Down to basics – the omelet
March 25, 2013 § 23 Comments
After I posted about my method for making creamy scrambled eggs, I received several requests asking whether I could write a similar post on making the perfect omelet.
The answer: most certainly! … Well, sort of.
The perfect omelet is a fitful, finnicky, tricky thing. It is said that you can judge the caliber of a chef by his or her plain roast chicken and his or her omelet. So, I knew that if I was to post about how to cook an omelet, I could not do so lightly.
So, I decided to put in a whole bunch of practice first.
On the whole, I’m relatively unpracticed at making omelets. Certainly if you compare with my practice in fried or scrambled eggs. I like eggs in nearly any preparation, but omelets are not at the very top of my list, so I don’t make them as frequently as some other eggy delights. Actually, if I were to order how frequently I made different types of eggs, the list would be something like this:
- Fried eggs
- Baked eggs (most often baked plainly with just a drizzle of cream and maybe some herbs)
- Scrambled eggs (with or without lots of mix-ins)
- Poached eggs – Frittatas – this one’s a tie
- Soft or hard boiled eggs (though, actually, I do absolutely love a soft boiled egg, if someone else prepares it for me)
- Other egg-based things like savory custards, stratas, souffles, etc.
So there you go. And I have now started the most boring conversation ever, listing egg preparation preferences. Or maybe it’s actually one of the most interesting potential conversations ever. Your egg preferences may be like a personality barometer. Maybe it’s an edible Myer’s-Briggs! Do all other INFJs have the same egg preferences as me? Do ENTPs prefer scrambled eggs above all while ISTJs are omelet people? Feel free to discuss.
Anyhow, what it comes down to is, I have now spent several weeks practicing my omelet making, getting the technique down, and increasing my appreciation for omelets along the way. There is, I will admit, something wonderfully appealing about the contrast in textures that you get from two layers of egg, a taut skin encasing a fluffy interior for each layer, that hide between them melting cheese, or squidgy cooked greens, or cool yogurt, or crunchy bacon, or whatever else you happen to have in the refrigerator to add to it.
A very important thing I learned, and that I think is applicable to many things in cooking beyond omelets, is that so much of good omelet making is the result of practice. You can read directions and watch videos for hours , you could follow my instructions to the letter (and you should!), but your omelets still may turn out rubbery, or undercooked, or mangled on your first several tries. But, by trying and trying again, eventually you will get a sense of the minute temperature adjustments your stove requires, and for just how long you can stir the eggs, and exactly what it looks like when the egg on the surface is cooked, but not cooked through. And that’s when your omelets will reveal to you why they are measures of true skill.
But, you have to start somewhere, so why not start here! (And, I promise that all of your practice omelets, while perhaps imperfect, will be quite edible. So what is there to lose?) To make an omelet for one person for breakfast, I like to start with two eggs. For lunch or dinner, I may go for three. Using a fork, beat your eggs together with a large pinch of salt and a good grinding of fresh pepper, plus a splash of cream if you desire. Use cream, not milk, because milk seems to make the eggs gummier. If you don’t have cream, you can use no dairy at all. I also often like to whisk in a teaspoon of chopped fresh herbs like thyme, basil, or tarragon (each of which lend themselves to a different type of cheese in the filling, though they all go with goat cheese! Or maybe that’s just my pro goat cheese bias).
If you are making omelets for more than one person, you can whisk all the eggs together, but fry them in individual portions. Trying to make and flip a giant omelet, while possible, is a giant headache.
For an omelet, you want to use a pan that is large enough that the whisked eggs will spread into a layer that is a bit under a half-inch thick. Too thick and the omelet will crack when you fold it, and the center will have trouble cooking fully. Then again, too thin and your omelet will cook before you have time to fluff it (though this can be remedied by using a very low cooking temperature.) For two eggs, I use a pan that says it is a 10 inch pan. I don’t really like non-stick pans, but for things like omelets, they are a great boon.
Put your pan over medium heat, add a good pat of butter, and swirl the butter as it melts to coat the bottom of the pan. Wait until the butter is foaming, then pour in the eggs. For about 15 seconds, use the fork you beat the eggs with to stir the eggs around, especially pulling the cooking bits from the edge toward the middle. This will help make the omelet fluffy. After about 15 seconds, as the eggs are starting to set, spread them back into an even layer across the bottom of the pan, and turn the heat to low.
At this point, you add your filling to half of the omelet. It’s just a personal preference, but I really like to keep my omelets simple, usually just a light grating of sharp cheddar or Parmesan. If I’m feeling decadent, I’ll add a small amount of cooked spinach and ham or bacon pieces. You can really add whatever floats your boat, but be sure that whatever you’re adding is already cooked and kept warm (apart from cheese, of course, or yogurt, which is there in part for a temperature contrast if you’re using it). So, if you’re adding leftover vegetables, for example, warm them in the pan you’ll cook the eggs in, then transfer them to a plate, and keep them warm as you wipe out the pan and then cook the eggs in it. If you don’t, the filling won’t have time to heat and cook in the time it takes for the eggs to cook through.
After you’ve added the fillings, watch closely. When the egg that is on top is still a dark color – more like uncooked egg than the lighter yellow that well-done egg has – and has just barely solidified so that it won’t run anymore if you tilt the pan, use a spatula to loosen the omelet all around, then fold the omelet, one half over the other, and slide it onto a plate. The outside of the omelet should be turning just a very light brown, but not a deep or crispy shade of brown. If it has gotten dark, you’ll want to use a lower temperature next time. If runny egg squishes out as you fold the omelet, that means you should have waited just a moment longer for it to cook through (if that sort of thing bothers you, otherwise, it’s actually ok for it to be a titch runny). If the center feels a little chewy or rubbery, instead of velvety, then the eggs were overcooked, and next time you should fold it and plate it a little sooner. It just takes getting a feel for your stove and the eggs.
So, there you go. Go forth and make omelets!