Photo: Donna Turner Ruhlman
The word omelet originally derives from the Latin for "little plate," and omelets are usually made individually. You quickly cook one or two eggs while stirring rapidly and continuously to make the curds very fine, then stop the stirring to let the eggs set in the pan. When the omelet is just barely cooked, you grip the handle of the pan, palm up, and roll the egg from the handle side of the pan out of the pan and over the opposite edge in, one hopes, a lovely long oval of delicately pale, perfectly smooth, uniformly yellow egg. It takes practice -- mistakes are delicious and successes are high-five-worthy.
The omelet becomes more visually appealing if you put some soft butter on top to give it a glossy shine and, if you wish, some minced chives, but really, an omelet is simply an elegant, shapely form of the scrambled egg.
We've come to think of omelets in America as always being stuffed with something -- mushrooms and bell peppers and ham and cheese -- so that there's more stuffing than egg. People debate whether to add cream or water or even olive oil, and you can, but why? Instead, it's worth pausing to appreciate the simple beauty of the omelet. All egg, enriched with a little butter and nothing more. If you have access to very fresh eggs from a friend or farmer near you and some delicious butter, an omelet with a glass of wine and maybe some charcuterie makes an excellent light meal. Go read Elizabeth David's An Omelette and a Glass of Wine if you don't believe me.
Before we developed really good nonstick pans, cooks relied on creating a nonstick surface on their steel pans and reserved them only for omelets, allowing no soap anywhere near them. But I highly recommend that home cooks use a good, lovingly cared for nonstick pan for omelet making. They really do take the risk of sticking out of the equation, not to mention the omelet-pan fanaticism you'll find among traditional chefs.
Because of the omelet's simplicity, errors are glaring. Many restaurant chefs will ask an applicant to make an omelet, because omelet technique tells a chef many things about the finesse and skills of a young cook.
How to Make a Perfect Omelet
Again, I'd like to reiterate that everyone should first make a plain omelet -- two eggs, a pat of butter, a pinch of salt -- to appreciate what an omelet is. I often add cheese or mushrooms to make the omelet more interesting and fun to eat. But it's important to first understand the foundation those garnishes are enhancing.
To make an omelet, crack the eggs into a bowl and whisk or blend till they are uniformly combined and no clear white remains floating on the surface. Give it a three-finger pinch of salt and stir in the salt.
Put a nonstick pan over medium heat and let the pan get hot, a couple minutes or so, depending on your stovetop. Have a heatproof rubber spatula ready, and warm a plate in the microwave. Add a pat of butter (about 1 tablespoon) to the pan. It should melt and bubble immediately but not brown. After the butter has melted and coats the bottom of the pan, pour in the eggs.
Shake the pan back and forth while stirring the eggs with the spatula. Stirring continuously will give you a finely textured curd. After about 30 seconds of stirring, stop and let the omelet continue cooking until there remains the thinnest liquid film on top, another 60 seconds or so. Remove it from the heat and allow it to finish cooking just sitting there in the pan (after all, you're not a line cook getting thirty-nine orders at once). With the pan handle at three o'clock, and your warm plate at nine o'clock (reverse this if you're a lefty), grip the handle from underneath and tilt the pan toward the plate. Using the spatula, encourage the front end of the omelet to slide out (you may need to give the pan a rap on a cutting board to loosen the egg, then nudge it from underneath to get it sliding) and roll the omelet over itself and onto a plate. The heat from the pan should finish cooking the omelet; it should be moist but you shouldn't have sauce on your plate. If it's not perfectly shaped, use your hands (which you've been washing continually, what with being in the kitchen, cracking eggs, etc.) to make it pretty and uniform. It's fairly pliable at this point, so you can tuck freely if needed. Run a little soft butter over the top so that it melts and gives the omelet a nice shine. Finish with some fleur de sel or Maldon salt if you have it, and some chives always look nice.
Eat this immediately.
Omelet with Creamy Morel Mushrooms
- 2 tablespoons butter, plus more for serving
- 1 tablespoon minced shallot (or 6 ramps, prepared as described above)
- 16 fresh morels, halved, or 1/2 ounce/15 grams dried morels, reconstituted in water
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup/120 milliliters heavy cream
- 4 eggs, thoroughly blended
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh chives (optional)
Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a small sauté pan over medium heat and add the shallot (or whites of ramps) and a healthy pinch of salt (1/4 teaspoon if you must measure). Cook the shallots in the butter till they're tender. Add the morels and stir to heat and coat with butter. Grind some pepper over the mushrooms. Add the cream and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat and cook until the cream has thickened and coats the morels. (Cream will break if you overcook it, so don't.) Remove the pan from the heat.
In a medium sauté pan, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add the eggs and cook the omelet as instructed above. When the omelet is set, and there is a thin film of liquidy egg on top, scatter the hot mushrooms down the center of the omelet. Roll the omelet out of the pan and onto a warm plate. Slide a little butter over the top if you wish, garnish with chives if desired, and add more salt and pepper to taste. Cut the omelet in half crosswise and transfer one half to another warm plate. Serve immediately.