I grew up in rural suburbia an hour north of Seattle. Every year, we raised two cows, two pigs, and a hundred or so chickens. We also had a dozen egg-laying hens. That meant we ate a lot of eggs. Fried. Poached. Soft-boiled. Scrambled. But these were always — and only — for breakfast.
It was something of an adjustment, then, when I settled in Spain 20 years ago and found that eggs were often eaten for lunch or dinner or as a midmorning snack — but never for breakfast. And that they were prepared in more interesting ways.
My adaptation began, appropriately enough, with the first dish I learned to make in Barcelona, the humble and iconic tortilla de patatas. A thick wedge of egg layered with tender slices of potato is one of Spain’s culinary highlights, especially when served alongside country bread rubbed with tomato and doused with olive oil.
My future brother-in-law taught me to keep the inside moist, with the egg still a touch runny at the center, and to mix in an equal amount of onions with the potatoes for both texture and sweetness.
“The key to a successful tortilla is the flip,” he stressed, and demonstrated how to turn over the half-cooked mass using a plate without making a mess or burning myself. “If the bottom sticks, you are in deep trouble.”
Soon mastered, the dish has been a staple.
My brother-in-law taught me the classic thick tortilla, but my mother-in-law showed me how to prepare one with zucchini or spinach for a quick meal. Her version with spinach, pine nuts and raisins makes a delightful midweek treat.
Spanish egg dishes go beyond tortillas, though, and I more frequently prepare revueltos, the local version of scrambled eggs. The name comes from the verb “revolver” (to turn or to stir), which is a more precise way of describing the light stirring used when cooking.
With no need to flip, a revuelto is easier to prepare than a tortilla. It also nicely absorbs the flavors of the changing seasons. Wild mushrooms, say, or asparagus with peeled shrimp (and, ideally, some tender garlic shoots) are sautéed, and then whisked eggs are poured into the pan. After a handful of seconds to allow them to begin to set, the eggs are turned a couple of times with wide sweeps with a wooden spoon — no more — until just cooked but still moist. The eggs are silky and in large “pieces” rather than nubby.
The most common way to prepare eggs in Spain is fried in olive oil. I have found no better way to eat fried eggs than as huevos estrellados, “crashed” atop fried potatoes and often covered with a slice of dry-cured Spanish jamón Ibérico.
Although my parents have moved and no longer raise chickens (much less cows and pigs), when I am home, there are still always eggs for breakfast. If my mom lets me cook, then there are often eggs for lunch or dinner, too — a tortilla or revuelto using produce from her garden or the local farmers market.
If she complains that I am making a mess in her spotless kitchen, I have the perfect riposte: “No se puede hacer tortilla sin romper los huevos,” goes the hugely popular Spanish refrain. “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”