Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Crisis: survival tips

Her Serene Majesty, the Tortilla de Patatas
David Seaton's News Links
Making it through the "lost decade" that appears to be waiting for us is surely going to be heavy going and in the hard scrabble of making ends meet, a person can work up a good appetite. Those who think they cannot live without large quantities of beef may look in their wallets and end up muttering, "yes we can".

How to eat well on a shoestring?

Today I'm going to introduce you to what is probably Spain's most popular dish, the "tortilla de patatas", which has nothing to to do with the Mexican cornmeal tortilla. "torta" means cake in Spanish and tortilla means "little cake" and patatas mean potatoes. So, we are talking about something cake-like made with potatoes and eggs and usually onions and sometimes green peppers or spicy, chorizo sausage, or even spinach. If you have ever eaten one, by now you are drooling all over your mouse.

This dish is simplicity itself, its success depends on the quality of the ingredients used and the care taken in preparing it. With practice a certain perfection can be obtained: moist, but not too moist, soft but not too soft, brown, but not too brown (sigh), which will astound you. How can something so cheap and so simple be so fine?

I have spent some time hunting around to find a decent tortilla de patatas recipe in English. Some of the American versions I came across were dead weird, with sour cream and ovens. But I finally came across the following orthodox Spanish tortilla recipe in Dean Derhak's page. With a few additions and subtractions of mine, here it is:

1 cup olive oil
four large potatoes (peel and cut into small pieces about 2mm thick)
salt to taste
one large onion, thinly sliced
four large eggs.

Some people add thin slices of green pepper together with the onion. (or chorizo)

Heat the oil in a 9-inch skillet, add potato pieces, one slice at a time so that they don't stick. Alternate layers of potato and onion. COOK slowly, medium flame. DO NOT FRY!! Turn occasionally until potatoes are tender, but NOT brown. They must be loose, not "in a cake".

Beat eggs in a large bowl with a fork. Salt to taste. Drain potatoes. Add potatoes to beaten eggs, pressing them so that eggs cover them completely. Let sit for 15 minutes. Heat 2 tbsps of the oil in large skillet. Add potato-egg mixture, spreading quickly. Lower the heat to medium-high. Shake pan to prevent sticking (crucial step!!) When potatoes start to brown, put a plate on top skillet and flip to cook other side, adding another tbsp of oil. Brown on the other side. Can flip three or four times for better cooking. (Be careful to make sure that there is not too much hot oil left in the pan when you do the number of putting the plate on top of the skillet, turning the skillet upside down and then sliding the turned tortilla back into the skillet. If you are not careful the hot oil will roll right down your arm.)
This little miracle is usually eaten cold. It is great for breakfast with hot coffee or for lunch with red wine.

With the stomach thus taken care of, now for some music.

A few years back I discovered an online radio station that I dearly love, called "Jambalaya Jam", the creation of someone with the real down home name of Steven Polatnick, who provides round the clock music of all colors and kinds from the drowned city of New Orleans. I can listen to it for hours. It's free. Here is the link.

If you are short on cash to buy CDs and software, go visit the treasure house of search engine genius, Jimmy Ruska.

This is just a beginning. I hope readers will add to this short list of suggestions of how to get through hard times. DS


Stephanie said...

Sounds delicious. Printed out and will try it with my father, who is of Spanish extraction although he has not visited for years.

Anonymous said...

The real secret here is the double cooking of the potato, she the Queen first gets fried slowly in prime oil and is then tenderly baked together with golden egg yolks.

A shame that most US-Americans will be left with sunlight chicken soup when the last McDonalds gets shut down.

stunted said...

Yes, it does sound delicious. I'm going to give it a whirl this evening. Unfortunately, I just throw things together and taste as I go, so I have no measured recipes to share but have been going to oriental markets and putting together stir-frys with the fresh veggies (cabbages, bok-choys, napas, snow peas, etc.) and jars of pickles and condiments that crowd the shelves. Same with Indian food stores, and then there's the endlessly inventive simplicity of pasta dishes. Having spent a truly magical year in Rome, I struggle to re-create the smells and flavors that washed over me. The last effort involved lots of fresh arugula (rughetta in Rome), fresh tomatoes, olive tapenade, fresh garlic, olive oil, vinegar and fusilli pasta, though orecchiette, farfalle or penne will do nicely. The pasta (al dente, vi prego) is the only item cooked. Some grana, reggiano or pecorino grated on top; some salad; a chunk of ciabatta and whatever you're drinking.

I'm partial to FIP (France Inter Periferique) for radio on the web. It can be found at No adverts, just some news flashes, local weather and traffic updates and some brief call-in contests for free tickets to expos and shows in Paris. They play an eclectic selection of music, all mashed-up together--blues, jazz, classical and opera extracts, folk, Europop, world music, musique franchouillarde and a guest-hosted jazz program every night from 19h30-22h. They're playing "Nuits d'Ete" de Berlioz right now. I'm in heaven, even if it isn't Regine Crespin singing.