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Mastering the omelet
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Mastering the omelet

Today let us consider the deceptively simple omelet.

What's deceptive about it? The problem isn't that people can't agree how to spell or pronounce it (I'll choose the English "omelet" over the French "omelette" and cut it off with two syllables as "om-let" rather than drawling out "Om-uh-let"), but simply that too many otherwise competent home cooks become nervous when it's time to fashion one.

That's a shame, because an omelet can make not only a hearty brunch but a delicious main course for lunch or dinner, whether you enjoy it virtually au naturel or bulk it up by filling it with just about any ingredient you can imagine. And, as noted in our recent discussion of the similar-only-different Italian frittata, eggs seem to have been rehabilitated from the bad reputation endowed on them by over-zealous nutritionists a few years back.

I'm always willing to pay a little extra for fresh, free-range eggs, and recommend that you consider doing the same, particularly for dishes like the omelet in which the egg plays a central role. The difference in flavor between these and mass-produced eggs is not just imaginary.

Start with fresh eggs and a decent omelet pan (in this case, I highly recommend a quality nonstick pan) and take just a little care with the the quick and simple technique, and you can have a perfect omelet on your dinner plate tonight.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

4 eggs, the fresher the better
4 tablespoons water (see note below)
Hot sauce (optional)
1 tablespoon butter (see note below)
1 clove garlic (optional)
1 slice fresh ginger (optional)
Filling ingredients of your choice


1. Break the eggs into a bowl, and add the water, 1 tablespoon for each egg. I find that thinning the eggs with a little water makes for a lighter omelet, but you can omit it without doing any harm to the dish. Or substitute milk, half-and-half or cream for all or part of the water to make a richer omelet. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a dash of hot sauce if you like. Beat with a fork or whisk until the egg mixture is fairly smooth, but don't worry if the yolk and whites aren't fully blended. (Note: Four eggs make a hearty omelet for two, and I wouldn't recommend trying to make a larger omelet until you've had plenty of practice. If you want more, I suggest making two smaller omelets rather than one huge one.)

2. Melt the butter in your omelet pan over medium-high heat, cooking until the frothy bubbles disappear but not until the butter starts to brown. (OPTIONS: Put in the optional garlic and/or ginger, lightly whacked with the side of a chef's knife to release their juices, to flavor the butter; remove them before continuing with the omelet. You may also substitute a little olive oil for all or part of the butter.)

3. When the butter or oil is hot, put in the egg mixture all at once. Leave it undisturbed for a minute or so, until the bottom starts to set. (Medium-high heat is the standard, but if you're nervous about scorching the omelet, it's all right to turn the heat down to medium or even a little less; the omelet will take longer to cook, but it will still be good.)

4. After a minute or so, start gently lifting the edges of the omelet with a spoon or spatula, tilting the pan to allow the raw egg on top to run underneath. Continue this process until all the raw egg is cooked, although I like to stop before the top sets up completely: Bear in mind that the egg will cook a little more from residual heat after you take it off the stove; and I would rather have my omelet a bit creamy than dry.

5. If you're using a filling, spoon it onto half of the omelet at this point. Then tilt the pan and let the filled half slide onto a serving plate (this is where the nonstick pan comes in handy), flipping the other half of the omelet over to cover the filling.

As with so many cooking procedures, this is easier to do than it is to describe ... and even if your first effort doesn't look quite like the omelets at the Ritz, it will still taste fine.

ABOUT FILLINGS: As noted, the sky (or your imagination) is the limit. Cheese is an obvious choice, grated and spooned on the omelet at the filling stage. Cheddar is a sure winner, but don't be shy about trying other options from Gruyere (Swiss) to grated Parmigiano. Add diced ham or crumbled bacon, or fill it up with just about any combination of vegetables ... or even fruit. I filled one recent dinner omelet with a combination of sauteed mushrooms, minced red onion and garlic and a bit of Cabot white Cheddar from Vermont; for another I chose a mix of steamed asparagus (cut into short pieces) and chopped mild green chile peppers.

WINE MATCH: Many experts warn that eggs make a chancy wine match, but I've never had any problem with this. Simple, unadorned eggs work well for me with a light, crisp white such as a decent Pinot Grigio or a simple Chablis, and a cheese omelet is fine with just about any white wine or lighter, fruity reds. Or play to the wine with your filling choice: I specifically designed the asparagus and green-chile omelet mentioned to mirror the herbaceous flavors in Omaka Springs 2003 Malborough Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, and it was an inspired match. The mushroom omelet went very nicely with two disparate wines put up against it as a test: Abymes 2000 Vin de Savoie, an aromatic white from the French Alps; and Goats Do Roam 2000 Rosé from South Africa, fruity and redolent of strawberries.

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Thursday, Feb. 6, 2003
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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