Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.
When you come up empty—you forgot a meal you’d need to feed people, or everything has careened off-schedule, or you just need fuel, now—this recipe will save you.
It demands almost nothing of you: two humble ingredients at its core, no advance prep, no tool more advanced than a skillet—and, for all this, oddly enough, you can thank the chef who invented culinary foam and spherified olives.
In 2003, Ferran Adrià was the force behind the world’s most innovative restaurant, El Bulli, in Roses, Spain. But this year marked one of his prouder moments: In his book Cocinar en Casa, he told us all to make a no-tech, five-minute meal out of potato chips and eggs. It was controversial at the time, but has since become one of the most iconic and repeated dishes of the last quarter century.
It was a reinvention of the classic Spanish tortilla española, replacing the long-simmered potatoes and onions lolling in olive oil with a snack food you don’t have to cook at all.
“Galicians, who are the great tortilla de patata masters, Adrià notes, like their omelets with patatas a little bit crisp,” Anya Von Bremzen explains in The New Spanish Table. “To simulate the effect and eliminate the task of frying the potatoes, Adrià fills his tortilla with chips. Though this isn’t the kind of dish you’ll ever eat at El Bulli, the simple idea has become a great hit with Spanish home cooks.”
And now, without much record of Adrià continuing to promote it himself, it’s become one of those ideas that sticks—shocking and new enough to lodge in our brains, simple enough in template to recreate and to riff.
Food & Wine and Saveur published their own versions, adding a few flavorful doo-dads like pickled peppers and jamón, and further reducing the time and anxiety by broiling the top rather than attempting to flip the tortilla. Kenji López-Alt’s chips were salt and vinegar; José Andrés’ were a colorful mosaic of Terra.
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To make your own, start by beating some eggs and throwing in a pile of chips. I like the flimsy grocery-store kind because they soften and meld into the tortilla better than thicker, kettle-style ones.
Polka-dot your mix with what you have lying around in the corners of your fridge—cured meats, pickles, leftover scraps of herbs—or don’t.
Cook it quickly; serve it warm soon or tepid later. Cut it in little squares with a dab of garlicked-up mayo if you want it to seem like a tapa (see above), or triangles on plates if you’re looking for something more forceful (see below).
But best of all, it’s a conversation starter to distract from everything else that’s run amok. In that spirit, here’s one last fun factoid: In Adrià’s later book The Family Meal, he includes instructions for making the tortilla in a menu with pork loin and pickled peppers, plus coconut macaroons for dessert—for up to 75 people.
I hope this helps you never come up empty again. And if even the grocery store seems too daunting right now—remember that gas stations sell chips.
Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what’s so smart about it) at [email protected].
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