Monday, July 09, 2007

“Curiosity killed the cat but satisfaction brought it back.” Unknown

I am generally not one for following fads, at least not that I am aware of. Woefully I lurch out of sync drawn to fashion items long after they have slinked off of the hip-ness radar. And on occasion when something calls my name, like that ridiculously expensive faux ocelot custom made bolero jacket which winked at me in earnest coy flirtation, I should have known better and simply walked away. After all I have a history of seeking out unflattering thereby unfortunate haircuts, drawn to myself a stash of regrettable music impulses and corralled a trail of trash worthy fashion accessories reeking of my futile attempts to enmesh with that in vogue. The last time my inner driven whims favorably aligned with a fad, I was no doubt playing with Mexican jumping beans while listening to the tinny teen pop groove of my battered 8 track tapes.

But when it comes to the business of food or art, I more graciously observe these social whims with a light step lenient if not curious attitude. In some cases I have the feeling that capricious desire might lead to a surprising and novel destination. In these circumstances I boldly move ahead, hungry for unfolding development and grand adventure. Of course it will be no surprise that Ferran Adrià, the father of deconstructivist cooking piques my process loving, abstract idolizing self. Fickle fad or entrenched tradition remains to be seen, but for now this Spaniard’s whimsical collage of freeze dried poufs, heavenly foams, gossamer scents, and strange pliant emulsifications cast a spell upon my roving eyes and heart. I would gladly follow the strains of this piper’s music down the rolling mountain road to his El Bulli by the sea.

For now I am reeled in and satisfied to experiment with a down to earth recipe designed by Adrià himself for the humble home cook. Deceptively simple olive oil, potatoes, onion and egg bind and transform to create Tortilla Espanola, a savory cake that is the heart and soul of Spanish cooking. With clever sleigh-of-hand, snack bag addictive potato chips are a modern interpretation not to mention time saving substitution for thinly sliced potatoes cooked up slick in olive oil. For a brief moment I cannot help wondering how close the divide is between high and low brow art before gliding on mindlessly to the palate pleasing pleasure of chips. Crisp, salty, explosive shards of pomme de terre- there is something deliciously attractive about eating food “ought not to” as breakfast fare. Whether it is too much dulse on the brain or the hypnotic lure of Ferran, this culinary curiosity has me revved and ready and just a little giddy for my ensuing meal.

You see several times before I have watched with the agitated nervousness of a new mother while various friends struggled to cook, flip and slide an unruly potato cake into neat and stacked submission. As I recall, these scenes involved disturbing amounts of oil, smoky pans and increasingly perspiring brows, not to mention stodgy recalcitrant potato pieces with no desire to join the fun. After all that angst and trouble with barely mediocre results I simply accepted that tortilla was one of those foods best left for the competent hands of a Galician cook. Yet hearing that 4 eggs swished around with some stock and a handful of chips, later united with a verdant pool of olive oil just beginning to shimmer promises a tapas capable of conjuring warm Spanish hospitality with a hint of wit and a twist of flair, my curiosity was stoked and my pre-prepared potatoes purchased.

In the end I ate a beautiful tortilla golden crisp at certain edges, streaming like a high noon sun. My plate’s appearance showed the same spirited exuberance that went into the dream and execution of my food: lusty dollops of aioli amidst heavy handed swatches of ketchup and wild hacks of egg. It appeared as though a young child had been at play, let loose and abandoned. But to admit another truth, the potatoes were strangely dry and desperate like the dehydrated ones found in a boxed gratin mix. While I enjoyed the process and reveled in mounting anticipation, I inwardly slumped dejected at my first disappointing bite. I thought about the various sundry things that tickle our passions and rouse our rise pulling us out of sleepy familiarity. I considered that dreaded question set forth by an old professor which still reverberates within my head this many years later, "In the end, does it pass the so-what test?" Indeed, it was worth it- one sees something on every journey long or short. While I didn’t quite make it to the coast of Spain this time around, I rediscovered my love of aioli and felt the delicious thrill of wonder rise and capture me again.

Tortilla De Patates according to Ferran Adrià: In The New Spanish Table where I found this recipe, Anya von Bremzen says to use a good quality supermarket chip (Ferran suggests ones cooked in olive oil), even Lay’s works. This might have been my fatal flaw since I used Kettle baked chips. I was not fully committed to the process. I think I may have soaked the chips too long as well. Too long, you lose the crunch, not long enough and they are too dry?

Olive oil
1 small onion, quartered and sliced thin
3 oz. of potato chips cooked in olive oil, lightly crushed
6 eggs
2 Tblsp chicken stock
Coarse salt

Directions: Fry up the onion in a bit of olive oil over a medium high non stick 8” skillet. Cook until soft. In a bowl mix eggs, stock, and salt until well combined and then stir in potato chips and onions. Set for about 5 to 10 minutes. Heat up skillet again on medium high and put 5 teaspoons of olive oil in. When the oil is hot pour the egg mixture in. Use a spatula to push all of the potatoes flat. Reduce the heat to medium low and run the spatula around the rim of the pan while shaking the pan to prevent sticking. After about 6 minutes or when the eggs at the surface look moist but not too runny, place a plate larger than the skillet right side down, atop the pan. Quickly invert the tortilla onto the plate. If the pan is too dry add more olive oil before quickly sliding the egg back in wet side down. Use your spatula to push all bits back in place and lower the heat. Cook the tortilla a few minutes more or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Invert again onto a plate and blot off excess oil. Cool and cut tortilla in wedges serving aioli on the side.


Lydia said...

I have had some wonderful Tortilla Espanola in my time, but none (I don't think) made of potato chips. I can't decide if it's inspired, or just wacky!

Ellie said...

What a beautiful post :) I have heard of Ferran Adria (mostly through the posts over at Hungry in Hogtown), but what I've heard of El Bulli has always made me think of dishes that cannot be recreated in an ordinary home kitchen! I shall have to try this recipe and see if it transports me to the shores of Spain (fingers crossed!)

Lis said...

Well I've only used potato chips in a recipe for cookies - and they are sinfully delicious. I can see how they could be revived to produce a very good crust.

Excellent post.. I'm craving both eggs and potato chips right now. hahaha!

Callipygia said...

lydia- I know this is both inspired and wacky. I will try it again, and if the beast isn't tamed then it is time to make it the regular way.

ellie- Apparently he has a cookbook that is for the homecook, but nothing like what he serves at his restaurant. You know for the life of me I can't get onto your site. Has it been down for awhile?

lis- Oh I like the idea for it in cookies, is it on your site? And me too, after making this all I kept thinking about was potato chips with clam dip!

jbird said...

Hmmm....I can totally see that being yummy...maybe the key is just making scrambled eggs and then eating your fav. chip on the side w/ a dollop of mayonaise?
Then all aspect is preserved...the creaminess of the eggs, the crunch of the chip....that would be quintessential modern deconstructivist omlette. ;-)
And you should eat the omlette w/ chopsticks.

Callipygia said...

jbird- I think that is a good approach, I was also thinking of a part cooked potato, part chip hybrid... where is Top Chef when I need them?

sher said...

I've been wanting to make this recipe for over a year! Hooray! I feel this is a perfect recipe, because it makes you curious to see what it would taste like. AND--it so happens that Terra Yukon Gold potato chips cooked in olive oil are my favorite chip. So, if I bought the big bag, I could make this dish and eat the rest of the chips!!!!! You see where I'm going here. Great post!

Monkey Wrangler said...

Which came first, the tortilla or the aioli? Based on this, I'd say aioli, (with the chips giving it a one high one low brow kind of thing)......maybe I'll give it a go the next bag of chips.

Callipygia said...

Sher, those Terra chips are frighteningly good- have you had the mixed veggie one (beets, parsnips, taro)with lemon and herbs? Really what was I thinking going with the unimaginative baked chips.

Monkeywrangler, Yeah I'd say aioli came first and only partly because it is fun to say. This falls under the category of "playing with your food"...