L’art de l’omelette

The omelette, like a work of art, is something that’s never fully mastered or perfected… but it gives me great satisfaction to try.  Did Monet ever say, “I’ve painted my best garden,” and put away his brushes and easel?  Did Van Gogh ever think, “I’ve perfected the Iris, let’s move on to more important things.”?  Of course not.   Instead, when one painting was completed, he picked up his brush and began again on a new canvas.  Yes, the ingredients were the same – wispy petals, blade-like leaves on unruly stems – but the flowers in the scenes were vastly different.  Maybe this one will be perfect?  That’s how I see an omelette – same ingredients, same method – but a beautiful new painting every time.  When something is good it’s worth repeating.

I love omelettes for their simplicity, but with simplicity also comes the need for perfection.  Imagine, it’s nearly lunchtime and you’ve just returned home from the farm stand with a dozen beautiful fresh eggs from your neighbour’s chickens .  You’re craving something light, like an omelette, so you step outside to pick some fresh chives – the first chives of the spring.  Let’s say it’s a gorgeous, sunny day in mid-April after a week of rain.  On your way to the garden you spot something along the back fence.  It’s a single iris (also the first of the season) just opening, raindrops still clinging to its gossamer petals.  You are so taken by its beauty and absolute perfection that you would love nothing more than to sit for hours in the warm sun and admire this single bloom, but there are eggs on the counter, and besides, you were on your way to pick chives for the omelette you’re making for lunch.  The only reasonable thing to do is to carefully cut the iris and take it with you so that it will bring joy not only when you’re out in the garden, but also while sitting at the table eating lunch.   Of course, you can’t put a flower like this in a simple water glass.  I mean, you could, but why would you when there is lovely antique bud vase sitting in the China cabinet.   It was your grandmother’s, a wedding present all those years ago.  You fill the vase with water and very quickly this one single garden flower has been elevated to a work of art.  Had you had an armful of flowers, the vase wouldn’t matter as much as it would be lost among the mass of leaves, and the no one would notice the perfection of each single bloom hidden in that mountain of petals.  It’s a little like a complicated meal made with so many ingredients that it doesn’t matter if the carrots are chopped evenly and no one notices if the potatoes are peeled completely.  Delicious, yes, but perfect?  No.  But with the simplicity of one flower, or a dish made with one single main ingredient in the spotlight, perfection must become the goal – and we all know that perfection lies just outside our grasp.  Perhaps that’s why Van Gogh painted so many Irises…and why I make so many omelettes.

Irises and eggs

A classic French omelette is made with the very best eggs, a little butter and a pinch of salt and pepper.  That’s it, that’s all.  It’s custardy on the inside without a trace of brown on the outside.  However, just like every flower must have petals and a stem, there are two golden rules that must be followed when making an omelette: 1. Butter and 2. low heat.  Most recipes will tell you to pour the eggs in the pan, then slowly scrape the cooked eggs toward the centre while tilting the pan to let the raw eggs run into their place.  I’ve found that no matter how many times I do this there are always pockets of raw-ish egg in the finished omelette.  And as much as I love omelettes, having pockets of raw-ish eggs simply isn’t “perfect.”  The best method I’ve found for achieving a uniformly cooked texture inside the omelette is to gently soft-scramble the eggs in the pan until they’re cooked to your liking.  Do not rely on residual heat to cook the pockets of egg in the centre.   When the eggs are cooked to your liking, spread them out and let the pan sit on the heat for about 30 seconds undisturbed to form a bit of a crust so that the omelette retains its shape when rolled.  Remember, you don’t want even a trace of brown on the eggs, so keep the heat at its lowest.   Granted, this method is not foolproof… but, then again, neither is painting a flower.

Of course, all paintings have a background, whether it’s a simple still-life on a table in front of a stone wall or a wild garden with trees and clouds in a periwinkle sky.  The backdrop is up to you.  When it comes to omelettes I like to include a little cheese in mine, and since I learned to cook in Italy, I’m partial to Pecorino Romano.  Then I snip fresh chives over top.  In fact, the chives in today’s omelette were the first of the season in my garden and when I stepped out to cut them I saw the irises almost ready to open and thought to myself, “Soon there will be two works of art on the kitchen table.”



Classic French Omelette

1/2 TBSP butter
2 eggs
a pinch of salt and pepper

Heat an 8-inch/20cm nonstick skillet over medium-low heat.  It absolutely must be nonstick with no dents or scratches.  I should have added this as rule number 3, but I’m not much for rules so I’ll mention it here.  When the skillet is just hot enough to melt the butter, add it and swirl the pan to coat it evenly.  You want the butter to melt but not sizzle and certainly not brown.  If the butter begins to sizzle, take the pan off the heat to allow it to cool for a minute.

Meanwhile, with a fork, beat the eggs in a bowl until they are evenly combined and smooth without any strands of white left in the mixture.  Stir in a pinch of salt and pepper.  Pour the eggs into the pan and immediately start stirring and folding gently, as if you’re making scrambled eggs.  When the eggs are lightly scrambled but still very soft, spread them in an even layer in the pan.  Scrap down any egg that may be hanging out on the edges of the pan and let the pan sit on the heat for 30 seconds longer.  You don’t want any part of the omelette to brown.  If you’re adding finely grated cheese, this is the time to do it.   Using a rubber spatula gently lift up the edge of the omelette and start rolling it into a loose cigar shape, tilting the pan if needed for an even roll.  Slide the omelette onto a plate with the seam down.   If desired, place a small bit of butter on the top and let it melt slowly, then garnish with chives or other herbs of your choice.  Serve immediately.

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