Thursday, July 5, 2012

On Spanish Tortillas, or How I Set Fire to the Range

The idea of a Spanish tortilla is a romantic one. About a cup of great olive oil seduces slices of potatoes into a crispy, creamy, naughty open-faced omelette. Something you'd nibble a thin slice of from a plate atop your tiny glass of sherry while mingling about a tapas bar. While sporting a luxurious mustache. In reality, it's a nice excuse to eat potato chips for dinner under guise of serving a frugal meal. While pretending to have a luxurious mustache.

The easiest way to slice potatoes paper-thin without a proper expensive mandolin slicer is to use a vegetable peeler. Peel the potatoes, then head to your favorite small non-stick pan and keep peeling. Hold the potato towards the pan though because the starch will flip all over your range. Unless you have a white cooktop. This is one of the few times you win the clean-looking-but-not-really-clean kitchen award. And don't go crazy here; when you get to the bottom there will be a little nub that you just can't get any smaller without risking your fingers. ER visits aren't frugal.
Spin around the pan several times with a good pour of olive oil. I don't use anything good because it's too expensive and this turns out fine. Don't worry. Season liberally with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. Let this cook undisturbed until the potato layer on the bottom is browned. Don't try to stir it around; we want the middle to steam so it all stays together.
America's Test Kitchen is always fond of placing a large plate on top of the frying pan and holding it firmly to the pan while you turn the whole mess upside-down. This puts the cooked side of the potatoes facing up and the uncooked side facing down so you can easily slide the hashbrowns or whatever back into the pan to cook. To be fair, this is a grand way to flip everything at one time without risking half of it breaking off at the end of a spatula. When you are using a copious amount of oil, however, the moment you invert the pan you spill oil all over your range where of course your burner is still on and BAVOOOM! You've flash-cooked your range. And your arm hair. Just use a damn spatula and don't freak out if the patty breaks.

Once you've flipped it (without having to stop and extinguish a grease fire), season this side liberally with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. Continue cooking (add oil if necessary to facilitate browning) until the other side is nice and brown. If you like, you can stop here and have a great side dish: potato chip platter. (Really; serve with Sriracha and ketchup.) But to feel better about calling it a meal, once the potatoes on the bottom are browned, beat an egg and pour it over the top. Cover and turn down the heat. Cook until egg is set.
Flip and serve with ketchup (and Sriracha) and a side salad and wine if you've got it.

Or sherry and fake mustaches if you're feeling fancy.

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