The 7 Most Ridiculously Delicious Things I Ate This Christmas

7 Best Christmas Vacation FoodsThe Spanish truly deserve a prize for how many crazy huge, fantastically raucous meals they can fit into one holiday season. Here in Madrid the cenas to celebrate Navidad start the first weekend in December and become ever more frequent as the actual holiday approaches. By mid-month every lunch and dinner Thursday through Sunday has a decidedly festive feel and ends with extra-friendly dos besos and emphatic exclamations of “Feliz Navidad! Feliz Año! Feliz Reyes!”

For me, this tasty tradition coupled with my holiday trips to two Christmas wonderlands (aka Prague and Vienna) made for a ridiculously delicious month.  This year my holiday meals spanned six restaurants (eight including my elementary school cafeteria and the kitchen in my Madrid apartment) and seven Christmas markets across three countries. It included three 5+ course Christmas meals, dozens of new ingredients and untold bottles of wine. Needless to say, I ate fantastically well this Christmas.

While nearly every meal was packed with goodness, there were seven dishes that sent my tastebuds into full-blown celebration mode. Varying from high-class cuisine to street food, imaginative to traditional, here are the seven most delicious dishes I had the sweet, sweet pleasure of tasting this Christmas. 

7. Sauerkraut and sausage potatoes at the Wenceslas Square Christmas market in Prague

Christmas Market Potatoes

I am not and have never been a potato person. In my family and in Spain potatoes are relegated to the role of  meat accompaniment. They are the white mountain of fried, mashed or scalloped starch that fills up the rest of the plate. Then I went to Prague and discovered the true awesomeness that potatoes can be. In the huge cast iron skillets of Prague’s Wenceslas Square Christmas market potatoes reached their full potential.

The intoxicating aroma of sausage, sauerkraut and spices floating up from six steaming skillets envelops the dozen or so market stalls on each side of this potato goodness. Rather than Spain’s fried slivers, Prague’s potatoes were halved, boiled and left peel-on. They were doused in spices, cheese and a sweet, tangy sauerkraut and slow-cooked into a mess of goey perfection. I opted for half sausage-and-sauerkraut potatoes and half cheesy potato dumplings. I will never look at a potato the same way again.

6. Beef carpaccio with lemongrass and a mango foam at Sticker in Madrid

Beef Carpaccio with Mango Foam

When eight food bloggers, guides and entrepreneurs celebrate Christmas dinner together there better be some downright stellar dishes. Madrid’s new gastropub, Sticker, did not disappoint for the Madrid Food Tour team’s holiday dinner.

Our six-course tasting menu was packed with creative adaptations of traditional Spanish favorites, like a Manchego cheese yogurt with cured ham dust and a peanut-crusted poached egg over chips. But by far the most tastebud-tantalizing moment of the meal was the beef carpaccio, or rather the bright yellow dollops of mango foam atop it. The espuma was both tart and sweet; it was light as air and melted in your mouth like good dark chocolate. I’m not much of a beef eater, let alone raw beef, but I’d take a plate of carpaccio any day just to get another taste of that mango goodness!

5. Homemade market-fresh sliders at my apartment in Madrid

Homemade beef sliders

After eight days of traveling, my sister and I were more than ready for a nice home-cooked meal. With no specific menu in mind, I took her to El Mercado de Maravillas, Madrid’s fresh food wonderland. Weaving through mountains of vegetables, glaciers of seafood and brightly lit displays featuring every conceivable part of a cow, pig or goat, we searched for something to tempt our growling stomachs.

We loaded up on leeks, carrots, strawberries, cheese, membrillo (a thick jam-like brick made from quince fruit). On a whim we picked up some ground-just-for-us beef. Two days later, after freezing our faces off at the Three Kings Day parade, we huddled back into my kitchen to turn our ultra-lean, utlra-fresh Spanish beef into some super American sliders. Dividing the ground beef into two bowls, Lisa seasoned her half with soy sauce, pepper and “secret ingredients” she declined to share with me. I sprinkled my half with basil, thyme, black pepper and olive oil and tucked a small square of aged Manchego cheese in the center of each little patty.

For toppings we caramelized onions, wilted spinach and toasted garlic in olive oil. By the time the table was set we had created a choose-your-own-adventure slider extravaganza with enough flavor to rival our fancy Christmas Eve dinner. Good things happen when Lisa and I cook together.

4.  Seared scallops on a mango and Thai basil salsa at Coda in Prague

Christmas Eve Scallops

For Christmas Eve we decided to go all out. I wasn’t buying a cross-Atlantic plane ticket to see my family, so instead I decided to buy an ultra-fancy dinner to ring in the holiday. After weeks of research we decided on Coda Restaurant in Prague. The seven-course Christmas menu sounded spectacular, the atmosphere looked adorable and the price was stomachable.

When we walked in on a rather frigid Christmas Eve there was a fireplace crackling, a pianist playing and a plate of Christmas cookies waiting on our table. Yep, good decision. With the help of our waitress, we chose a stellar Gala sauvignon blanc, my first Czech wine, to accompany our meal. And then began the parade of scrumptiousness… My “International Christmas Menu” included, and I quote:

  • Pan seared fresh scallops served with fresh mango & Thai basil salad and homemade chili jam
  • Farmer’s smoked trout ravioli with a light horseradish sauce
  • Traditional fish soup with bread croutons
  • Homemade orange sorbet
  • Roasted & sliced juicy beef tenderloin with truffle rissoto and foie gras sauce
  • Traditional plum jam ravioli served in plum brandy glaze with butter roasted breadcrumbs

My sister will tell you the trout ravioli was life changing. But that’s only because she has a shellfish allergy and could not partake in the pure ecstasy that was the seared scallop – chili jam combo. The mango salad played third wheel to the glorious marriage of spice and silky seafood that was blossoming between the scallops (my favorite food) and the chilies (um… yum.).

3. Pork Sausage and sauerkraut at U Tri Ruzi in Prague

Czech Sausage and Sauerkraut

As a rule, I never go to the same restaurant twice while exploring a new city. U Tri Ruzi in Prague not only forced me to break my own rule, but it shattered my stereotypes about sausage (hot dogs disguised as something edible), sauerkraut (rotten), fish soup (creamy blandness) and non-wheat beer (hop-tastic).

One bite of their thin pork sausages dipped in homemade whole-grain mustard and topped with a pinch of perfectly tangy, sweet sauerkraut and I vowed to never hate on German food again. It was real meat bursting with flavor and spices. We Americans need to come up with another name for those nasty putty-logs we call “sausage.” This was too heavenly to even share the same word.

2. Sausage sandwich at the Republic Square Christmas market in Prague

Christmas Market Deliciousness

Minutes after stepping off the airport bus into downtown Prague and we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a Christmas dream. Toys, candies, food and mulled wine peaked out from the openings of tiny wooden houses strung with garland and lights. The smell of roasted nuts, cinnamon, cider and sausage wafted around us. Our resolve to first drop our bags off at the hostel before going Christmas market exploring evaporated instantly.

The smell of pure heaven drew me in toward one of the first stalls at the Republic Square market. Somehow without using one correctly-pronounced word of Czech I managed to order a sausage sandwich. The vendor sliced the thick sausage lengthwise and seared it on a hot skillet, adding a delectable crispiness to the center. Then he threw the two juicy sausage slices onto thick, crusty bread, added two lines creamy red sauce, and a couple tomato slices and asked for the equivalent of about 3 dollars. It was easily the best $3 I spent in the Czech Republic. I think I devoured the entire saucy mess before we even got to the table.

1. Giant apricot jam filled donut at the Schönbrunn Christmas market in Vienna

Best Donut in the World

You really can’t go wrong with a jumbo donut. But this face-sized creation went above and beyond where any American donut (or Spanish donut or any donut I’ve ever tasted) has ever gone before. Besides its fantastic size, this riesenkrapfen achieved the ideal balance of crisp crust on the outside and fluffy heaven on the inside.

When my sister and I ordered our most excellent dessert, the vendor pulled out the still-steaming donut, pumped it full of sweet-but-not-too-sweet apricot jam and covered it with a healthy dousing of powdered sugar. My new life goal: to install one of these donut stalls on my balcony. Holy donut heaven!

Now, excuse me while I go for a run….

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Pintxos: The Haute Couture of Spanish Tapas

Best Pintxos in BilbaoOne of the first and most important words I learned upon moving to Spain was “tapas,” those often bite-sized morsels of delectable Spanish cooking that proliferate in the country’s montón of bars and cervecerias. Minutes into my first night of tapeando and I was infatuated. Tapas are small enough that I could try four or five different dishes in one night (#win); they are varied enough that no matter if I was sipping a Cruzcampo or savoring a Rioja the flavors paired delightfully, and they were cheap enough (especially here in free-tapas Galicia!) that I had no remorse going out fo tapas as much as humanly possible!

But this weekend as I explored the wonders of Bilbao and San Sebastián in the Basque Country, my beloved tapas met their match. Forget tapas. I’m over tapas. Bring on the pintxos!!

Pintxo is the Basque word for tapa, but this northern province has translated far more than the letters to arrive at their version of the Spanish staple. Where tapas are versatile, representative and convenient, pintxos are unique, daring and tantalizing. The Basque Country has taken traditional tapas and turned them into avant-garde works of both visual and culinary art, defying the simplicity of typical Spanish food and daring to mix, match and creatively stack the best flavors of this delectable cuisine into tiny masterpieces of flavor, spunk and excitement.

Here are the six most mind-blowingly awesome pintxos I had the distinct pleasure of devouring in Bilbao and San Sebastián. Somehow I think my next Tortilla Española here in Galicia is going to seem wildly lacking…

1. Toasted cracker topped with goat cheese and tomato marmalade, garnished with sesame seeds.

Tomato Jelly and Goat Cheese Pintxo

Where to get the deliciousness: In the heart of San Sebastián’s pintxo land, just south of Mount Urgull (which I highly recommend climbing!) is a long, narrow bar called Txalupa, where the pintxos are plenty and the bartenders are friendly.  Calle Fermín Calbetón nº 3  in  San Sebastián

2. Calamari piled on crusty bread

Calamari Pintxo

Where to get the deliciousness: In the heard of Bilbao’s old town is the city’s main plaza, ironically called “Plaza Nueva.” The entire square is bordered by pintxos places and is packed during the afternoon and evening pintxos hours. We stopped in to Victor Montes to snag this scrumptious bit of squid. Plaza Nueva, 8  in Bilbao.

3. Garlicky grilled mushrooms

Grilled Mushroom Pintxo

Where to get the deliciousness: Calle Somera in Bilbao’s Casco Viejo was on hoppin when we strolled over to Motrikes Saturday night around 9 p, (prime pintxos time!) While many of the bars along that route are geared more toward the younger drinks-rather-than-dinner crowd, the mushrooms at Motrikes  make it 100 percent worth adding to any pintxos evening. Calle Somera, 41 in Bilbao

4. Roasted zucchini, eggplant, fried cheese, lettuce and mushroom veggie burger on a dense, seedy wheat bun. 

Veggie Burger Pintxo

Where to get the deliciousness: Kuku Soak, also in Bilbao’s Casco Viejo region has hands-down the most creative and exciting, if not the best pintxos we tried in the entire city. Barrenkale Barrena, 18 in Bilbao

5. Marinated sun-dried tomatoes, creamy sharp cheese and membrillo topped with red currants.

Sundried tomato, cheese and quince pintxo

Where to get the deliciousness: Berton gave Kuku Soak a run for it’s money in my best pintxos of Bilbao competition. Both this daring delicacy and the roasted mushroom and serrano ham number that I tried were ridiculously tasty and refreshingly creative. Calle Jardines, 11 in Bilbao

6. Stewed veal in a red wine reduction

Red Wine Stewed Veal Pintxo

Where to get the deliciousness: La Cuchara del San Telmo was without question the best pintxos bar of the trip. This melt-in-your-mouth veal was one of about a dozen pintxos available, all of which looked positively amazing. Unlike most pintxos bars, La Cuchara serves their pintxos  hot and therefore does not have them displayed on the counter. Judging by the jam-packed bar, no one in San Sebastián holds that against them. Calle del Treinta y Uno de Agosto, 28 in San Sebastián

The Art of the Go-To Restaurant

Matias PizzaThere are few things in life that stress me out more than choosing a restaurant (a fridge full of fresh– aka soon to be not fresh — vegetables would definitely be in the running). Ask me what country I want to visit next, if I want to quit my grown-up job to go frolic (ahem, teach) in Spain or what I want to do with my life and I’ll give little pause. But ask me where I want to go for lunch in a new city and I’m thrown into a tailspin of questions that can’t possibly be sufficiently answered by glancing at a menu outside.

I’ll wander for an hour hoping to stumble upon the perfect equilibrium between hole-in-the-wall authentic but not too dingy and modernly elegant but not too pricey. I’m intrinsically driven to try new things, but there are times when, especially after living in a city for a few months, I’m just in the mood for a place I can count on to be delicious, friendly and comfortably fabulous. Sometimes, I just need some stress-free food.

Trudys

My first stop on every trip back to Austin: a Trudy’s Mexican Martini!

In my hometown of New Braunfels my tried and true go-to is Gruene River Grill (rustic, riverfront, ridiculously delicious Italian margaritas and shrimp wontons). Austin has two go-tos, one for breakfast (Juan in a Million, obvs.) and one for drinks (Trudy’s, someone dame una Mexican Martini por favor!). In Sevilla it was El Tren for coffee (hello free, dependable wifi) and Marcos for dinner (bowl-licking Italian in an ancient arched setting). And in D.C., the candyland of restaurants? Tryst (scrumptious, reasonable, unassuming, close to home and everything I’ve ever wanted in a coffeehouse).

Matias cappaccinoSince unpacking in Sarria I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect sitio to add to my go-tos. The title is a tricky one to bestow. It must be delicious without being pretentious, comfortable without being drab and friendly without being pesky. Turns out, my stress-free eatery was one of the first restaurants I tested out in my little Northern pueblo: Matias Locanda Italiana. One sip of a Matias cappuccino and I was enamorado. One bite of their homemade brick oven-baked pizza and it became my new gold standard of thin crust. The ethically Italian, functionally world citizen, trilingual owner is charming, inviting and hilarious. He takes care of his regulars and has no qualms with me taking up the corner table with hours of typing and free-wifi browsing while savoring nothing more than one of his spectacular coffee creations.

Nestled amid albergues and touristy tapas joints, Matias brings authenticity to the old part of town that usually bustles with pilgrims stopping off for a bite along the Camino de Santiago. It’s the beacon of deliciousness at the top of a seriously steep hill, one I’m more than willing to climb for a scoop of their chocolate mousse (who needs a novio when you have this sinful mousse, Mr. Matias informed us during our last visit). Sarria may be known for it’s pulpo, but it’s these Italian plates of joy that drag me away from my estufa amid the rain and wind of Sarria’s wintery Spring.

Matias Chocolate Mousse

Matias chocolate mousse: my new Spanish novio

What is your go-to restaurant? How did you discover it?

Madrid, One Tapa at a Time

Living in Spain is amazing. But sharing all the wonders of this glorious country with a first-time visitor, now that is truly joyous. When one of my oldest friends, Andrew, said he could make a four-day pit stop in Madrid  on the front end of his Spanish work trip, I was — to say the least– ecstatic. As this would be Andrew’s first time in my pais de maravillas I was determined to enlighten him on all of the reasons why I feel in love with Spain in the first place. Somewhere near the top of that list: tapas!

Within hours of being reunited at Barajas’ T4, Andrew and I were on the hunt for Madrid’s top tapas.

Tapas time!

Andrew and I embarking a three-night tapas spree.

Google translate tells me “tapas” in English means “finger food” or “savories” but both of those words seriously underestimate both the scope and the vibrance of Spanish tapas. At it’s most basic level, a tapa is a size of a dish. They are always small, about the size you create by touching your two forefingers and thumbs together to make a circle. 

But more importantly, tapas are meant to be shared. Going for tapas is as much about tasting a smorgasbord of scrumptious food as it is about socializing. In Spain, evenings revolve around going out to the calle, reconnecting with old friends, striking up conversations with new ones and soaking in the vibrance, beauty and life of the city. Tapas are the method (you could even say the excuse) for meeting and mingling. And with heavenly options like croquetas and jamón on the menu, there are few things in life I love more than an evening of tapas. So without further pontificating, here are the top 6 tapas we fell in love with in Madrid. 

6. La Zapateria- Patatas caseros con morcilla (Boiled potatoes with blood sausage)

La Zapateria's Huevos Rotos

These “broken eggs” and chorizo served over fried potatoes were so good I had to go back to the Zapateria twice last time I was in Madrid!

My notoriously bad Spanish is to blame for Andrew and I discovering this new gem of a tapa at La Zapateria. While I intended to order us some of my favorite huevos rotos con chorizo (directly translated: broken eggs with sausage which come served over Spanish-style french fries), I instead ordered us patatas caseras con morcilla (homemade potatoes with blood sausage).

Luckily, it was still delicious! Large medallions of blood sausage, which was hearty tasting with a speckling of rice inside, were nestled among perfectly cooked potatoes drenched in an array of red spices. I was apparently too intent on devouring this new dish (and the perfectly delicious pitcher of Sangria) to snap a picture of it (so unlike me!). Pictured above are the huevos rotos that made me fall in love with La Zapateria the first time I came to Madrid in 2010. This cozy hole-in-the-wall style tapas bar is also where I was first introduced to the tastiness that is caracoles, aka snails!

Where to find this deliciousness: La Zapateria – about 5 minutes walking from Puerta del Sol on Calle Victoria #8

5. El Almendro- Huevos Rotos con Jamón (Broken eggs with cured ham)

Huevos Rotos con Jamon

Fried potatoes with fried egg and bits of jamón from El Almendro in Madrid.

El Almendro is nestled slightly off the beaten path in the La Latina district of Madrid, the oldest part of the city. Inside, the first floor of the restaurant is dedicated solely to tapas-goers. It’s an order-at-the-bar style affair where the bartender was extremely patient while helping me decide between the fruity, semi-dry or dry white wine (I’d DEFINITELY go with the dry).

The huevos rotos (a Madrid specialty, if you hadn’t noticed yet) at El Almendro came highly recommended by a friend who used to live in Madrid and they were absolutely not a let down. This restaurant takes their own spin on the traditional dish, serving it with chip-style potatoes instead of the usual french fry style. While I prefer the more chunky potatoes, the chips made it much more of a finger food, which lightened the atmosphere and turned into a fun evening of catching up and chowing down!

Where to find the deliciousness: Calle Almendro, 13 in the La Latina district.

4. La Pasa- Croquetas de Boletus (Mushroom Croquettes) 

One of my favorite tapas: croquetas! La Pasa serves theirs as round balls, rather than the traditional log shape.

One of my favorite tapas: croquetas! La Pasa serves theirs as round balls, rather than the traditional log shape.

Croquetas being one of my all-time favorite tapas, I was stoked when a friend recommended La Pasa as the best place to grub on the best croquetas in Madrid.

The vibe at La Pasa can only be described as a mezcla. The tables are glass, the walls are covered in modern-ish art and the best of the 2000s is playing at just the right loudness over the speakers (oh yeah they played Jack Johnson!).

Being, as always, excruciatingly indecisive at ordering, we opted to get half boletus (a type of mushroom) and half seafood croquetas. Initially, I was surprised at how large these La Pasa croquetas were! Usually croquettes are about the size and shape of a thumb – long, skinny  and small. These, on the other hand, were slightly larger than golf balls and perfectly round! One bite into these globos and I understood perfectly the reason behind their unusual shape.

By making them round, La Pasa increased the amount of the gooey delicious filling you get in one bite while decreasing the amount of fried outer shell. The result was a mouthful of fantastic flavor with just a hint of that oh-so-familiar fried olive oil taste. Can you say delicious! These easily put my feeble attempt at homemade croquetas to shame.

After a careful taste test, I have to recommend the boletus croquettes. They were muy suave and packed with flavor!

Where to find this deliciousness: La Pasa, calle La Pasa, 4 (also in La Latina district)

3. Potente- Tortilla y Empanadilla (Spanish Omelet and Empanada)

Tapas at Potente

Caramelized onion tortilla, meat-filled empanadilla and jamon tartas with a hefty cup of Tinto de Verano. Aka HEAVEN.

Deciding which amazing Spanish tapa should be Andrew’s inaugural taste of Spanish food was obvious: the classic tortilla. And just as perfectly, a friend had recommended the perfect place to savor the best tortilla Madrid has to offer: Potente. This Latina-area bar not only has traditional Spanish tortilla (heaven in of itself) but has three or four specialty types of tortilla as well! We opted for the caramelized onion version over one with mushrooms, one with chorizo and one with peppers. It was slightly sweeter than a normal tortilla but just as fantastic. While it may be seriously breeching Spanish traditionalism, I could definitely get down with tortilla innovationism. Yum!

We paired this tortilla heaven with a carne empanadilla, or beef, potato and pea filled pocket of joy. It was the perfect blend of sweet and savory wrapped in a breading that was neither too dense nor too flaky. Galicia needs to get some of these on their menus. I want more!

Slices of bread topped with olive oil, tomato paste and jamon came for free with our glasses of tinto de verano. One of the most refreshing drinks on the Iberian Peninsula, this beverage is a mix of red wine and lemon Fanta. Just try it. It’ll change your life. And yes, they do sell it in juice boxes at the grocery stores. (See why Spain = heaven?!)

Where to get this deliciousness: Potente – Calle Cava Baja, 42 in La Latina

2. La Mallorquina – Napolitana con Chocolate

Napolitana con Chocolate

My favorite food in my favorite place! A chocolate-filled croissant at La Mallorquina!

There are few things in life that are better than napolitanas con chocolate. And there are few (if any) chocolate-filled croissants better than this marvel from La Mallorquina bakery right off of Puerta del Sol in the very center of Madrid. This place was packed with fellow dessert-lovers like myself. While there was seating upstairs, we opted to grab and go for this sweet version of a tapa. (Okay, so technically napolitanas, or any desserts really, are not tapas. But I think they should be and this is my blog so here all things chocolate will forever be considered tapas.) 

The croissants in the napolitanas con chocolate at La Mallorquina somehow manage to find the sweet spot between too fluffy and too flat and bread-like. Unlike many napoltianas that have only a thin smattering of chocolate inside, this delicacy was equal parts chocolate and croissant. It was, without question, the second best napolitana con chocolate I have ever tasted (which is saying something considering my 5-month long goal of tasting every chocolate-filled croissant in Spain while I was studying here!) The best is, and always will be, from my horno in Sevilla….

1. Taberna los Huevos de Lucio- Huevos Rotos con Chorizo (Broken Fried Eggs with Chorizo)

Tapas Don't Get Better Than This

This is, without doubt or question, the best huevos rotos you will ever eat. Thank you Lucio for creating happiness.

In poetic fashion, our last tapa  before leaving Madrid was, without question, the most amazing. At least six Spaniards independently recommended I eat at Lucio’s while in Madrid. That recommendation was always followed by some version of “It is the best place in town!” “The king eats there!” “Bill Clinton ate there!!” Oh yeah, we had to eat there. So after a few unbelievably cheap Mahou cervezas (the beer of Madrid) we squeezed our way into a table at the back of this llena establishment.

If we would have done as the true Spaniards do, we should have ordered our huevos rotos at the bar, along with a couple more cervezas, and parken in this perpetually stunning dance/balancing routine in which you have a beer in one hand, a purse and jacket precariously perched against a wall/wooden nook and a fork in the other hand. Then, the group passes around the plate and somehow the whole thing is devoured over a 30 minute time period all while talking, laughing jostling and drinking. Spaniards are a truly gifted people when it comes to tapas.

Instead, we took our huevos with a side of bread, a seat and glass bottle of water (the only way water comes in Spanish restaurants. Que fancy). They arrived with the smell of heaven: sausage pleasantly smokey and perfectly crispy, eggs fried to exact moment when the whites are solid but the yolks are ready drench a bed of freshly-cut, freshly-fried potatoes in a yellow bath of flavor. It’s official. I could eat huevos rotos every. single. day.

Where to find the deliciousness: There are two Lucio’s – one is the restaurant (the more expensive option) which is called Casa Lucio. The other is across the street and is more for tapas, such as the joyousness pictured above. That one is called Taberna los Huevos de Lucio, which is located in La Latina district on calle Cava Baja, 30.

Tortilla: Spain’s PB&J

Tortilla: the Spanish Omelet

My second, studied attempt at Spanish tortilla-making.

Tortilla is to Spain what peanut butter and jelly is to America. Don’t know what to have for dinner? Tortilla. Need to pack a lunch? Tortilla on bread Looking for a mid-afternoon snack? Tortilla with toothpicks

It’s nearly impossible to find a tortilla-free tapas menu or Spanish madre who doesn’t have the perfect tortilla flip.

Thus in my attempt to learn how to cook Spanish food, the most logical starting point was the oh-so-typical Spanish omelet. The seemingly-simple recipe has only three ingredients (four, if you’re rebellious): potato, egg, salt and onion (because I am).  I have been assured by every Spaniard I’ve asked that, like all things in the Iberian Peninsula, making tortilla is muy facil. I’m beginning to think my basic Spanish classes failed to teach me the real definition of “facil” because this totally traditional dish is proving to be anything but easy to recreate.

My first attempt at cooking tortilla was more than two years ago, days after returning to America after studying in Sevilla for five months. I can’t remember the specific ratio of potato to egg that I used, or exactly how burnt the exterior was, but it will suffice to say it tasting nothing like the omelet my señora used to serve.

Tortilla-Making Attempt #1

Don’t be fooled by my shoddy photo skills, this puck of egg and potato is straight up burnt.

A year later, living in a group house in D.C. with a Spanish roommate, I attempted the facil three-ingredient dish again. THe second the Spaniard left the house, my solo tortillas lost their light and fluffiness, burned on the outside and were grossly runny on the inside. I blamed America’s must-be-refrigerated eggs.

After landing back en España this year, tortilla was item No. 1 on my list of homemade dinners. But despite the farm fresh eggs and grown-in-Galicia potatoes, my Spanish omelet was just as dry, black and bland as ever. I was convinced that making tortilla is just not in my blood. In order to successfully create this so-called facil dish, the chef had to be a full-blooded Spaniard.

On the verge of giving up all hope of ever cooking like a Spaniard (after all, if I can’t pull of the most staple of Spanish dishes, how could I ever attempt the delicious meatballs or heavenly croquettes?) Not ready to give up on my fantasy of freshly-cooked Spanish delicacies, I solicited the help of every Spaniard I knew for tortilla-making advice. A teacher at school swore it was all about the pan, so I bought a new, non-stick skillet. A friend insisted the key was low heat, so I vowed to never use a full flame again. The best advice came in the form of a demonstration one night while having cena at a friend’s house. We arrived just in time to witness a true Spanish madre in tortilla-making action. I was a tad bit excited.

Tortilla-Ready Potato

Mistake #1: The potato has to be thinly shaved, not diced.

Raw Tortilla Fixins

Mistake #2: The potato to egg ratio should be nearly even. Mine was always seriously skewed.

The tortilla master (a title worn by all Spaniards, in my opinion) walked me through each step.

  1. First, wash, peel and thinly slice (not dice!) the potatoes
  2. Mince (not hack into rough chunks) the onion
  3. Fry the onion and potatoes in plenty of oil (olive is preferred, but not necessary)
  4. Use a strainer spoon to remove the lightly-browned onion and potato mixture in to a bowl (rather than emptying the pot into a pasta strainer)
  5. Scramble the same number of eggs as you have potatoes (potatoes should be smaller than your fist)
  6. Dump the golden mixture of potato and onion into the eggs and stir just enough to incorporate it all together
  7. Add a pinch of salt
  8. Heat a non-stick (VERY important that it’s non-stick!) skillet over medium-low heat with about a tablespoon of olive oil
  9. Pour the gloopy egg-potato mixture into the pan
  10. Add another pinch of salt
  11. Dance with the skillet (in other words, shake, spin, wiggle and scoot the pan so the omelet doesn’t stick)
  12. While the top still looks positively raw, but the bottom has just begun to firm into a solid mass amongst the wiggle-routine, press a plate over the top of the pan and flip the pan over, dumping the omelet raw-side down onto the plate
  13. Slide the now-almost-a-tortilla back onto the pan, runny side down
  14. Turn off the heat (it sounds crazy, I know. The thing is still half raw!)
  15. Let the tortilla firm up from the residual pan heat four about 3 minutes
  16. Slide the masterpiece out onto a plate and go about your sweet Spanish life, cuz Dios! wasn’t that easy?!?
Tortilla Masterpiece

Myriam showing off her mother’s perfect Spanish tortilla.

SIXTEEN steps. And she made it look SO easy! They say this is the easiest Spanish meal there is. I’m doomed.

But I’m also determined. So after returning from my (completely fabulous) Christmas vacation in the states, I set out to re-create the magic I witnessed in Myriam’s kitchen.

Step 1: Potatoes

I chose two small and one large-ish potatoes and meticulously peeled them.

Step 2: Chopping and Slicing

Second, I slivered the potatoes into thin pieces and minced the onion.

Step 3: Fry Time

Next, I dumped my cutting board handiwork into hot Extra Virgin Olive Oil until the potatoes and onion were soft and cooked through.

Step 4: The Ratio

With three eggs scrambled and waiting, I spooned the lightly browned potatoes and onion into a bowl.

Step 5: Skilleting

Lastly I slipped the concoction into my tortilla skillet, flipped the forming omelet way before my instincts told me it was cooked and hoped for the best.

Step 6: Devour

While it still wasn’t a perfect Spanish omelet (I forgot the salt and could’ve had a tad more potato) it was definitely passable!