How To Make The Perfect Omelette – test of chefs, gentlemen, and comedians
“Madame Poulard avait confectionné une omelette rosée, baveuse, savoureuse à souhait, et qu’elle offrait elle-même à ses hôtes : ‘Voilà Messieurs! Vous n’aurez pas attendu trop longtemps. Ne craignez pas, on vous prépare une seconde omelette’.”Bernard Enjolras, Le Mont-Saint-Michel: sa baie et les meilleures recettes de la Mère Poulard
In October’s Country Life, they published a guide on the 39 steps to being a modern gentleman. Step 25 was ‘Cooks an omelette to die for’.
Like being a comedian, timing is everything in omelette making. So the trick is to have everything ready – plates warming, filling ready (and warmed if appropriate), eggs beaten with pepper (not salt) added.
And all the necessary equipment to hand. You’ll need an omelette pan (a metal frying pan with gently curved sides) and a pliable spatula. If you are La Mère Poulard, or Escoffier you are in a safe position to brag that you don’t need one, you just need to shake with sufficient confidence. If you are a normal mortal you will find the spatula helpful. These days most people also use non-stick frying pans.
What does ‘baveuse’ mean? It’s the word used by Madame Poulard in the quote at top of this post. It’s the key to passing the ‘gentleman’ test. David Tang, in The Financial Times justifies giving himself a pass mark on step 25 by saying “Yes, making it 15 per cent runny is the secret”. The more you leave the inside of the omelette just a touch unset, slightly frothy and liquidy, the more baveuse it is. Again, the balancing trick of avoiding a soggy and soppy omelette whilst at the same time not having one set like concrete is all in the timing.
For me, the theatrical pinacle of comedic timing is the Michael Frayn play, Noises Off – after you’ve enjoyed your omelette you could treat yourself to the film version – a short of which appears at the bottom of this post.
An omelette is “easy to make, but difficult to master” according to Ed Cumming, writing in The Telegraph. As well as being a reliable test of gentlemen and comedians, it will also tell you “everything you need to know about a chef”.
But I can make one, and so can other mere mortals! This is a fail-safe method.
The method for making a perfect omelette:
For one person (you can make one large omelette for two people but that’s the limit):
- 4 average eggs if it’s a main course and there isn’t much in the way of a filling. Three eggs is a bit mean. Seven eggs is fine for two. They should be at room temperature.
- 1 tbsp crème fraiche, milk or water (water is fine*). You can dispense with this if you are using really high quality butter
- ¼ level teaspoon of salt, few grinds of pepper
- Generous knob of butter – enough to coat the bottom of the pan
*in fact, water is a good idea. It doesn’t make the egg mixture watery as you might think. Instead, as it hits the heat of the pan it turns into steam which escapes through the egg mixture and makes it fluffier.
- Put your plates in to warm.
- Break the eggs into a bowl and add the milk or water. And the pepper. Don’t add salt at this stage, it will break down the eggs which you don’t want at this stage, see step 8.
- Beat – with a fork is fine.
- Heat the butter, very gently, moving it around to cover the surface of the pan. Don’t let it foam and certainly don’t let it burn. Watch it like a hawk.
- Add the egg mixture, tilting the pan to spread it over the surface of the pan. You can turn up the heat a little now, BUT if you cook the omelette over a lowish, gentle heat it will be creamier. At all costs you want to avoid producing rubbery concrete (if such a thing exists).
- Go around the perimeter of the omelette with the spatula, lifting the setting edges towards the middle so that the still liquid egg in the middle runs behind it. Do this for NO LONGER than about 30 seconds, no more than a couple of times for the whole omelette. Turn the heat down.
- When the omelette is nearly set, golden underneath but still runny on top (remember the egg will go on cooking after you take it off the heat) add the filling… herbs, cheese or anything from the list below. Don’t overload the omelette, you’ll lose the whole Platonic essence of it.
- Add the salt. Don’t add this before because it will destroy the texture – the salt breaks down the enzymes.
- Fold the omelette in half, or in on itself and slide onto a warm plate.
More than nine good fillings for omelettes – again, the trick is not to overfill:
Anna Jones, in A Modern Way to Cook, suggests you put together standard elements of omelette fillings as follows: main vegetable (spinach, mushrooms, asparagus); secondary vegetables (chopped courgettes, halved baby plum tomatoes); main flavour (mint, basil, harissa); secondary flavour (pine nuts, smoked semi-sweet paprika, thick balsamic vinegar); final flourish (grated pecorino or manchego… or any other cheese you happen to have….). Interesting approach… In any case try:
- Cheese, gruyere, cheddar, goats’, parmesan…
- Fried bacon
- Fried mushrooms
- Chopped fresh herbs
- Spinach on its own with a little butter and marmite
- Feta or ricotta, lemon zest, chopped watercress or spinach
- Roasted artichoke hearts and red peppers
- Dressed crab
- Minced beef and brandy – see Spitfire omelette
- Cèpes fried with garlic with a little added truffle oil (the kind which has had real truffles in it)…
- …or go the whole hog and make a truffle omelette
- Caviar – alright – maybe not for everybody, but for the more well heeled of us, Catherine the Great for example, this was a regular favourite for breakfast, washed down with some vodka-laced tea. Catherine was a monarch with many lovers, some longer lived, some one-night stands, and breakfast was an important meal for her….
It’s all in the timing….Noises Off
Do I need to tell you?? Don’t use powdered egg!
“The Story Of My Life is not in any way a pornographic book – it is an autobiography in which Casanova records his sexual adventures with frank, open delight in the pleasure he both received and gave, in language completely free of obscenity. The result, dare I say, is a great deal more successful than coarser texts in defining what might be called the joy of sex. Abridged versions which attempt to ‘clean the book up’ – including the Penguin Classics edition – are like an omelette made with powdered egg.”Derek Parker, writing in Slightly Foxed
Omelettes are comfort food
It may be something to do with eggs being, well, what they are, but omelettes and scrambled eggs are comfort food in the same way that mash, and shepherds’ pie are.
In the final scene of Big Night, after a culinary disaster, Secondo silently cooks a healing omelette.
In Ratatouille, Remy. Linguini’s pet rat, cooks him an omelette to fortify him on his first day of work.