during the Bilbao siege in 1835. He was supposed to having created it to feed his troops, although some people said the truth was he copied the recipe from an anonymous woman who gave him dinner once.


But recently the book “The potato in Spain” written by Javier López Linaje has confirmed the real origin of the Spanish Omelette can be found in Villanueva de la Serena (Badajoz), placed in the south of Spain. He has found some documents which mention this dish in 1798 and attribute the invention to Joseph de Tena Godoy and the Robledo marquis, two property owners who were trying to find cheap foodstuff to stop famine.


The Preparation

For something so simple, there is considerable room for debate when it comes to what the authentic recipe for a Spanish omelet actually is. In fact, the controversy surrounding the inclusion or not of the humble onion in tortilla is one that could could keep some Spaniards talking for hours. Purists would have it that a true tortilla de patatas would only contain potato, eggs and olive oil, leaving the subtle flavours of the oil and egg to give the dish its distinctive taste, but onion advocates claim that the sweetness it brings when slowly cooked down in olive oil is an essential component of what makes the dish so delicious. It is fair to say that both versions are probably equally as popular and equally considered ‘traditional.’

The moment things start to get a little more complicated is when it comes to what some might consider ever so slightly more fanciful additions, which range from chorizo to green pepper, cheese or even tuna. In more upmarket restaurants, chefs have featured versions including luxury ingredients, such as truffle and foie gras. As popular or as flavorsome as these variations may be, they cannot really be considered classic ‘tortilla de patatas,‘ as the inclusion of onion is as about as far as the traditional recipe is willing to stretch.

The quality and even nature of the oil is also something worth considering given the sheer volume of the liquid included in the dish’s preparation. Extra virgin olive oil is an obvious first choice, but some households may defer to a lesser-quality olive oil or even stray to another type of oil (such as sunflower), which inevitably leads to the distinctive fruity flavor of the olive being lost.

The Eating of Tortilla

One notable quality of the Spanish omelet is its widespread popularity throughout Spain, something which is not very typical in a country where regional differences (both culinary and otherwise) are so strongly pronounced and so proudly defended. A relatively simple dish to prepare, it features heavily on the glass top counters of restaurants across the country and is a popular option for a tapa, the small dishes that make up Spain’s signature serving style. When served as a tapa, the tortilla is usually cut into a small squares, each of which is served with a cocktail stick.

If it is being eaten as part of a meal, the tortilla is usually served in a large triangular slice and may come accompanied by some salad or tomato. It’s a popular dinner time meal for those looking for a light dish before bedtime, and many households keep a tortilla around the kitchen for an easy snack or meal. The dish can be served (and enjoyed) either warm or at room temperature, with the latter being more frequent if the dish is being eaten as a tapa. A homemade tortilla served as a meal may sometimes still be a little soft inside if the egg has not been left to cook through — although this may not be to everyone’s liking, it’s a rare pleasure for those who do enjoy it.

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