In Search of the Best Spanish Tortilla: that wondrous disc of egg and potato
In my last post, I crowned Casa Dani's tortilla española, the Spanish tortilla of egg and potato, my very most favorite of all that I have tried. So far, that is.
I mean, it will be impossible to exhaustively test all of the tortilla españolas in the world, and that is one of the things I love about it. Because once you've tried one, you haven't tried them all. There are so many variations involved, from the doneness of the eggs - juicy or firm? - to the way the potatoes are cut - sliced or chipped? Are the potatoes fried at high temperature or braised in oil? Are there onions or no? It's amazing how the basic two ingredients, eggs and potatoes, stay the same, and the form even stays the same, that disc with filleted edges. Yet so many variations exist.
Going through my photo archive, I traced my love of the tortilla española to a place I visited even before my first time in Spain: Buenos Aires. In 2009, I went to a restaurant not far from the hostel I was staying, Grill Oriente, now closed. I'm not sure why I even decided to try the tortilla española there, perhaps it was because it was something I had never had before, and perhaps it was because it was one of the cheaper things on the menu. But I remember going back and having it more than once in my short time in the city. Because eggs are comforting, potatoes are comforting, and eggs and potatoes combined are one of the world's greatest comfort foods.
Indeed, it's one of those foods where even industrially-produced versions can taste good. (Pizza is one that arguably belongs in this category too). Here's a slice from the buffet in the VIP lounge at Malaga Airport. They surely do not make these in a kitchen, but rather open up a package of pre-made ones. Completely firm with floury potatoes, it's obvious these are mass produced, but still delicious.
Or take this version on board the Renfe Euromed train from Valencia to Barcelona. It's cooked, then chilled, then reheated on board. I was super stoked to see it on the menu. Still delicious.
Even McDonald's has a tortilla española at their McCafes in Spain! They toast the bread and separately the pre-made tortilla in a little toaster, making the bread crunchy and the tortilla slightly warm. So industrial, but yep, still delicious.
Now, I've read many online commentators insist that the ONLY Spanish tortilla is the one with egg and potato, and optional onion. Perhaps that is true if you are interpreting the term "tortilla española" like a proper noun; indeed a tortilla española does refer specifically to the potato variety, la tortilla de patatas. But the reality is that tortillas in Spain can be made with any range of ingredients.
Below are tortillas from La Pergola in Valencia (Passeig de l'Albereda, 1, 46010 València), which makes my favorite tortillas in Valencia: I've fallen in love with their tortilla of potato and sobrasada (on the left), sobrasada being a type of loose sausage, and their tortillas made with seasonal vegetables. The smoky and meaty sobrasada imports a sharpness that complements the creaminess of the eggs. On the right is the tortilla of zucchini, which was good but not as magical as their tortillas of eggplant, artichokes, or green garlic. They cook the vegetables to have a mysteriously silky texture, resulting in a very moist and soft tortilla. I say it's mysterious because I've tried to replicate their artichokes at home, but haven't succeeded yet!
Their regular tortilla de patatas is also good, but since this is the standard tortilla across Spain, it faces more competition and therefore I might allow myself to be a bit more picky here. The first thing I noticed is that it was nice and loose and therefore likely moist, but there was a pocket of eggs so raw that the egg was still transparent. I wasn't sure if it was supposed to be like that? I thought that this example could have used a touch more salt. But on the plus side, it was indeed moist like their other tortillas, and the char on the top and bottom was nice and toasty.
So, as written before, my very most favorite tortilla española - strictly that of the potato (and onion) variety - so far is that of Casa Dani, inside of the Mercado de la Paz in Madrid (Calle de Ayala, 28, 28001 Madrid).
The tortilla here is simply perfectly seasoned to bring out the rich egg flavor, and cooked to the right point where it's solid but still moist. And the potatoes and egg and caramelized onions are well integrated with not one ingredient surpassing another. After finishing my first "pincho" of tortilla, I often wonder if I should order a second one!
I go to Casa Dani pretty much every time I visit Madrid. This last weekend in Madrid, I tried someplace new: La Ardosa (Calle de Colón, 13, 28004 Madrid). I just love their facade! Basically tells you about all of the things they have to offer inside.
The interior is also filled with old school menu boards and signs, as well as floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall bottles of beer.
Like Casa Dani, they have a reputation for one of the best tortillas in the city. In comparison, the texture is very similar, nicely gooey though still standing up on its own, but it was much thinner... and way too salty for me.
Another tortilla that often lands on the "top tortillas of Madrid" lists is Juana la Loca's (Plaza Puerta de Moros, 4, 28005 Madrid). In contrast to La Ardosa, this is a buttoned-up joint, complete with a bouncer-doorman!
Here, the tortillas are already cut and placed on slices of bread in a chilled display case, ready to be taken out and served at a moment's notice.
As I wrote before, I liked this tortilla, but it wasn't my favorite. The eggs and potatoes didn't really come together, rather it seemed to be sliced potatoes lacquered in eggs. Still, the taste was spot on. But this shows well why I prefer tortillas with chipped potatoes (where you use the knife to break off chunks of potato) rather than sliced potatoes. I feel like the chipped technique creates irregular chunks with rough edges, leading to the egg mixing better with the potatoes. That's my theory, anyway!
Here in Valencia, La Pergola mentioned above makes my favorite tortillas in general. As far as tortillas of potato, however, the one that is most famous in town is found at Bar Alhambra (Carrer de Calixt III, 8, 46008 València).
The tortilla here is indeed nicely seasoned, though a bit underdone for my taste.
I liked the tortilla overall, but the paltry portion size was disappointing. I mean, it was as if they were serving slices of foie gras, judging by the thinness of the slices! About three of these would equal a normal "pincho" serving.
Now on to the two "wierdos" of tortilla-land.
I read about a place in Madrid called Las Tortillas de Gabino (Calle Rafael Calvo, 20, 28010 Madrid) in an inflight magazine, of all places! Don't pooh-pooh the idea of finding a good recommendation there, because the same article introduced me to La Sala de Despiece, which became one of my favorite restaurants in Spain.
So at this rather tony place, the tortilla comes in a clay cazuela, the dish that is usually used for gambas al ajillo or an arroz al horno, for example. The reason why soon becomes clear.
The tortilla is SO SOUPY, that it just can't stand up on its own! The server actually plates it with a spoon!
So I'm sorry, this really was one of my least favorite tortillas ever. It was so undercooked that it didn't taste just of soft scrambled eggs, it just tasted like raw, beaten eggs.
We ordered two tortillas; I think the following one was a potato chips version, and it was similarly as undercooked.
The final tortilla I'll review for now is the "tortilla de Betanzos" of Taberna Pedranza, also in Madrid (Calle de Ibiza, 38, 28009 Madrid).
The interior design I think is meant to evoke Spanish eateries of previous decades, and is quite cool.
So the "tortilla de Betanzos" is considered to be a king of tortillas, and hails from the north of Spain in the Galician province, where you find the town of Bentanzos. This tortilla is supposedly made with potatoes from Galicia, and is notoriously the opposite of well-done.
So the tortilla came out on a plate (and not a cazuela like at Las Tortillas de Gabino above), looking normal. So far so good; only the pie server tipped me off that this wasn't a normal tortilla.
I cut it open, and the plate was immediately flooded with a bright yellow liquid! This wasn't even the liquid consistency of raw eggs, it was closer to water! It's as if all of the potatoes released their moisture into the egg, and they conspired to make egg-scented water.
The potatoes were also cut into tiny little mosaic-like tiles. So in all, between the thin layer of cooked eggs, the tiny squares of potato, and the egg water, eating this was like drinking some type of soup.
Needless to say, this wasn't a favorite tortilla of mine.
But that goes back to a point I made earlier, which is that everyone makes tortillas differently, and people get into heated arguments about which is the "right" way to make tortillas! So what suits one person, might not go for another. And that's part of the beauty of the Spanish tortilla: two of the most humble ingredients, potatoes and eggs, coming together to make something much greater than the sum of the parts.