Carey * Tortilla Española

The summer after she finished high school, Carey learned that her performance on a national Spanish exam had won her a ticket to Spain. She and 12 other American students would be traveling to a place called Zamora, a charming city in Old Castile, to live with Spanish families for a month-long adventure. Carey couldn’t have been more excited by the news — and she certainly couldn’t have predicted where this trip would take her.


“I met Antonio that summer,” Carey recalls. “I remember it was blazing hot. Antonio was friends with a couple of kids in my host family, and what they would do — teenagers back then — is meet up in these big groups at around 7pm, and go to a bar for a glass of wine and some tapas. So I’m sure that’s where Antonio and I first started talking, at one of those bars on one of those nights.”

Little did Carey know, a month of these meet-ups was only the beginning of what would evolve into a life-long conversation. Carey returned to Spain the following summer, and then again her junior year of college. Senior year found Antonio in North Africa completing his compulsory military service, but it wasn’t long after that Carey reunited with him in Spain. “I didn’t even stick around for graduation,” she says. “As soon as I finished my final exams, I got on a plane and met Antonio’s train as he returned to Madrid from his year in the army. We were married that summer.”

Things only picked up from there. As summer drew to a close, Carey and Antonio moved to Boston so that Carey could start business school. Two kids and many years later, the couple remains happily married, their roots planted in California but their home brimming with Spanish influence: pottery, photographs, cookbooks, and on occasion, tortilla española.

“Antonio’s mother taught me how to make tortilla,” Carey tells me. “It takes a little bit of trial and error, but once you have it down it’s such a great, versatile dish.” Traditionally made with onions, potatoes, eggs, olive oil, and salt, the tortilla has nothing to do with Mexican corn or flour tortillas. It resembles more a frittata or an omelet, but the layered, coined potatoes are the real stars of the show, not the eggs.

The dish is hearty, satisfying, and much more than the sum of its parts — a true crowd-pleaser, no matter where you live.

Three Quick Questions…and Carey’s Answers

It’s your last meal. What do you have?

Believe it or not, I’d have a tongue sandwich on rye…and a piece of cheesecake.  Our father would always take us to this one deli — usually on Sunday nights — and I’d get the tongue sandwich. I grew up eating it, and to this day I still love it.

Your kitchen is burning down. What’s the one thing you grab?

All of the Spanish pottery I’ve acquired over the years.

Do you have a favorite cookbook?

I  love Cooking in Spain by Janet Mendel, an American author who has been living in Spain for many years. Her book is written in English and the recipes are excellent.

Tortilla Española
Recipe type: Appetizer/Side, Main
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6-8
Five humble ingredients are transformed into a magnificent breakfast, lunch, dinner, or tapa. Just as delicious hot as it is cold, the tortilla can also be sliced into wedges and served on a baguette.
  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 lbs yukon gold or russet potatoes, cut into ⅛-inch thick coins
  • 6 eggs
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • chopped chives for garnish (optional)
  1. Heat 1 cup olive oil in large (about 12-inch) non-stick pan over medium-low heat. Add the thinly sliced onions and saute until soft but not browned, 5-10 minutes. Add the coined potatoes and gently toss to coat them in the oil; cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are very tender but not browned, about 20 minutes.
  2. When the potatoes are almost done, lightly beat together the eggs and salt in a large bowl. Using a slotted spoon, transfer potatoes and onions to the bowl of eggs. Wipe out the pan and return it to the stove over medium-high heat. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil and swirl around the pan to thoroughly coat the bottom and sides.
  3. Gently stir the potatoes into the egg mixture to combine. Pour the egg and potato mixture into the heated, oiled pan. After a minute, reduce heat to medium-low and cook until the tortilla is set on the bottom and the edges, about 7-10 minutes.
  4. Place a large, flat plate (or a light-weight cutting board) over the pan and carefully invert the tortilla onto the plate. Set the pan back on the stove, and carefully slide the tortilla back into the pan. Cook on this side until the bottom of tortilla is set, about 5-10 minutes.
  5. Invert tortilla onto a clean, flat plate and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing into it. Cut the tortilla into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature. If desired, garnish with fresh, chopped chives.


  • What a wonderful story! I LOVE tortilla Espanola because it’s simple, filling, and delicious in a comforting sort of way.

    • Grace

      Jess, cannot agree more. Sometimes it’s the simplest dishes that are the best!

  • Love this story. Tortilla Espanola reminds me so much of the summer I spent in Spain. I remember the first time I tried to make my own tortilla things got really messy. I should give it another go!

    • Grace

      Me too, Maria! I spent a summer there in highschool and I remember coming home and trying to cook this for my family. Key word: trying. :)

  • I’ve made a few attempts at these, with mixed success. Time to give it another go, I think.

    • Grace

      Definitely, let me know if you end up giving it another shot! It took me a few times to get it down as well. I think the key thing for me was using a really lightweight cutting board for flipping it — made things a lot easier to handle!

  • Miriam

    Have spent the past 2 years walking the Camino De Santiago in Northern Spain. Will return this year to complete the almost 900Km pilgrimage. The promise of Tortilla Espanola is enough in itself to get me walking again. Delish:) Great food and lovely people, what a combination!

    • Grace

      Miriam, that is so incredible you’ve done the Camino! I had dreams of doing that in college but it never quite happened.. Have a great time this year and make sure to eat lots of tortilla!!

  • Shelly

    What a great story! I lived in an international dorm in college here in the States and one of my friends would make tortilla Espanola for us. I’ve made it many times over the years, but none are as good as his were in uni.

    • Grace

      Shelly, I know what you mean. It is funny how such a seemingly simple dish can turn out so differently depending on the technique used to make it and just slight variations in ingredients. On the bright side, it’s hard to go too wrong with it :)

  • Christi

    I attended The University of Madrid and every day we would have the tortilla as an afternoon snack. It was my favorite! This was in 1980 and ever since I’ve tried to recreate it, with minimal success. I’m a good cook but must have been missing something. Thanks for the authentic recipe – I can’t wait to try it and to remember my days at school. Mil gracias!!

    • Grace

      Christi, yes, you should definitely try it again! Keep us posted on the outcome!!

  • I love a good international love story. Much like my own. Who needs graduation! I will absolutely be trying this recipe.

    • Grace

      Ha, exactly! Thanks for reading, Jen : )

  • This is the recipe I will make for my visiting great grand children this weekend. I’m sure it will be a smashing success!

    Grandma Kat

    • Grace

      Grandma Kat – what lucky grandkids you have!

  • Interesting way of cooking the potatoes, was always told in Spain to boil them, chop and then add to the egg & fried onions.

    Will certainly be giving this way a shot :)

    • Grace

      Oh yes, I’ve found that there is much debate over the proper way to cook tortilla. I may be a bit biased, but I recommend this one!

  • Jennifer

    I just made this for dinner and it is an outstanding recipe, the best one I’ve tried. The cooking times are perfect for everything. I think my pan might have been too big because mine seemed to need more egg and I still need to improve on my flipping skills!!!! Thank you for this!!! I spent a summer in Spain during college and this is such a simple, delicious, economical way to eat!! And kid friendly!

    • Grace

      So glad to hear it worked out well, and thank you for the feedback! I spent a summer in Spain in college as well and this tortilla never fails to transport me back there!

  • Zamora?? That’s where my fiance, Mario, is from! We’re getting married in July in Zamora!!! How exciting.

    I hope Carey sees this. Let her have my email address if she doesn’t!

    • Grace

      Oh wow, small world! I will definitely let Carey know :)

  • I’ve been researching and researching for a solid recipe of this. Some are so convoluted, so I really appreciate your straight forward approach and detailed instructions and photos. Requesting a bit of advice, if you don’t mind: how are you cutting the potatoes? Do you use a mandolin slicer to get the super thin slices or is that a no go? That part has been a bit difficult for me.

    I appreciate your guidance!


    The Hsinru Social

    • Grace

      Hi! I’m glad the recipe is helpful! As far as slicing the potatoes goes, a mandolin would certainly speed things along but it definitely isn’t necessary. So far, all I’ve used is a good old fashioned knife! :) The slices don’t have to be perfect, just as long as they are pretty thin.

  • This reminds me of my mom. Back in the early ’60s she went to visit my uncle in Spain and brought back a recipe for tortilla de patatas. She cooked it fairly often and it was one of our favorites.

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  • Natalie

    That was so much simpler to prepare than I expected! I studied abroad in Spain in college 10 yrs ago, but have never tried to make this yet.
    That was WAY too much oil, and despite keeping heat at med-low and not over-cooking mine turned much browner than yours.

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