I’m just mad about saffron. And a Tortilla Espanola

Tortilla Espanola
Seriously, I am quite annoyed about saffron.

I thought I’d embark on a Spanish cooking extravaganza commencing with traditional paella. I needed a few ingredients so I stopped on my home from work at a sweet little gourmet food shop. The only saffron they had was in a little tiny vial. $11.95 for 0.4 grams. Less than half a gram. That’s less than half the weight of a regular paper clip. Handpicked in La Mancha Spain it may be, but honestly, that price seems out of this world.

I understand that harvesting saffron is labour-intensive and that growing it is land-intensive. I think I read that an acre yields about one pound of saffron. And that the saffron crocus only grow in certain regions of the world. So I do understand why saffron is so expensive.

But when I stood in the little shop going through my paella shopping list – saffron, smoked paprika, really good olive oil, Spanish olives, Bomba rice, Chorizo sausage, chicken, prawns, lemons, and organic chicken stock – I decided that perhaps paella would have to wait for a dinner party and I’d start with some more humble Spanish dishes. A tortilla Espanola sprang to mind.

I picked out an irresistible little black tin of Spanish smoked paprika, some olives and some good olive oil. Thirty dollars later I left the store. Still mad about saffron.

I know there are a million recipes for Tortilla Espanola otherwise known as a Spanish omelette. I make omelettes all the time and frequently start with potato and onion before pouring the egg over – I call it a simple frittata. But I’d never made a true tortilla Espanola and I wasn’t sure what the difference was. I started looking at recipes. Some of them called for one and a half cups of olive oil, or more. That seems like a lot of olive oil for an omelette or a frittata. I think therein lies the difference.

I decided to wing it though and make my own. I used much less olive oil, about half a cup in total. This is a really easy, slightly tricky, inexpensive, beautiful vegetarian dish. I served it along with olives and a rustic loaf of crusty white bread.

Paella soon. In the meantime, I’m serving this up and listening to a little Donovan… he’s mad about Saffron too.

Tortilla Espanola
¼ cup olive oil plus more as needed
3 large potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
6 eggs
NO saffron

Pour a full ¼ cup olive oil into a medium-sized non-stick pan. Add the potatoes and cook on medium-low heat. Don’t try to speed the process up by cooking quickly – the potatoes need to be cooked through before you add the egg. You want to cook, rather than brown the potatoes. Once the potatoes are mostly cooked, (this will take about 20 minutes or longer depending on the type and size of your chopped potatoes) add the chopped onion.

Keep cooking over medium-low heat until both the potatoes and onions are tender and completely cooked, and lightly browned. Remove from the heat and set to one side. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Whisk the eggs and add the salt and pepper. Spoon the onion and potatoes into the beaten egg mixture and let stand for 10-15 minutes.

Pour another tablespoon or two of olive oil into the frypan and warm gently over medium heat. Pour the egg and potato mixture into the pan. As soon as the edges start to pull away from the pan, turn the heat to low. Continue cooking on low cook until the egg mixture looks reasonably well set – though it may still be slightly runny on top in the centre. The bottom of the tortilla should be lightly brown. You can lift it with your spatula to check.

Now comes the hard part. Remove the frypan from the stove top. Take a large flat plate and invert it over the pan. Wearing your oven mitts, invert the whole frypan/tortilla/plate combo upside down. You may need help with this. And there may be some cursing involved at this stage – that’s normal.

If the pan looks dry, add another tablespoon or so of olive oil and slide the tortilla back into the pan, cooked side up. Flipping the tortilla gives the finished dish a slightly different texture and appearance – with a nice rounded edge.

Tortilla Espanola can be served hot, warm, or cold. The leftovers are great the next day. Works well served with a salad, olives, rustic bread, and perhaps some chili sauce on the side. Serve it with a green vegetable, or a salad, and perhaps some sweet chili sauce.

I’ve also made a version with some smoked Spanish paprika and sliced jalapeno stuffed olives. I loved it but strictly speaking – it’s not an authentic Spanish Tortilla.

Buen apetito!


25 thoughts on “I’m just mad about saffron. And a Tortilla Espanola

  1. My roommate makes tortilla espanola all the time. We will have to try this spicier version. Although we’ve got a bit of saffron salt left…. We might just throw it in there. PS made your Irish coffee a few days ago. Delicious. And decadent.

  2. – When I made mine for one recently I thought I probably would end up cursing when trying to flip the pan over. Nope, not a single expletive was uttered.
    – Saffron is expensive! Love the stuff, though.

    1. Johnny – that’s fantastic! You’re fabulous – and yes – you’re also a proper chef. That probably helps! I don’t know if I really know what saffron tastes like. Next dinner party……

  3. Wonderful post, Lindy!

    Believe it or not, as the former manager of the Histology laboratory in Kingston General Hospital, I regularly had to confront the price of saffron as well, on behalf of our patients. The lab had to extract the dye by boiling natural saffron in ethanol for some time — it is used daily in a routine tissue stain called Hematoxylin-Phloxine-Saffron, or HPS, which we employ in the preparation of tissue sections on microscope slides.

    Those are sent to pathologists to examine and make a diagnosis on the bit of yourself that may have been removed at surgery and sent to this lab. So we bought it by the 100s of grams. As you say, more expensive than gold. A staggering expense. We bought it from the same wholesaler that your grocer does. I am quite sure they looked forward to this annual shower of gold. But even at that, I expect it was still a lot cheaper than buying already made Saffron dye.
    It’s all good.

    cheers, Dave

  4. You are so right, Saffron is out of this world expensive. I think I paid $9.95 for a tiny little packet, literally a thimble full of saffron, I do love your recipe for Espanola and love smoky paprika. One thing about saffron is a little goes a very long way, it has such a unique taste you can’t really explain it. I love it but it’s so darn expensive I only cook with it a few times a year.

    1. Next dinner party I’ll break down and buy some!! I’m sure I’ve had saffron over the years – I seem to remember a fantastic Burmese curry with saffron. And I’ve had Paella – but not often enough to really discern the taste of saffron. It was your paella that inspired me. xo

  5. I love saffron, but not the price. I tried seeking some out in delis in London this week, hoping offerings would be higher quality and better value than supermarkets, alas, to no avail. Better though than the saffron my parents brought me back from India – orange threads 🙂 happens a lot to tourists apparently! Love tortilla but I’m not brave enough to flip – I stick it in the oven to cook and brown the top, otherwise the curses would be excessive! Thanks Tracey

    1. Oh my Tracey – orange saffron – that would make one mad! I think of you as very brave – fishing out there in the Hebrides. If I’d used a cast iron pan I might have used the “stick it the oven” technique – but I fought with my cast iron pan a few times before surrendering it to daughter #1 (that’s age not status!). Lovely of you to read and comment – thank you as always. xo Lindy

  6. …and saffron’s mad about me! Thank you for the responsible and affordable saffron-free recipe, Lindy…and for your wonderful way with words.

  7. This looks amazing! I cannot wait to experiment with this – I appreciate the honesty …. lets hope I can manage slightly tricky!
    Thanks for keeping me well fed!!


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