A Cook's Diary

How we cooked torta before there were non-stick pans

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In the Philippines, torta is a frittata. Torta is a humble dish. The eggs act as an extender so that a little meat and vegetables can feed a lot of people. There are many variations but the most common has ground pork, small pieces of potatoes and eggs. Sometimes, carrots and peas are added. Cooks who are more mindful of results cook the vegetables separately. My father fried the potatoes so that they’d have better texture after they had been added to the rest of the ingredients.

When I was first learning to cook, making torta was a very involved affair. There were no non-stick pans so the technique to make sure that the torta won’t stick to the pan and that it would slide onto a plate without a hitch was a big deal. Back then, we used banana leaves.

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We’d cut banana leaves to sizes that would fit in the pan, rinse them and pass them over the fire to wilt them a bit to make them pliable and easier to handle. We’d use a piece to line the pan then pour the ground meat, vegetables and egg mixture into the banana leaf-lined pan.

To cook the top side, another piece of banana leaf would be placed over the half-cooked torta and the pan would be covered by a plate. The pan was inverted, the torta would fall on the banana leaf resting on the plate. Holding the banana leaf by the edge, we’d pull it carefully and slide it back into the pan. The stove would be turned on again and the torta would be cooked for another few minutes.

Although banana leaves are awesome for cooking (they impart a distinct flavor and aroma that you wouldn’t probably understand unless you have used them), the downside to this technique was that the banana leaves had to be replenished for every torta.

Then came non-stick pans. Although banana leaves remain mandatory for certain dishes (like suman and zongzi), I don’t use them for cooking torta anymore.

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I just pour the torta mixture directly into a non-stick pan.

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If I don’t feel like using the oven to brown the top, I use the flipping method that I have become so adept at after years and years of practice. Invert the half cooked torta on a plate — no banana leaves this time — then use a spatula to carefully slide it back into the pan.

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And I have a perfectly cooked torta that’s nicely browned on both sides every time.

Does that mean it’s either a non-stick pan or banana leaves? No, of course not. There’s a trick to prevent the torta from sticking on the bottom of regular pan. Read a few kitchen tips to find out how.

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