Monday, 31 August, 2009

Tourists visiting Spain have the opportunity to taste one of its most typical tapas: the Spanish ‘tortilla de patatas’, or just ‘tortilla’. This thick omelet with potatoes and onions is not the same as the flat maize pancake that in Mexico is also called ‘tortilla’.

Tortilla de patatas is very convenient because it is delicious, warm or cold, some hours after preparation. Its low cost (around 0.7 €/person), make it suitable for low-budgets. This dish is full of energy, providing about 285 Kcal in 100 g, of which 12% are proteins, 66% lipids and 22% sugars. Tortilla de patatas is so popular in Spain that it is often served in all occasions and can be a whole-family dinner, a fast-food sandwich for working days, a ‘tapa’ to be enjoyed with friends, and even an appetizer for refined social occasions, such as wedding parties.

During the Spanish civil war (1936-39) and after it, food was very scarce and it was not always possible to have a nice tortilla for lunch. In 1938, Chef Ignasi Domènech published a book called ‘cocina de recursos’ (resourceful cuisine), in which he offered some solutions to food scarcity. Among them it can be found the praiseworthy ‘tortilla de patatas’ without eggs and without potatoes. Indeed, potatoes were replaced by slices of the white layer of orange peels, and instead of eggs, a mixture of oil, flour, water, sodium bicarbonate, pepper, salt and an artificial colorant was used. Fortunately, these times are over and we can now enjoy this dish with its original ingredients.

Tortilla can be prepared either following the ‘classic’ recipe, with potatoes, eggs and onion, or can be a field for gastronomic creativity. The ‘tortilla paisana’ is made with a mixture of vegetables including red/green pepper and aubergines. New ingredients, such as fried bacon or grated cheese can be added on top of the tortilla, and potatoes can be replaced by alternative vegetables, like courgettes, spinach, beans or rice; or by tuna, ham or cheese. The famous chef Ferràn Adriá replaced the ‘plain potatoes’ by thin mass market potato chips, in a convenient and delicious new recipe.

A key quality factor of tortilla is the texture: it should not be too oily or too dry. The flavour is also very important and on top of the onions flavours, some kinds of potatoes can contribute positively to it: the use of flavourful, fresh potatoes is a must. Onion should be well cooked but not burned. Some people prefer the potatoes cut in smaller or bigger pieces, and in the form of cubes or slices, this does not matter as long as they are properly fried. The same for the thickness of the tortilla, which can vary from 1 to 9 cm, but typically around 2-3 cm. The tortillas without onion are definitively tasteless and meant only for people that ‘dislike onions’.

Pasteurized tortillas can be found in the supermarket: refrigerated and packed in vacuum plastic bags. They are ready to be eaten and just need to be heated for 3 min. A 500 g product can cost around 1.7 €. It is an alternative for those not having the time to cook a home-made tortilla, which takes around 30 min.

Open-Senses has studied the gastronomic quality of the supermarket tortillas and has compared it with the home-made ones, both with and without onions. The visual appearance of the mass market ones is very good, with a nice brownish colour, and they can be cut in nice cubes to be served as an appetizer. They also have the right thickness and consistency. The main difference between the home-made and the mass market tortillas is the texture: the latter are drier and flourier, lacking the smoothness and oiliness that characterises the home-made tortillas. The mass-market products are also low on flavours: the egg flavours are poorer and closer to boiled-egg-like than to omelette-like flavours. Another important difference is the oily taste: while the home-made tortillas have the nice, mouth-filling oily flavours and taste, there is an absence of all these elements on the mass-market products. The onion flavoursof the mass-market products are clearly noticeable and make the whole product tastier and richer than the product without onion. However, these flavours are closer to boiled-onions than to the fried-onions flavours of the home made product. In both cases, the tortilla with onions was perceived as more flavourful, with smoother taste and less dry than the variant without onions.

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