EDITOR'S NOTE: Our longtime Discerning
Diner, Elan Head, is the new restaurant
critic for Phoenix Magazine, a job that
broadens her horizons and significantly
expands her growing audience of readers.
At the same time, she'll be moving more
actively into her role as a
helicopter-pilot instructor, a job she
has worked hard to attain. Sadly, as a
result of her new, busier schedule,
you'll be seeing Elan's columns in
Wrangler News less often, although she
promises to write as time permits. She
also has given us permission to rerun
some of her previous
contributions—minus, of course, any
photos that would detract from the
anonymity of her restaurant-critic role.
We wish Elan well—and encourage you to
read her regularly in Phoenix Magazine.
The following column, which originally
appeared in May 2005, is reprinted by
Whenever I’m too tired or busy to make
an elaborate dinner--which has been most
of the time, lately--I’ll often turn to
what is my “old standby,” the omelet.
Omelets, which I started making in high
school, were my first true specialty.
Before then, I had never really cooked
on my own.
But on Saturday mornings, my mom wasn’t
interested in superintending the
kitchen. So I had license to cook up a
storm before settling in for cartoons
(provided, of course, that I cleaned
everything up when I was done).
My first instruction in the dish came
from the Joy of Cooking, which
offered three full columns of sober
instruction on the art of omelets.
Wow. I hadn’t known that there was
an art of omelets. And the ethereal
creations they described were nothing
like the heavy restaurant omelets I’d
been eating all my short life.
Although I didn’t achieve omelet nirvana
until five or six years later, thanks to
the Joy of Cooking, I knew that
it had to exist. And now I can offer my
own advice on attaining it.
Before you begin, you have to know what
you’re aiming for, and that might be the
hardest part of all. Frankly, if you’ve
found a great French omelet at a
restaurant--any restaurant--you’ve had
better restaurant luck than me.
The classic, oft-quoted description of
an omelet is from the French chef
Auguste Escoffier, who called it
“scrambled eggs enclosed in a coating of
Maybe it sounds better in French. But
his point is that an omelet is a
delicate creation: two distinct, yet
inseparable, textures skillfully coaxed
from the same couple of eggs.
Unfortunately, this fragile omelet just
can’t stand up to a ton of fillings. So
if you’re picturing a massive omelet
stuffed with ham, cheese and onions, get
it out of your head--such a meal is
better made as a frittata, which is
another column entirely.
You’ll need a nonstick pan. Eight or
nine inches is a good diameter for a
single-serving omelet, and omelets are
best made as single servings.
If you’re particularly hungry, or would
like a little culinary leeway, use three
large eggs. Two-egg omelets are trickier
to handle, but they’re proportionally
Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat them
lightly with a fork. Have your fillings
handy: a scant 1/4 cup of grated cheese,
a few tablespoons of sour cream, or some
thin strips of smoked salmon--you get
Now melt a scant tablespoon of butter in
your nonstick pan over medium heat,
swirling the pan to distribute the
Pour in the beaten eggs. With one hand,
hold the pan an inch or two above the
heat source and rotate it back and
forth, just as you swirled the butter
before. With the other, stir the eggs
with the flat side of a fork.
When the eggs begin to set, switch from
a fork to a flat spatula. Lift the edges
of the forming omelet and pull them
toward the center of the pan, meanwhile
allowing uncooked egg to run onto the
pan’s hot surface.
When the omelet is a cohesive whole, but
still quite moist on top, lay your
fillings in a line down the center.
Here’s where the pros use a swift
jerking motion of the pan to “roll” the
omelet. But I’m not a pro.
I use the spatula to carefully lift and
fold one side of the omelet, then the
other. Note that you want to fold it in
thirds, like a letter, not in half.
If your omelet seems to be a little
runny inside, remove it from the heat
and let it sit in the hot pan for a
minute. But don’t overdo it: an omelet
should never be tough.
Finally, flip the omelet seam-side down
onto a waiting plate. Enjoy it
immediately, perhaps with a glass of
Come to think of it, the combo’s not bad
for breakfast, either.