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This is one of those fantastic ideas that was born not out of a concerted effort to have fantastic ideas, but through sheer dumb luck and lack of planning. If necessity is the mother of inventions, then poorly-stocked pantries are the uncle of new recipes. Or something like that.
The idea of using potato chips in place of slow-cooked potatoes in Spanish tortilla—the thick, moist, omelet-like dish of potatoes, onions, eggs, and olive oil that get passed out with glasses of wine or stuffed into sandwiches all over Spain—is not an original one. I first saw it in one of Spanish-born D.C. chef José Andrés's cookbooks and thought the idea was genius. The concept is that by folding potato chips into beaten eggs, they soften sufficiently that when you subsequently transfer the mixture to a pan full of hot olive oil, it fries up into a thick omelet that remains moist and creamy in the center, while getting a bit of extra crispness around the edges from the chips.
Well, late one night I was poking through the sorry detritus I found in my fridge, lamenting the fact that out of all the wonderful homemade and storebought condiments and sauces I had in there—a half dozen varieties of miso and more than a half dozen chili sauces, two flavors of homemade mayo, three varieties of soy sauce, anchovies, tomato sauce, crème fraîche, harissa (both domestic and Moroccan), bacon-cherry-pepper relish, etc.—the only actual real food I had was a few eggs, an onion, and a bag of Cape Cod salt and vinegar chips.
Hang on a minute, I thought. Suddenly a dim lightbulb flickered over my head. Or rather, José Andrés plucked the lightbulb from over his head and held it over mine for a very brief second. I think we may have something here.
I like eggs, I like tortillas, I like salt and vinegar chips—why not combine them?
I started by softening the onion in plenty of good olive oil, then transfered them to a bowl where I whisked in the eggs and folded in the potato chips before frying up the whole mixture until set.
The first attempt was not bad, but in all honesty, it needed a stronger vinegar punch. Easy enough. For the second (and final) batch, I added a bit of extra vinegar to the egg mixture with the chips, kicking it up into more mouth-puckering territory.
There's no real big trick to cooking a tortilla—the most difficult part comes when you have to flip it. Unlike, say, an Italian frittata, which gets finished by baking or broiling and has a lighter, fluffier texture, a tortilla should be dense and moist, the result of flipping and compressing while it cook, all while making sure that the eggs don't cook all the way through to the center. In a perfect tortilla, the middle should have the creamy texture of very lightly set scrambled eggs.
You can flip your tortilla using a plate, but I find that the easiest method is to actually use a metal or glass pot lid. Just hold it over the skillet using a towel, then flip the skillet and the lid together. The tortilla should end up on the lid, whereupon you can simply slide it out into the skillet to cook the second side.
What I really love is how many layers a potato chip-based tortilla gets, and how crisp the exterior becomes.
I normally serve my tortilla with allioli, a Spanish version of the garlic and olive-oil based Provençal sauce aïoli. But it somehow didn't seem right to match such a rustic, homemade sauce with a dish that was the product of tradition and modern snack culture. Instead, I decided to doctor up some regular old store-bought Hellman's mayo by whisking in some garlic and some really good Spanish olive oil.
The resulting sauce has the vinegary tang of Hellman's, but the rich, peppery flavor of good olive oil—the perfect foil to my salt and vinegar omelet.
I'm considering barbecue or sour cream and onion potato chip tortillas next, but I think I may wait until desperation and hunger kick in first.
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About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.