Thursday, December 25, 2008

CSA week four - Radish tortilla española

Now here's something a little more original than the dishes I've been posting about recently.

I've been considering what to do with all those radishes and reading up on roasted radish recipes. One webpage said that when roasted radishes lost their bite and became more like little potatoes. That matched my recollections from cooking radishes last year and I starting thinking about how I could use radishes if I treated them like potatoes. I can't reconstruct my thought processes but I somehow had the notion that they'd go well with eggs so I thought I'd try substituting them into tortilla española. My Miami readers already know what that is, but for Kat, my mom and whoever else is out there, it's basically a thick omelet layered with sliced potatoes that's common in tapas bars all around Spain. Wikipedia has a pretty good description if you want more details.

There are lots of regional variations (none including radishes as far as I can see) that vary the thickness and what other ingredients you might put in. Some include spinach so I thought I could include the radish tops. Onions, garlic and peppers are common so I added those too.

Here's my mise en place. I thickly sliced all of the radishes minus a few I already noshed on. Half the radish tops had yellowed to unusability at this point but I think I've got a good amount left. That's about a quarter of a large onion, one large clove of garlic and one large Serrano pepper, seeded, as I'm out of bell pepper.

The first step was to fry up the radishes in copious olive oil. I wanted them soft, not browned so I kept the temperature to medium and salted them. When they got most of the way there I added the onion, garlic and pepper and kept cooking until the onion had just a bit of bite left. Then I added the radish tops, stirred them in until they wilted and removed everything to a bowl to cool down. I wanted to keep as much of the oil in the pan as possible so I drained them in a strainer over the pan before they went into the bowl.

The radishes at this point have lost almost all of their bite, as predicted, and taste somewhere in the region of potatoes and turnips. It's still recognizably radish but only if you had the idea of the possibility already in mind. The texture is like a fried waxy potato: soft, a little chewy. I'm surprised there are almost no fried radish recipes other than daikon cakes as they're really quite good even if they've have lost some element of their essential radishness.

As the mixture cooled I salted and peppered to taste and added some pimenton and fresh thyme, both good Spanish seasonings. I needed the mix cool so it wouldn't start cooking the eggs prematurely. To get the layered effect the fillings are mixed into the eggs before they go into the pan and there needs to be enough eggs so each piece is nicely coated and floating separately. I figured four eggs (plus a couple Tablespoons of water) should be sufficient. That's not a lot for a pan the size I'm using so my tortilla is going to be on the thin side as these things go.

Most recipes don't go into much detail on technique at this point, but it's a bit complicated to get things to work out right. The goal is a fluffy texture, cooked all of the way through and browned on both sides. That means starting with the temperature way up high to puff up the eggs and keep it from sticking, turning the heat down to let the inside firm up before the outside burns and turning it back up to brown the outside.

Then comes the flip. In Spain you can buy special plates just for this, but I managed with what I've got on hand and only burnt myself a little. The technique is to put the plate on top of the pan, somehow hold them together as you flip it over rotating the top away so if any hot oil comes out it won't come flying towards you, put the plate down, lift the pan up and put it back on the heat and then slide the flipped tortilla back in for its final browning. It turns out that putting the plate down is the tricky part, at least when you don't realize you'll be needing to do it beforehand. Oh, and clearly, cast iron isn't the best choice for all of this. My non-stick paella pan with a high curved rim and handles on both sides is nearly an ideal choice, particularly with the big oval dinner plates I've got that fit over it nicely. If only the handles were a bit more insulated.

It only took a few moments to brown the other side and the tortilla slid easily out onto my cutting board. This dish is best served warm or cold, not hot so I let it sit for a little while before serving a wedge it garnished with green olives and accompanied with the traditional olive-oil-dressed tomato salad.

Maybe I haven't had a really good tortilla española, but I think radishes are a distinct improvement on potatoes in this dish, particularly when served cold. They retain a pleasant texture where potatoes get mealy and their flavor both adds character most potatoes don't have and blends very well with the egg. Even if you didn't want to go to the minor trouble (and risk of injury) of a tortilla española, fried radishes would make a fine filling for an American-style omelet. I'm rather puzzled that nobody (at least nobody on the Web) seems to know this. Maybe it's just me? Could somebody please try this and confirm it's not just me? If it is, I apologize for wasting your radishes.


Karen said...

Excellent idea - we'll try the radishes in a tortilla tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, a somewhat easier method for flipping is to use 2 plates (see It does add another dirty dish, but it feels a lot safer.

billjac said...

The two plate method Bittman describes is definitely the way to go. I feel kind of dumb not coming up with it on my own, actually. Thanks much for the link!

Karen said...

Better copyright this - you've invented a new good use for radishes! especially for those of us who don't really care for them raw. I sauteed them in olive oil til barely browned and a little crisp in places and added some garlic and shallot, instead of onion and pepper, along with some of the radish greens. Made a great tortilla or fritatta or whatever you call it. Then my mother-in-law, who was born and raised in Spain, happened to stop by, had a taste, and this morning called to say she's made herself a radish "omelet" too. It's the beginning of a trend. Thanks for the idea.

billjac said...

And here I thought my lasting legacy would be inventing coffee-maple-banana ice cream.

I'm glad you liked it; it makes me feel like I'm doing something useful here and not just amusing myself with this blog.

kat said...

Oh, tortilla was one of my favorite tapas while in Spain. Using radishes is a great idea & now I know what to do with the tons of them I have!