At the tail end of our trip to Spain, after Jill had gone back to London, I headed up to Bilbao to visit friends of my aunt and uncle. Even though they had just moved into a new place and most of their things were still in boxes, Carmen and Lance graciously hosted me for that span of days, a welcome respite from the hostels and cheap pensiónes we’d called home in the past weeks.
We had put in some serious time in tapas bars around the country, and I’d tried the tortilla española in most of them, but until that point, I’d never witnessed the creation of one of Spain’s most well-known culinary staples. The sight was not something I’d soon forget.
Carmen started her tortilla like you would an omelet, basically: hot pan, smoking oil, then poured in the eggs and let it simmer away. The interesting part came at the halfway point, when this petite woman donned oven mitts, grabbed a wide plate, covered the pan’s contents and flipped the whole thing over, then slid the egg mixture, raw side down, back into the pan.
I was duly impressed, and completely intimidated: She made it look so easy that I knew years of practice must’ve gone into her technique. Or maybe magic of some sort. I quickly categorized the tortilla as something I would leave to the professionals, and it remained in that classification until desperation and a nearly empty refrigerator drove me to my cookbooks for inspiration.
I had almost everything I needed for Anya von Bremzen’s tortilla with potatoes, chorizo, and allioli. As much as I love the stuff, I was hungry, and waiting an hour for the allioli to come together wasn’t going to happen—I decided to throw some chopped garlic in with the eggs and call it even. Oh, and I was missing the chorizo, too. I made do with a chunk of kielbasa, left over from an outing upstate.
Not exactly your most authentic version, but for a first effort, it wasn’t half bad.
It really does make everything better.
Tortilla with Chorizo, Potatoes, and Allioli
From The New Spanish Table, by Anya von Bremzen
About 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or more if needed
1 small onion, quartered and thinly sliced
6-7 ounces sweet Spanish-style chorizo sausage, cut into medium-size dice
2 medium-size Yukon Gold potatoes (about 1 pound total), boiled, cooled, peeled, and cut into fine dice
7 large, very fresh eggs, preferably organic
4½ teaspoons chicken stock or broth
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
4-5 tablespoons Allioli (recipe below)
1. Heat 4 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the chorizo and cook for 2 minutes, stirring. Add the potatoes, stir to coat them with the olive oil, cover the skillet, and cook to blend the flavors, about 5 minutes, stirring once. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the potato mixture to a bowl and let cool.
2. Place the eggs, chicken stock, and a few pinches of salt in a large bowl and beat until just scrambled. Add the eggs to the chorizo mixture and mix until well combined. Season with pepper to taste.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a heavy 10-inch skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium-high heat until it is just beginning to smoke. Pour the egg mixture into the skillet and flatten it with a spatula until the top is fairly even. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, moving and shaking the skillet, running a thin spatula around the edge and sliding it into the middle so that some of the egg runs under. Cook the tortilla in this fashion until the top is a little wet but not liquid, 6-8 minutes.
4. Run the thin spatula under the tortilla to make sure that no part of the bottom is stuck to the skillet. Top the skillet with a rimless plate slight larger than the skillet and, using oven mitts, quickly invert the tortilla onto the plate. If the skillet looks dry, add 2 teaspoons of the remaining olive oil. Carefully slide the tortilla back into the skillet, uncooked side down. Shake the skillet to straighten the tortilla and push the edges in with the spatula. Reduce heat to very low and cook the tortilla until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry, 3 to 4 minutes. Invert the tortilla again, as before, and cook the first side for another minute.
5. Invert the tortilla onto a serving plate and pat the top with a paper towel to get rid of excess oil. Let the tortilla cool for about 10 minutes and then spread the allioli over it. The tortilla can be served warm or at room temperature, cut into wedges. To serve as a tapa, cut the tortilla into squares and serve with toothpicks.
Basic One-Cup Allioli
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 peanut or canola oil
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 large egg yolks
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
Coarse salt (kosher or sea)
Stir together both oils in a measuring cup with a spout. Place the garlic, egg yolks, and lemon juice in a blender and pulse until a coarse paste forms. With the motor running, add the oil in a slow, thin, steady stream. The mixture will be the consistency of a thick mayonnaise. Scrape the allioli into a bowl, and season with salt to taste, and more lemon juice, if desired. Let stand for at least 1 hour before serving, or cover and refrigerate if keeping longer. If the allioli seems too thick, thin it out with a little water before using.