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The 'art' of omelets: It's a pretty picture, indeed

By: Elan Head

Aug 26, 2006

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 request.


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 coagulated egg.”

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 more glorious.

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 the idea.

Now melt a scant tablespoon of butter in your nonstick pan over medium heat, swirling the pan to distribute the butter evenly.

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 champagne.

Come to think of it, the combo’s not bad for breakfast, either.


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