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The Beauty of a Simple Omelette

July 31, 2012

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Now We Are One, I hope it’s not too precocious of this food blogger to enter the great omelette debate. I think I can honestly say it’s not hubris but probably a certain amount of recklessness on my part, for many great chefs argue the route to a perfect omelette and I am most definitely only an amateur cook, albeit an enthusiastic and passionate one.

I’m always forgetting how much I like eggs. I know that sounds silly but I can only put it down to years of family cooking where I would never contemplate serving omelette for supper. An omelette isn’t something you keep warm while you prepare the other three; you can just about get away with that where pancakes are concerned – though even those are better eaten immediately. And for me it was always important we all sat down together to eat as a family – at the same time, and definitely no TV on in the corner because good conversation is part of a good shared meal.

To be honest, for this perhaps slightly gluttonous cook, an omelette isn’t really a meal – it’s a light lunch, or a light supper if you’ve eaten a large lunch. It’s not something that will satisfy me as a main meal. I know people who live with family who will say, Oh everyone was out so I just made an omelette for supper … and if they don’t know me well, might add, I expect living on your own you often have something like that, not having to cook. Ummm … absolutely no. I always want to cook and I always want to eat a proper meal. Maybe it’s because I was brought up to believe that if I didn’t have meat and two veg a day I hadn’t eaten properly (I left the idea of having to have meat each day behind long ago, but I can never do without a proper meal). Really though, I think it’s because I love food and I love cooking and what I choose to cook for my main meal is a pleasurable part of my day.

Anyway, eggs are good for us. They got a bit of a bad reputation at one time because everyone started worrying about cholesterol. But having some eggs in your diet is a good thing: they contain calcium, iron, manganese, zinc, B-vitamins and first-class protein. Thus they are good for your bones and teeth, your joints, boost your immune system and are energy food (The Food Doctor, Ian Marber & Vicki Edgson, 1999, 2004).

And so to the omelette. That subject of great debate. However, I think I’ll go with Elizabeth David who wrote in French Provincial Cooking that ‘there is only one infallible recipe for the perfect omelette: your own.’ Perhaps the most famous place for eating omelette is La Mere Poulard on Mont St Michel in Brittany, France. Madame Poulard died in 1931 but people still make a gastronomic pilgrimage to this restaurant. I shall be in Normandy in a couple of weeks; it’s a bit of a long trek to Mont St Michel but not definitely out of the question, depending on how far we want to explore. I’ve been to the beautiful Mont many times before (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and eaten very good omelettes in the vicinity, but not, I think, a Poulard one. Maybe something to be tried.

I’ve thought of writing a post about omelettes a few times over the year I’ve been writing the blog, but given the simplicity of the dish itself, it’s surprisingly full of pitfalls for the novice food writer. For instance, my mother taught me to cook an omelette, and I’ve been making them since I was quite small. She taught me to put a little milk into the eggs. But gosh! The things you find written about putting milk or water into the eggs. You’d think making an omelette was some kind of religious ceremony and woe betide any cook whose hand strays to the milk bottle.

So, I began researching through my books and on the internet. Ms David doesn’t add milk or water and neither does Larousse Gastronomique. However, I got down my old (1923) copy of Mrs Beeton’s Cookery Book and … yes, Mrs Beeton does add 2 tablespoons milk to 4 eggs. I began to see that my mother hadn’t been leading me completely astray. So, I thought, I’ll experiment. I’ve always added the milk – after all, that’s what Mum taught me – but maybe I should listen to Elizabeth and all those other great chefs.

Yesterday I made myself an omelette for lunch – without milk or water – just as described by Ms David. I have to tell you that making an omelette and trying to photograph it all as you go is not easy. It’s such an instant, quick thing that by the time you’ve snapped a photo of part of the process your omelette could be ruined. And the result? For me, it just wasn’t as light and fluffy as my usual omelette. So, in the interests of serious food blogging I had omelette for lunch again today. And I added my usual splash of milk – much the same quantity as Mrs Beeton suggests, I realised. And do you know, it really was – for me – a much nicer omelette. So, no matter what the great chefs say; no matter that Gordon, Raymond or Marco might dismiss me as a hopeless amateur … I’m sticking with my mum and Mrs Beeton’s way of cooking omelette. And now that I’ve discovered them again; the sheer delightful beauty of a simple omelette, I’ll be cooking one up for lunch quite a bit more in the future.

It’s nice to have some salad on the side with the omelette and you’ll need to prepare this first, as once you start on the omelette it’s such a quick process and you need to be ready to eat it straight away. I wasn’t able to be very French about my salad today as I had no lettuce, so a green salad was out, but I had some nice ripe tomatoes and an avocado, so I sliced these, put them on a plate with some finely chopped spring onion; ground some salt and pepper over, poured over a little olive oil and a sprinkling of balsamic vinegar.

For one omelette, use 2 eggs. Break them into a bowl, add a splash (about 1 tablespoon) milk and some salt and pepper. Now there is a consensus that your eggs mustn’t be vigorously beaten. They should only be very lightly beaten with a fork until they start to come together and then put straight in the pan. You should have your frying pan ready – not too big and omelette size as your omelette will be ruined in you try cooking it in too large a pan. Put in a large knob of butter (about 15g) and let it bubble up on a fairly high heat until it starts – as Ms David says – ‘to turn colour’ and then pour in the eggs. As the mixture spreads, tip the pan slightly and with a spatula, drag a little of it from the edge towards the middle. Do this a few times, letting the uncooked egg run down and underneath.

You want it to remain slightly uncooked in the middle as it will continue to cook a little once you fold it. A dry omelette is not a pleasant thing: you want it soft and creamy in the middle. Flip over one third of the omelette towards the middle, then slide on to a plate, tipping it over again as you go.

An omelette should be kept simple (we’re not making a Spanish tortilla here) and so it’s best with no or few additions. You just want the flavour of some good fresh eggs, and a little slightly browned butter enhancing them. There’s a joy and beauty in such simplicity.  You could perhaps add a few chopped fresh herbs – Omelette Fines Herbes; fill your omelette with some thinly sliced mushrooms, cooked in butter; or sometimes I like to grate over a little Parmesan as the mixture cooks in the pan. But don’t get carried away. Sometimes, simple is best.

7 Comments
  1. I love eggs and omelettes are life savers. I think I read somewhere that the water helps to make the consistency of the omelette … I’ll get back to you if I do find the source of this information. In the meantime, well done for sticking to your Mum’s guns, albethey ‘milky’ !
    The proof of the pudding is in the tasting …

    • Yes water is another alternative addition – other than the purists who add nothing at all. My recipe isn’t milky though. It’s important to add just a little milk which I think gives the omelette a lighter, fluffier and creamier consistency. But I have occasionally put too much in and that does spoil it, making it a bit rubbery – so go very gently on any additions!

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