Tuesday, 25 January 2011

More Egg

On past form you might not unreasonably expect this to be posted under the heading “Tortilla-ish”, but it won’t be, because, at the risk of leaving myself open to accusations of flip-flopping on my authenticity position, the potato and onion omelette featured here is just a potato and onion omelette, it’s not a proper Spanish tortilla.  Even if a proper Spanish tortilla is, in essence, just a potato and onion omelette.  And an omelette, after all, is an omelette, is an omelette, is an omelette.  Etc.

Ironically, though, that’s exactly why this is definitively NOT a tortilla.  Because, an omelette being an omelette, and all that, then if the word tortilla is to mean anything at all (in the context of potato and onion omelettes) then it has to mean something quite specific.  I have spent a substantial proportion of my adult life trying to capture that specific quality - that totally integrated, dense but light, genuinely cake-like consistency - and for a large part of that time I would have ascribed the name ‘tortilla’ to what I have just had for lunch today.  Today though, I'm not going to do that.

The key and crucial difference, and where I long went ‘wrong’ was that today’s omelette was made with left over potatoes, cooked for last night's dinner.  A proper Spanish tortilla (henceforward referred to here as a PST) has to be made with raw potatoes, cooked from scratch, sliced fine and effectively boiled in olive oil, before adding onions (and maybe garlic), and finally egg.  Made any other way, you might well end up with a very tasty omelette indeed, but it will not have the particular quality that would mark it as a PST.  The other, lesser, difference is that I threw a handful of chopped parsley into today’s omelette, while a PST should have no green herbs, consisting solely of potatoes, onions (and maybe garlic) and eggs.  Plus salt and pepper.  Nothing else.  They did a lovely “tortilla” in the – I believe, Portuguese – deli in Brixton where I used to live, which was heavy with rosemary, and delicious, but not a PST.

To make a PST, peel your potatoes and slice them into small pieces about the thickness of a pound coin.  Fry these gently in olive oil, in your omelette pan, covered with a lid (you want them to cook through without browning), until softening then add the onion, sliced into wedges about the same size as the potato pieces.  I add finely sliced garlic at this point too, but that’s optional and arguably controversial.  Plenty of salt and pepper.  When the onion is softened and turning translucent, turn the contents of the pan out into a large bowl in which you have already broken and beaten your eggs (mixing the egg, potato and onions in the bowl rather than just pouring the egg over the potatoes and onion in the pan seems somehow crucial to achieving a PST).  Re-oil the pan (lots and lots of olive oil is another key secret of PST success) then tip the mix back in, and keep it moving, stirring and pushing away from the edges of the pan until the egg is starting to set through.  Traditionally, at this point you turn the omelette by tipping it out onto a plate and sliding it back into the pan the other way up, but I find, with anything bigger than a one egg pan, that is a difficult and risky manoeuvre, and even if it goes well it leaves a substantial portion of your tortilla smeared across the plate.  Or, if you are incredibly skilled and have an arm like Popeye, like the tortilla-maker (tortillista?) I watched slack jawed with awe in a Madrid bar for a good half hour a couple of years back, you can just flip the whole thing like a pancake (and this guy was flipping tortillas at least a foot across and three inches thick, and in the half hour I watched he made at least four.  Frightening.).  Or you can do what I do and finish your tortilla under the grill.  As for quantities, it depends entirely on the size of your pan, but the volumes of potato and onion should be more or less equal, and the volume of egg enough to cover them both generously without overflowing the pan, obviously.

Today’s omelette was a much simpler affair, just a handful of left over boiled new potatoes fried in the pan until they were browning, half an onion, cut into wedges, a little garlic, two eggs beaten in a mug and poured over once the onions were soft, a handful of chopped parsley thrown over and the whole thing flipped - with a spatula, I’m afraid, like a big soft gurl…

It made a thoroughly delicious lunch with a couple of slices of buttered brown bread, but it wasn’t a tortilla…

No comments:

Post a Comment