Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Great Tortilla Conspiracy or How Not to Make a Tortilla

Some seventy years ago when George Orwell was in Spain fighting with the Republicans in the Civil War, I'm pretty certain that between shooting fascists and getting shot through the neck, he managed to squeeze in his fair share of tortillas. So enamoured was he - or so I imagine - with the tortilla that he came to the conclusion that all tortillas are equal, but some tortillas are more equal than others. This is still true today. For there is the half-assed Mexican tortilla - essentially unleavened flatbread made from ground corn - and then there is the Spanish tortilla - an ersatz potato omelette - which can best be described as a gift from the gods.

... when made properly.

Several years ago, before Señor Gato Gringo and I had ever visited Spain, I decided to make a Spanish tortilla as an appetizer at a small dinner party. Keeping in mind the culinary rule of thumb that one should never serve to guests what one has never previously prepared, I offer its corollary: never serve to guests what one has never even seen. Poring over cookbooks for the perfect recipe - which brings to mind another culinary rule of thumb that the dish with the fewest ingredients will have the most variations - I even went so far as to purchase a cast-iron frying pan, something worthy of Grandma Clampett, for I had read that tortilla purists never make their tortillas in stick-free pans. And I was going to be a tortilla purist. Needless to say, the tortilla was a Comestible Catastrophe. It stuck to the cast-iron pan, the potatoes were undercooked, it fell apart, it went into the garbage and, kitchen maven that I am, I deftly offered my guests a bowl of ripple chips - the perfect appetizer to shark kebabs and mango couscous.

Now imagine, if you will, the pages of a calendar flipping past in the winds of time, an hourglass spinning in a long tunnel - and Señor G.G. and I have not only visited Spain but have even moved here. We know what tortillas look and taste like. Tortillas abound in bars where they are served as tapas and grocery store aisles where they are sold as Gatita Gringa-proof idiot-proof faits accomplis. But today I couldn't help but notice that I just happened to have the dreaded 4 ingredients - eggs, potatoes, onions and salt - in the house so why not? Why not exorcise that Comestible Catastrophe, expel that Dish from Hell (DfH) from my repertoire?

Now that I know what I'm making, how hard can this be? (Hubris alert! Hubris alert!) Potatoes were sliced, onions chopped and everything pan-fried with a little salt in olive oil. Eggs were lightly whisked, the potato-onion mixture tossed in, and then everything poured into a hot pan. Hold on - my recipe says to use a different pan, a smaller one, but I eschew this advice and use a larger one. A larger pan makes much more sense. My recipe says to cook the tortilla for about 12 minutes but after 8 minutes it's getting awfully dark so I decide to go ahead with the prestidigitation part of the preparation: the slide and flip. I even have a special tortilla flipper - a wooden plate with a handle on one side - to make the slide and flip easy-peasy.

I slide the tortilla onto the flat part of the flipper. The tortilla is a little thinner - more of a tortilla flat than an omelette - than I thought it would be but I suppose such is the price of using a larger pan. Holding the tortilla-bearing flipper with my left hand, I turn the frying pan over to cover the tortilla and with a quick flip execute a perfect slide and flip.

Except it wasn't perfect: it was the Return of the Comestible Catastrophe. Comestible Catastrophe 2. The Son of Comestible Catastrophe. Perhaps I flinched - although more likely I exulted prematurely from my aforesaid hubris - and the end result was a half-raw, half-cooked gelatinous mass laying like some science experiment gone horribly wrong bubbling on top of the burner of my stove. And not just any burner and any stove but a gas range. As I tried to poke the bulk of the half-raw, half-cooked gelatinous mass from the gas burner, I succeeded in giving myself a third-degree burn to one of my finger but I suppose such is the price of not having the wisdom of turning the gas off first.

It is neither fun nor particularly rewarding to have to clean a half-raw, half-cooked gelatinous mass from one's stovetop. The liquid cement that should have been my tortilla was removed in dripping handfuls to a plastic bag. I suspect that I'll have some 'splaining to do when Señor G.G. takes out the garbage tonight.

Really pissed off Undaunted, I was determined that - God as my witness - I would make a tortilla before the day ended. After all, I reasoned unreasonably as they have little in common that if I can make a French omelette then I can make an eff-ing Spanish omelette.

Now imagine, if you will, the pages of a calendar flipping past in the winds of time, an hourglass spinning in a long tunnel. Thirty minutes have gone by. Potatoes were sliced, onions chopped and everything pan-fried with a little salt in olive oil. Eggs were lightly whisked, the potato-onion mixture tossed in, and then everything poured into a hot pan. Hold on - my recipe says to use a different pan, a smaller one, so I take its advice and use a smaller pan. My recipe says to cook the tortilla for about 12 minutes but after 5 minutes it's become golden brown so I decide to go ahead with the prestidigitation part of the preparation: the slide and flip. I even have a special tortilla flipper - a wooden plate with a handle on one side - to make the slide and flip easy-peasy.

I slide the tortilla onto the flat part of the flipper. The tortilla is a high and fluffy, undoubtedly thanks to my ability to read a recipe the judicious use of a small pan. Holding the tortilla-bearing flipper with my left hand, I turn the frying pan over to cover the tortilla and with a quick flip execute a perfect slide and flip.

And it is perfect.

Oh joy! Oh Bliss! Tortilla for supper tonight. However will it taste? At this pre-prandial moment, it is enough that it bears no resemblance to The Comestible Catastrophe's Revenge which still sits congealing in the plastic bag on the kitchen floor. Dear reader, just be thankful that I don't possess a digital camera because that would have been the graphic accompanying today's blog.

And if it tastes like crap? - then the answer to the question How Not To Make a Tortilla can best be answered in this way: go to a bar and order a beer & a slice of tortilla.

14 comments:

squindia said...

ah the tortilla! my mouth is watering. i watched my host mother make tortilla after tortilla and i still never perfected it. but i still try!

enjoy!

knarf said...

Aborted chicken fetuses?

What's up with that?

;-)

La Gatita Gringa said...

I know! But they're more potato than egg. The same skewed logic allows me to drink egg nog (hen's milk).

Cath said...

You say tortilla, I say frittata....
Great. Now that song is stuck in my head.

La Gatita Gringa said...

Well let's call the whole thing off.

senor gg said...

I am very happy to report that Gatita Gringa's tortilla was a success and it was very tasty.

Did that sound dirty to you too?

Di Mackey said...

I was torn between laughter, longing for tortilla and wanting to be back in Spain doing the evening tapas bar circuit ...

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up!
And according to this article, I totally agree with your opinion, but only this time! :)

Anonymous said...

You have to express more your opinion to attract more readers, because just a video or plain text without any personal approach is not that valuable. But it is just form my point of view

Christie Bertrand said...

Lol, just had a similar experience this morning, I had no idea that giratortillas existed so I flipped with a regular plate. I managed to salvage the gelatinous mess, butI will be investing in a tortilla flipper in the future. Thanks for the blog, very helpful!

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