04/21/2011 08:13 am ET | Updated Jun 21, 2011

Tortilla Española, Trial and Error

Last summer, my friend Josh asked me to help him throw a dinner party for twelve or so of his friends. We were doing a lot of catering at that point, enough that this sort of gig was no longer in the cards without the prospect of taking home a check at the end of the night. But Josh has a fabulous apartment, with a large terrace that's perfect for summer entertaining. And since he also has fabulous friends (who happen to be my friends too), I decided to do him a favor and agreed to do the cooking.

He gave me free reign when it came to the menu, and since I can't resist choosing a theme and sticking to it, I decided to make a tapas-themed spread. It was more elaborate than anything I would have chosen to make myself, but since Josh was also footing the bill, I thought it would be fun to pull out all the stops.


For finger food, I was going to make Tortilla Española, cut it into bite-sized squares and dollop them with lemon paprika aioli. To follow, I wanted to try lechef's Cold Avocado Soup with Lobster and Scallions that I'd eaten at the Food52 picnic, and had been dreaming about ever since. For the main course, a surf and turf paella recipe I was testing for the book with scallops and chorizo, and Mediterranean Roasted Eggplant Salad on the side. I sent Josh the menu the week before, and we were ready to roll.

The night before the party, Josh sent me an email saying that we had issues: his roommate was allergic to seafood, and his roommate's girlfriend was a vegetarian. Also, the guest list was up to 18. I wasn't thrilled, but given the increased number of friends coming to dinner, I decided I might as well make two types of paella, one with meat, one with seafood, and forget the recipe testing.

The afternoon of the party, after I had bought all the groceries, Josh called to tell me that the guest list had somehow grown to 30 people. I remained calm, grabbed a bag of polenta from my cupboard, and made polenta steaks as a third (vegetarian) main course.

It wasn't until it came time to make the Tortilla Española that I finally lost my cool, and, after a second failed attempt, flipped out.

The tortilla recipe I decided to follow involved an insane amount of olive oil. (Josh warned me than many of the 30 guests would be girls, many of whom wouldn't eat much eat anyway, so it gave me great secret pleasure to create something deceivingly fatty.) But despite all the oil, the tortilla stuck to the pan, and when I inverted it onto a plate, it came apart in chunks, and splattered uncooked eggs all over my countertop.

For my second attempt, I decided to consult the master: Mario Batali. His version required a large cast iron skillet. That I had. What I did not have, once it came time to transfer the tortilla, was a plate large enough to fit on top of my large cast iron skillet. I ended up having to use my gigantic cutting board and use my not-so-gigantic muscles to man handle the board and the skillet in one swift motion. The tortilla cracked in half and tumbled onto the board.

By the third attempt, I was two hours behind schedule on the rest of the meal, I had a migraine, and I hated Josh's guts.

Luckily for my mood, and the fate of Josh's dinner, the third tortilla turned out much better. I had used a smaller pan--a non-stick skillet--and my dinner plates were sized perfectly for a seamless inversion.

The dinner itself went off without a hitch, and the favor scored me the ultimate payback (in addition to knowing how to make a perfect Tortilla Española): a book party, to be hosted by Josh in May.

--Phoebe Lapine of Big Girls, Small Kitchen



Tortilla Española
Makes 4-6 appetizer servings

Most tortillas in Spain (like Mario's) are made with big cast iron skillets, and generate enough to feed a gas station's clientele for days. The key to my recipe's success though is to use a small (8-inch) non-stick skillet. Make sure before you start that you have a dinner plate or small cutting board to use when inverting the tortilla. If using a small cast iron skillet, you can skip the inversion and, instead, place the skillet under the broiler for a few minutes to cook the top.


1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 pounds yukon gold potatoes (about 1 large), peeled and sliced as thin as possible (1/8 inch)
1/2 small yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
4 eggs
Green Herbs and Lemon-Paprika Aioli for garnish

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a small (8-inch) non-stick skillet over a medium flame. Add the potatoes and onions and toss to coat in the oil. Cook, redistributing with a flat faced plastic spatula, until tender, about 15 minutes, making sure to scrape up any bits that stick to the pan.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the eggs. Add salt and pepper, and stir to combine.

Add the potatoes to the eggs and toss to coat. Carefully pour the potato-egg mixture back into the skillet, and shake the pan so the potatoes lie flat, using your spatula if necessary to help distribute. Place a lid large enough to cover the pan over the top (I use one from my Dutch oven). Cook covered until the egg is nearly set. Using your spatula, pull away one side of the tortilla and tilt the pan so that the remaining uncooked eggs seeps through and redistributes on the bottom and sides of the tortilla.

When the top is far less runny, use a large plate to invert the tortilla: place the plate, face-down, over the skillet, hold it with the palm of your hand, and flip the tortilla onto it. Place the pan back on the stove, and slide the tortilla back into it. Press down with your spatula to flatten it. (If you are using cast iron, you can skip the inversion and, instead, place the pan under the broiler until the top is cooked and beginning to brown.)

Cook on this side until the bottom is set, about 2 minutes. Slide the tortilla onto a clean plate or platter, and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes (or up to 1 day) before slicing into it. Cut the tortilla into wedges and serve with Lemon-Paprika Aioli and green herbs for garnish.