Spanish omelette

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Spanish omelette
Tortilla de patatas cut in half.
Spanish omelette cut in half.
Alternative names Spanish tortilla
tortilla de patatas
Course Appetizer or main course
Serving temperature Hot or cold
Main ingredients Egg and potatoes.
Variations With onions, addition of green or red peppers, etc.
Cookbook: Spanish omelette  Media: Spanish omelette

The Tortilla Española, referred to in the English language as Tortilla, Spanish Omelette, is a typical Spanish dish consisting of an egg omelette made with added potatoes and fried in vegetable oil.[1]

Spanish names[edit]

In Spanish, this dish is called tortilla de patatas or tortilla española to distinguish it from a plain omelette (tortilla francesa, literally "French omelette"). Tortilla in origin meant just "small torte/cake". These dishes are unrelated to the maize or wheat tortilla of Mexico and neighbouring countries, a thin flatbread.


A portion of Spanish tortilla. Thickness and texture varies according to region or taste.
Tortilla with other ingredients.

The Spanish tortilla (Tortilla de patatas in Spain) is the most common gastronomic specialty found throughout Spain. While there are numerous regional variations, the most common version is the one made only with eggs and potatoes, and possibly onion. The addition of the onion is often controversial and usually related to the tenderness of the local varieties of potatoes. To avoid confusions some restaurants distinguish between the Tortilla de patatas (pure) and the Tortilla de patatas con cebolla (with onion).

The potatoes, ideally a starchy variety, are cut into thin slices or small dice. They are then fried in olive oil, together with sliced onions, if added, at a moderate temperature until they are soft, but not brown. Browning is often avoided by using an excess of olive oil, which can later be strained and re-used. The potatoes are then removed, drained, and mixed with raw, beaten, and salted eggs. This mixture is then returned to the pan and slowly fried. The tortilla is fried first on one side and then flipped over to fry on its other side. Other ingredients, like green or red peppers, chorizo, tuna, shrimp or different vegetables, may also be added.

The tortilla may be eaten hot or cold; it is commonly served as a tapa or picnic dish throughout Spain. As a tapa, it may be cut into bite-size pieces and served on cocktail sticks, or cut into pie style (triangle) portions (pincho de tortilla).


A crossection slice of tortilla de patatas, showing its inner texture of fried potatoes, onions, and egg

The first reference to the tortilla in Spanish is found in a Navarrese document. It is an anonymous "Mousehole's memorial" addressed to Navarra's Court in 1817. It explains the sparse conditions of the farmers in contrast with Pamplona's and the Ribera's inhabitants. After listing the sparse food eaten by highlanders, the next quote follows: "…two to three eggs in tortilla for 5 or 6 [people] as our women do know how to make it big and thick with less eggs, mixing potatoes, breadcrumbs or whatever."[2]

According to legend, during the siege of Bilbao, Carlist general Tomás de Zumalacárregui created the "tortilla de patatas" as an easy, fast and nutritious dish to satisfy the scarcities of the Carlist army. Although it remains unknown whether this is true, it appears the tortilla started to spread during the early Carlist wars.

Another tale is that during the war, Zumalacárregui was in the field and happened upon a farmhouse and demanded a meal from the farmwife. All she had were a few eggs, a potato and an onion, so she combined all three, making an omelette. Surprisingly, Zumalacárregui was pleased and took the idea with him.


Spanish omelettes can range from authentic and carefully made seasoned preparations of raw potatoes of a variety carefully selected for best results, eggs, optional onions and good olive oil, and nothing else, through nontraditional preparations with many additional ingredients.

Some of the many additions to the base ingredients include green peppers, chorizo, courgette, aubergine, mushrooms, and diced ham. The tortilla paisana includes red pepper and peas. The texture of the tortilla is supposed to be juicy and usually a good inch and a half thick, with a circumference of 12 inches (size of a plate). In Spain, a tortilla is almost always accompanied by bread and sometimes with fried pimientos de padron. In most bars and canteens, it is served in a bocadillo. A tortilla will remain juicy for around 24 hours, after this it will solidify (see picture to the right)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Purist recipe, only potato, onion, oil (Spanish)
  2. ^ (Spanish) Los "memoriales de ratonera" eran escritos que cualquier ciudadano navarro podía depositar en un buzón ("ratonera") cuando se reunían las Cortes; véase José María Iribarren: "El comer, el vestir y la vida de los navarros de 1817, a través de un 'memorial de ratonera'", en: Príncipe de Viana 17, núm. 65 (1956), pp. 473-486.