Spanish omelette or Spanish tortilla de patatas is a typical, classic dish in Spanish gastronomy. This popular omelette recipe is made with just a few simple ingredients which combine into a hearty and flavourful dish. It is enjoyed throughout Spain and beyond.
Sliced potatoes and optional onions are sautéed in olive oil until tender. They are then mixed with beaten eggs and cooked to perfection, creating a flavourful meal for everyone to enjoy.
Spanish omelette can be eaten throughout the day for either breakfast, lunch or dinner. It can also be served as a tapas dish. Not only can it be eaten warm, but it is also delicious cold, making it perfect for an outdoor meal or as part of a picnic.
What is a Spanish omelet?
When visiting Spain, try not to order just a Spanish omelet or a potato omelet. This is because it is locally known as either Spanish tortilla, tortilla de patatas or tortilla Española. It is that far ingrained into Spanish food culture you may well cause some offence if you use the wrong term.
The word tortilla is the diminutive version of the Spanish word for cake; torta, so a tortilla is a small cake. This then means a tortilla de patatas translates as a small potato cake. However, don’t confuse the Spanish tortilla with the Mexican tortilla which is a thin flatbread made out of cornmeal or wheat flour.
A traditional Spanish tortilla is usually made with just eggs, potatoes and optionally onions. But nowadays it is comprised of an incredible amount of extra different ingredients, ranging from chorizo, chilis, peppers, Spanish ham and spinach to tomatoes, asparagus and so much other fresh produce.
Tortilla de patatas with or without onions?
When it comes to the traditional tortilla recipe, there are endless discussions on whether or not to prepare a classic tortilla with onions or not. This must probably be the longest culinary debate in the history of Spanish cuisine with everyone having their own opinion about it, including the Spanish themselves. However, seeing as there is still no conclusion to this debate I suggest adding onions if you like them. I think they add a lot of extra flavour, so in this potato omelette recipe I have added finely sliced onions.
Eggs medium or well done?
Another interesting discussion topic is when you would consider a tortilla underdone, overdone or just perfect. Some people prefer their omelet to be runny and gooey in the centre, or slightly undercooked, yet others like it dry and firm, in order words, well done.
A Spanish tortilla de patatas is often served as a small tapas dish with a drink in a bar, either on its own on a plate or on top of a slice of baguette. In this case, the tortilla is best served firm as you will most likely eat it with your hands. When eating it at home or as part of a larger tapas dish or ración it is often served more runny in the middle.
So in conclusion, it is comparable to cooking a steak. One person loves to eat their’s nearly raw and the other one well-done. It is an endless discussion that in fact comes down to how you prefer to serve it and even more about personal preference in how you like to eat it. I’ve heard of chefs who have kicked patrons out of their restaurants for ordering a well done steak.
Spanish omelette ingredients
- Potatoes: Preferably use firm or waxy potatoes as they tend to hold their shape better, such as Kennebec, Yukon Gold, Charlotte or any other waxy varieties available in your country.
- Eggs: The ratio of potatoes to eggs is somewhat important for a good tortilla. In this recipe I use 1 egg per 100 grams or 3.5 ounces of potatoes, but this of course depends on the size of eggs you use. You can always add more or less eggs as per your personal preference. Just remember, too much egg and you end up with a regular omelette, not enough egg and you’ll be having potato bake for lunch.
- Onions: Use 1 small to medium onion, either finely diced or thinly sliced.
- Olive oil: A good Spanish tortilla de patata calls for a good quality olive oil. As you need quite a bit of oil to sauté the potatoes, after cooking and removing the potatoes from the oil, leave the oil to cool then store (not in the fridge) for the next time you make omelette.
- Salt: Sprinkle it in while frying the potatoes and add more to the beaten eggs, if required.
How to make Spanish omelette
Note: All the exact quantities of the ingredients can be found in the recipe card at the bottom of this post
Typical for this dish is that every household has different ways of making it. So, even though a Spanish tortilla is a traditional and classic dish, no two tortillas are made the exactly same. However, preparing this recipe is quite easy if you follow the right steps. And don’t forget to read the useful tips and tricks further down in this post to make the perfect no-fail tortilla.
- Prepare the potatoes and onions: Peel and wash the potatoes and pat dry to remove excess moisture. The potatoes can either be finely sliced or cut into small cubes. I find that by slicing the potatoes they get tender faster and more homogeneous. With a sharp knife or a mandoline, slice the potatoes in 1/8 to 1/5 inch thickness (or 2-5mm). Make sure they are all equally sliced in thickness. Peel the onions and either finely dice or finely slice in half moons.
- Combine the ingredients: In a mixing bowl, combine the sliced onions and potatoes, sprinkle with salt and mix well.
- Cook the potatoes: Heat the olive oil in to pan on medium-low heat. Once the oil is hot, add the potatoes and onions and mix to make sure the potatoes are all coated with enough oil. Cook the potatoes on medium to low heat and stir occasionally to make sure they don’t brown. The potatoes need to be slowly poached in the olive oil. Cook for approximately 20 minutes until tender. The exact cooking time will depend on the type and thickness of the potatoes and the heat of the oil. Check with a fork if the potatoes are tender.
- Beat the eggs: While the potatoes are cooking, break the eggs in a medium-sized mixing bowl, add a pinch of salt and beat well with a whisk to a homogenous mixture.
- Drain the oil: When the potatoes are soft, drain the excess oil. This can be done by scooping out the potatoes with a perforated or slotted spoon. Or place a colander over a stainless steel bowl and pour the oil and potatoes in the colander to drain the excess oil. Catch the oil in the bowl for later use. Be very careful when doing this as the oil is very hot!
- Combine the potatoes and eggs: Add the potato/onion mixture to the beaten eggs and combine well with a spatula until the eggs are fully covering the potatoes and onions. The potatoes might break during this process, but that’s completely fine.
- Cook the tortilla – side 1: In the same pan that you cooked the potatoes in, heat a tablespoon of olive oil on medium heat. Pour in the egg/potato/onion mixture, then shake the pan gently so the mixture spreads out evenly. Allow to cook for 4-6 minutes on medium-low heat until the edges and the bottom are slightly browned and cooked. You can cover with a lid while cooking, but you don’t have to. However, I often put a lid on it so the top gets cooked that much faster. Also make sure not to cook the tortilla on a too high heat as it will burn on the outside leaving the inside near raw. Loosen the edges gently with a rubber spatula and give the pan a gentle shake to make sure the omelet isn’t sticking to the bottom.
- Flip the omelette: When one side is slightly browned and cooked, we need to flip the tortilla to cook the other side. Do this by placing a plate that is larger than the pan upside down on top of the pan. Press on the plate with one hand and lift the pan with the other hand. Now turn the pan over in a fast move while you keep pressing the plate firmly on the top of the pan. As the top of the tortilla wasn’t cooked yet, the egg will still be runny and some might spil from the plate while turning. As this can be hot, be careful not to burn yourself.
- Cook the tortilla – side 2: Gently slide the tortilla back in to the pan, with the uncooked side to the bottom. Cook for a few more minutes until that side is set.
- Repeat this process: Depending on the thickness of the tortilla and how well you’d like it done, you might want to repeat this process 1 or 2 more times until the egg is cooked according to your liking.
- Serve: When the tortilla is done, slide on to a clean plate and serve warm or cold.
Tortilla – Spanish frittata style
Not everyone is confident or strong enough to flip the tortilla. This is especially the case if you use a cast iron skillet as such a pan is usually too heavy for most people to flip, or when cooking a very large tortilla in a very large pan of any type. You may also not have a plate big enough to cover the pan. After all, it is preferable to keep it all off the floor.
Don’t worry though, you can still cook the tortilla, but by making it Spanish frittata style. Frittata is an Italian omelet where one side is cooked in the pan for a couple of minutes and then placed in the oven to finish cooking the top of the omelet. It is not a traditional way of making a Spanish omelette, but sometimes rules are allowed to be bent.
Pre-heat the oven to 400˚F or 200˚C. Just make absolutely sure you use an oven-proof pan to cook the tortilla. Follow all the steps above until where you need to flip the omelet. When the bottom is cooked, place the pan in the oven and cook for a further 6-8 minutes or until the tortilla is done to your liking.
Useful tips & tricks
Which pan should I use?
The right size pan is essential for making a good Spanish tortilla. Use preferably a smaller sized pan, non-stick, and with a good handle to be able to make the flip. For the quantities in this recipe I use a 8-9 inch (or 20-23 cm) sized pan. It also needs to have deep sides. The smaller and deeper the pan, the better, as your tortilla will come out nice and elevated. When using a large pan the omelet will be thinner and more difficult to flip. However, if you do want to make a massive omelette in a massive pan, it’s just a question of upping the quantity of ingredients in the recipe. In this case, you can use another whole person with 2 more hands to help flip. Again, just be careful flipping over heavy, hot frying pans.
Can I also boil the potatoes?
To make an authentic Spanish omelet you will need to poach the potatoes on low heat in olive oil. This will allow the potatoes to slowly tenderise and become slightly crisp. When boiling potatoes in water the consistency and taste of the tortilla will be completely different. So no, you cannot boil the potatoes according to this recipe.
Do I need to use so much oil?
In traditional Spanish recipes the potatoes should be submerged in the oil to allow for even cooking. You can use less oil, just make sure all the ingredients are properly coated in it. No matter how much oil you use, I also recommend to cover with a lid while cooking, stirring occasionally.
What do I do with the leftover oil?
Don’t throw away the leftover oil. When draining the potatoes through a stainless steel colander, capture the oil in a stainless steel bowl and transfer to a bottle, after the oil has cooled down. Do not keep it in the fridge. Re-use for making another tortilla or for general cooking.
Can I turn up the heat to cook it faster?
The simple answer is no. Making a Spanish omelet is not difficult but you will need to take your time. The onions and potatoes should not be browned but instead poached. And when cooking the tortilla itself, turning up the heat will result in burned edges and undercooked center. So allow enough time to make it.
How to store
Tortilla can perfectly be made in advance. After cooking, allow to cool to room temperature, then cover it with foil on a plate or place it in a sealed container. It will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge. No, you cannot freeze it. To serve, just re-heat in the microwave or serve cold.
A potato tortilla is a very versatile dish that can be served throughout the day, warm or cold, all year round.
Breakfast: Leftover tortilla is great to eat for breakfast with a slice of toast. Serve it either cold or warm it in the microwave.
Lunch / Dinner: It works great as a light meal for lunch or dinner. Serve with a green side salad,
Tapas: Spanish omelet is often served as a small tapa with a drink in a bar in Spain. At home it can be served as part of a larger tapas table alongside other Spanish tapas like squid strips or chorizo in red wine. Cut the omelet into bite-sized pieces and serve with French loaf or baguette.
Snack: As a snack a tortilla is really nice eaten as a sandwich. Add the tortilla in between a baguette with some slices of raw ham.
Spanish omelette or tortilla de patatas
- 1¼ pounds (or 550 grams) potatos peeled and finely sliced
- 1 small onion finely sliced in half moons
- 5 medium eggs
- ½ cup (or 125 ml) olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- fresh parsley
- Wash the peeled potatoes and pat dry. Thinly slice the potatoes approximately ⅛ inches or 3 mm thick. Peel the onion, cut in half and finely slice in half moons.
- Combine the potatoes and onions in a bowl, sprinkle with some salt and mix together.
- Heat the olive oil in a medium size non-stick frying pan on medium to low heat. When the oil is hot, add the potatoes and onions in the pan. Stir well to coat. Cook until the potatoes and onions are soft, stirring occasionally. Keep frying on low heat as you don't want the potatoes to burn. Depending on the thickness and type of potato, this will take up to 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the eggs with a pinch of salt into a homogenous mixture.
- When the potatoes are cooked, drain the excess oil through a stainless steel colander over a separate steel bowl to catch the hot oil. Mix the cooked potatoes and onions with the beaten eggs. Combine well until all the potatoes are covered with the eggs. Don't worry about breaking the potatoes while mixing together.
- Place the same pan over medium heat and add just a bit of the leftover olive oil. Pour in the egg/potato/onion mixture, spreading evenly in the pan. Turn up the heat to medium for a minute, then turn the heat down again and allow the eggs to cook around the edges and on the bottom.
- When the sides and the bottom of the omelette is cooked, carefully loosen the edges with a rubber spatula. The top of the omelette will still be runny but that's fine.
- Using oven mitts, place a plate that is larger than the pan upside down on top of the omelette, then flip the pan with one hand while holding down the plate with the other hand. Do this very carefully as some of the hot runny egg might spill off the edges. You might want to do this above the sink. You can also ask someone else to help you flip. Now carefully slide the tortilla back in to the pan to cook the still runny side.
- You can continue this process a few more times until the omelette is cooked to your liking. However, I find that flipping once is often enough.
- Potatoes: The potatoes can be sliced or cubed, as per personal preference. However, thinly sliced potatoes cook faster.
- Pan: Use a pan size of 8-9 inches or 20-23 cm. The pan needs to be non-stick with deep sides.
- Heat: Don’t cook the potatoes or the tortilla itself on high heat as they will burn. Always keep the temperature on medium to low heat.
- Flipping the tortilla: Use oven mittens when flipping the omelet to avoid burning yourself.
- Use the correct sized plate: When flipping the omelet, use a plate that is larger than the top of the pan. If the plate is too small, the non-cooked egg will run from the edges or the plate might get stuck in the pan.