When Life Gives You Leftover French Fries…

When life gives you extra French fries, make this awesome Spanish tortilla with them.
When life gives you extra French fries, make this awesome Spanish tortilla with them.

I know, I know, French fries are so addictive, that’s it’s rare to have any leftover.

But on the one-in-a-million occasion that occurs, do yourself a favor and repurpose them in “Tortilla Esapanola on Vacation.”

It is an upcycled and comforting version of the Spanish tapas classic, the eggy tortilla.

This wonderful recipe is from “Burnt Toast and Other Disasters” (William Morrow, 2021), of which I received a review copy. It’s by Cal Peternell, New York Times best-selling cookbook author and former head chef at Chez Panisse for nearly 22 years.

This clever, witty, and useful book is all about transforming leftovers, failures, scraps and the like into delectable dishes.

As Peternell writes, “If…you are the kind of cook who never makes mistakes, in or out of the kitchen, then pass this copy along to someone else who does. However, if things sometimes go sideways, like they do in our kitchen, then I hope you’ll use this collection of family fixes, hacks, and more than forty sauces to not only save dinner, but make it redemptively delicious.”

Yes, it’s basically a book we could all use on our shelf.

That way, when you burn your toast, instead of tossing it, turn it into “Cheesy Onion Bread Pudding.” Or when you overcook your Thanksgiving turkey, remake it into “Turkey Etcetrazzini” with white wine and cream adding more moisture. Or when your mushrooms are past their prime, use them in “Mushrooms with Honey and Coriander.” Or when you get to the bottom of that giant bag of tortilla chips from Costco, and have only crumbled bits, turn them into “My Cakes, Nacho Cakes.”

There’s even a hilarious chapter on “Old Man Cocktails,” such as “Bitter Old Man,” “Crazy Old Man,” and “Wise Old Man.”

When my husband made a run recently to The Habit for a cheeseburger, I had him get extra fries just so I would have leftovers to make this tortilla the next day.

Day-old fries get new life.
Day-old fries get new life.
Whisked eggs get poured over the fries.
Whisked eggs get poured over the fries.

Simply throw them into a non-stick pan with some oil to warm them again, adding some scallions along the way. Pour in six eggs that have been whisked with salt, pepper, and a splash of oil, then turn the heat to low, and be patient. Allow to cook gently for about 8 minutes to set the underside.

Now comes the fun — and slightly tricky part. Using a spatula (I found a fish spatula, which is more flexible really helped here), slide the tortilla out of the pan onto a plate, uncooked-side up. With oven mitts on, invert your pan over the tortilla, and in one quick motion, flip it over, so that the pan is right-side up with the tortilla inside of it, uncooked-side down.

Place it back on the stovetop to cook for another 8 minutes until it is set through. When ready, either slide it out of the pan or invert it again onto a cutting board or serving plate. Slice, and serve with ketchup, ranch dressing, salsa, or whatever garnish you usually enjoy with your eggs.

Tender, soft, and still moist, even after the long cook.
Tender, soft, and still moist, even after the long cook.

Even after 16 minutes or so of cooking, the tortilla doesn’t taste dry or overcooked in the least. Instead, it’s fluffy, silky, and custardy. The fries make it more substantial, and add the expected taste of potatoes found in this Spanish favorite.

It’s a homey dish that would be right at home alongside glasses of sangria. Or paired with a nice green salad and grilled bread for lunch or a light dinner.

And it certainly gives you a grand excuse for always ordering extra fries. As if you needed one.

Serve with a swoosh of ketchup, if you like.
Serve with a swoosh of ketchup, if you like.

Tortilla Espanola on Vacation

(Serves 6)

3 tablespoons cooking oil, olive or vegetable, plus more as needed

Enough leftover French fries to mostly fill your non-stickiest skillet

6 eggs

1 teaspoon fine sea salt or kosher salt

Ground black pepper

4 scallions, green and white parts, thinly sliced

Heat a skillet over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of the oil and the French fries. Let them crisp and brown a little, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes. Meanwhile, crack the eggs into a medium bowl, add the salt, some black pepper, and the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and whisk until uniformly yellow with no streaks.

Reduce the heat to low and add the scallions to the skillet. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then pour in the eggs, tilting the skillet to fill in any gaps. Keep the heat low and rotate the skillet occasionally to encourage even cooking. When the edges of the tortilla look set and the center is still somewhat liquid, about 8 minutes, run a knife around the sides of the skillet and carefully slide a metal spatula under the tortilla to loosen the underside. Tilt the skillet and use the spatula to encourage the tortilla to slide out onto a plate, uncooked side up.

Make sure the skillet still has a coating of oil, then invert it over the tortilla. Using hot pads, put one hand under the plate and the other atop the inverted skillet. Now the exciting part: flip the tortilla back into the skillet. The motion should be up and over, not just over, and it has to happen kind of quickly. Don’t worry if things are looking a little Humpty Dumpty; just fit it all back together again and continue cooking over low heat.

When it’s cooked through — about another 8 minutes, but make a crack in the middle and sneak a peek to make sure — slide the tortilla out onto a plate. Or flip it onto a plate if you think the other side looks better. A tortilla improves after it cools, at least a little.

Cut in wedges or squares and serve with the leftover packet of ketchup that came with the fries, or with ranch dressing.

From “Burnt Toast and Other Disasters” by Cal Peternell

More Cal Peternell Recipes to Enjoy: Celery and Apple Salad with Pounded Almonds, Anchovies, Parmesan, and Parsley

And: Spicy Ground Pork with Ginger, Lime, Peppers, and Asparagus (Or Green Beans)

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  • I’m thinking those leftover Veggie Straw sticks at the bottom of the bag when they have gone a little stale could well be rescued by this technique as well.

  • Hi Carroll: Yes, I can imagine those veggie straw sticks would work equally well in this Spanish tortilla recipe. You can definitely put your own spin on this. Besides scallions, you could even add chopped parsley or basil leaves, too. 😉

  • This is a fun dish! These days we actually have an extra fry or two leftover, but that’s it — would definitely have to order extra fries in order to make this. Although I suddenly have a craving for fries — OK, I’d order two extra orders. 🙂 Like the idea of Old Man Cocktails, too! Sounds like a fun book. 🙂

  • Hi John: LOL It’s rare for us to have leftover fries, too. That’s why I had my husband get extra fries when he got his burger. So glad I had him do that, too! 😉

  • Just made this on vacation on Cape Cod. We had bunches of French fries leftover from lunch, and all additional we had to buy was scallions to turn them into brunch the next day. This was fabulous ! We will be making it again at home.

  • Hi Deb: So happy to hear this was a winning dish for you. It is so fun to make. I love how it gives new life to leftover fries, too.

  • So fun to run into you here. We had brunch on a rare Sunday which we both had off. His entree came with fries, he ate about half. I asked to take them home for a tortilla Española. He looked surprised the server said “brilliant.”
    No waste. Just made a four egg tortilla with them ate half. He’ll have the rest in the morning. (My leftover N African eggs in purgatory (spicy tomato, onions and chickpeas) went over some quinoa.

  • Hi Jackie: Hey, stranger! So wonderful to see you on my blog. Leftover fries are a crime to let go to waste. So glad they found a home in your tortilla — the perfect next-day vehicle to enjoy them anew.

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