I think it’s fair to say that I am not generally a fan of fusion cuisines, especially when they are perpetrated unthinkingly. Culinary traditions are rich cultural artefacts, developed over hundreds or thousands of years; to interfere in that simply for the sake of dinner seems trivial, insulting. Pasta used as a dumping ground for leftovers, bacon flung irresponsibly into couscous; worst of all, fashionably exotic food terms flung around menus, misapplied until they lose their meaning (a ceviche of shallots, a carpaccio of pretty much anything), seem like cultural vandalism, a colonialist looting of an alluring past. (Yes, I have been told that I take things too seriously).
Having said that, everyone needs a go-to dish, a vehicle for the current contents of your fridge, a base around which to build supper or a lazy lunch when the shops are too far away or too closed and you don’t give a damn about culinary traditions. Brunch is a good occasion for such dishes; the whole affair suggests a cheerful dissolution, and disparate ingredients can be brought together with the unifying influence of toast or egg. I’m a big fan of the hash in this context, and many differences can be resolved with a base of toasted bread, but my favourite catch-all dish is probably a tortilla. A sturdy structure of potato, onion and egg can be adapted to almost any cuisine, sharpened with chilli or spice, warmed with chunks or strands of cheese, enriched with little nuggets of sausage or black pudding or ham, freshened with clean herbs and vegetables. I’m sure the Spanish would be outraged, and when I’m feeling particularly high-minded I try to justify this bastardisation, pointing to the tortilla-equivalents across the world – the markode of Algeria, the Arabic eggeh, the Italian frittata, the Persian kuku – but fundamentally I don’t really care. Tortilla are pretty much universally delicious, the sweet, umami-rich combination of potato, onion and egg hiding any weakness in the rest of the ingredients.
i’m not going to give a recipe for tortilla, as that is not really how something like this is cooked – quantities depend on what else you want to throw in, which in turn depends on mood and resources. Even the basic method is up for debate. I will, however give a few general observations on tortilla-making. I’ve eaten a lot in my time.
For your own sake, the onion and potato should be cut as fine as possible. I like the onion diced, and the potato first halved lengthways and then sliced across, but that is a personal preference. Sweet Spanish onions and small waxy potatoes are the way to go, I think; the potatoes need to hold their own in the cooking process.
Never boil the potatoes first – you lose so much flavour (yes, potatoes have flavour) and so much of their protein-enhancing umami that way, as well as missing out on the beautiful, fudgy texture they get from a purely oil-based cooking. Chips are tastier than boiled potatoes. Learn from this. Sweat the potatoes together with the onions in plenty of olive oil (nice olive oil – you can always reuse it) and a good amount of salt until they are tender. If you’re adding meat you might want to put it in now so everyone gets to know each other.
You want to eat this delicious combination as the main event. The egg should be the binding agent, not the star of the show; it’s not an omelette in that sense. Two or three eggs to a 10-inch pan is fine. Let the onion-potato mix cool a bit before you stir in the eggs, to avoid weird lumps. Add other bits like fresh herbs and cheese at this point too.
I know it’s wrong, but I always start my tortilla on the hob and finish in the oven – it skips the whole messy hassle of flipping it. If you do this, let it set and colour on the bottom before putting it in the oven, which will help it slip out of the pan later. If you must flip the tortilla, on your own head be it. Don’t have the oven too hot. Let the whole thing cool a bit before you take it out of the pan, and then some more before you eat it.
I’ve got a Turkish-style tortilla in the oven at the moment, with bits of halloumi, sucuk sausage, green chilli, and plenty of herbs. Other things I have added in the past include –
chunks of manchego
handfuls of dill
paper-thin courgette slices
tiny broad beans
and probably loads of other things I’ve forgotten.
Have a go.