Tortilla Española

Potatoes, eggs, olive oil, salt and onions are kitchen staples around the world. Sometimes thought of as bit players, they’re often relegated to supporting roles. Unless, that is, you are in Spain: home of the famous tortilla Española.

Invented in the 1830s either by a poor housewife who had to whip up something for a surprise (uninvited) visit from a generale, or by a generale who needed an inexpensive way to feed his troops. Perhaps he borrowed her recipe.

Warm, creamy and comforting, the tortilla Española can be eaten hot, warm or cold, at any time of day, with aioli or on its own. It lends flavour and substance to a larger meal or stands alone as the main course. Walk into any cafe, tapas or pinxo bar in Spain and you will find people eating tortilla Española. No matter how you slice it – into wedges in Girona and Valencia or cubes skewered with toothpicks in San Sebastian – it’s a delicious use of simple ingredients.

Like any regional dish, variations on how it should be made abound. The main argument is whether to add onions — a serious matter. The tortillas Españolas I’ve eaten in Spain did not have onions. This version uses onions, but I leave that up to you.

A word of advice: do not skimp on the oil. You are basically making potato confit, poaching the potatoes and onions in hot oil until they are tender and almost falling apart.

Tortilla Española

You will need a tortilla pan, or well-seasoned or non-stick, shallow-edged 12-inch frying pan to make this dish. Ensure it’s deep enough to allow the potatoes and onions to be fully immersed in oil. You’ll also need a food processor or immersion blender for the aioli.


  • 5 medium waxy potatoes (Yukon Gold or red-skinned)
  • 1 small onion, optional
  • 2-3 cups olive oil
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1/2 cup grade seed oil or other neutral oil at room temperature


  • 2 egg yolks at room temperature
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard at room temperature
  • juice of one lemon at room temperature
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, optional
  • 1/2 cup olive oil


  • Peel the potatoes and cut them into rounds about ¼ inch thick.
  • If using the onion, cut it in half lengthwise and cut into 6-mm (¼ inch) crescent-shaped slices.
  • Heat the olive oil until lightly bubbling; keep it on low heat. Use enough oil to cover the onions and potatoes. Simmer the potatoes and onions until tender, about 40-50 minutes.
  • Beat the eggs until foamy and add the salt.
  • When the potatoes and onion are tender, using oven mitts, place a strainer over a large clean bowl and carefully drain off the excess oil, leaving only enough oil in the pan to prevent sticking. Allow the potatoes and onion to cool slightly.
  • Gently fold the cooled potatoes and onions into the whipped eggs. Pour into a heated, well-seasoned or non-stick pan. Cook on medium heat for about 10-12 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to make sure the potatoes and onions aren’t sticking. When the sides begin to puff up and turn golden, run a spatula around the edges to make sure it's not sticking.
  • Flipping a tortilla isn’t as scary as it sounds. When the tortilla is cooked on one side, remove the pan from the heat, take a plate that’s larger than the pan and, using oven mitts or a dry cloth, place the plate over the tortilla, grip both sides firmly and without hesitation, turn the frying pan over and wait for the potatoes and eggs to release onto the plate, cooked side up. If they stick, scrape off whatever stuck and as long as it’s not burnt, squish it onto the top of the tortilla. This will be the bottom, so looks aren’t vital.
  • If your pan looks dry, or the eggs are sticking, add 30 ml (2 Tbsp) olive oil.
  • Gently slide the tortilla back into the frying pan and cook on low heat for 10-12 minutes and repeat the flip.
  • Once the egg is cooked to your liking, the tortilla is done. Slide it onto a serving plate and let cool slightly. You should have a golden brown, aromatic, rustic disk.
  • This is cooking by feel, and the more you try it, the better you will become. You can reuse all the excess cooking oil, simply allow it to cool, strain and pour into a clean container.