Omelettes, part 1

Waiting for thought to percolate about work-related matters (design and coding stuff, nothing exciting), so writing about omelettes instead, to give my backbrain time to work on the other stuff.

Omelettes have a rep for being hard to make*, but this is not necessarily true. There's about as many techniques out there as there are cooks (and as there are ways to spell omelette/omelet/omlet/etc), and if you ask around you'll find a range of opinions on what makes The Perfect Omelette (and you'll find discussion getting heated at times as people discover that Someone on the Internet is Wrong about the proper way to make one).

* Or at least that's been my experience when telling people I make omlettes--I even had one roommate who demanded I make one in front of her, as she couldn't believe that the average person could make one. Your mileage may vary.

Time to make omelettes range from Julia Child's 30-second French classic (YouTube) to the Fluffy Diner Omelette published in the Dec/Jan 2012 issue of Cook's Country (link goes to premium content but you can get a 14-day free trial or just read the rest of this series), which takes me on the order of 30-45 minutes depending on how elaborate I'm getting.

Also, a note: some cooks claim that the omelette should be perfectly yellow, with no browning on the underside. Jacques Pepin would beg to differ: he says that browned omelettes are country-style (YouTube), and I see no need to argue with him, as whether or not my omelettes turn out with some browning seems to depend on the whim of Fate (and probably minute differences in the amount of heat I'm putting on them).

The minimum you'll need to make an omelette is:
  • eggs
  • a fork or whisk to beat them
  • a pan in which to cook them
  • a fat to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pan

Pan size depends on the number of eggs - for a 2- or 3-egg omelette, an 8-inch pan seems to be the best, 4- or 5-egg omelettes call for a 10-12 inch pan. I've done 2-egg omelettes in my 10" frying pan before, and it's possible, but they're spread out thinner across the bottom of the pan and cook much faster, so you need to be on your toes.

It's also much easier if the pan is a classic omelette pan shape, with gently sloping sides that allow you to slide the omlette out and fold it as it emerges, but if you don't have one, you'll just have to put up with a somewhat ragged-looking beast as you use your spatula to dig up the edges to get it out. It'll taste just as good and you can tell your dining partner that it's the imperfections that make it homemade. A well-seasoned steel pan is traditional, but I use my nonstick ones all the time. You may also want a pan with a lid. Some cooking methods don't call for covering the pan, but it's handy to do so if you're making thicker omelettes, as it traps the heat and cooks the top side of the omelette a bit faster.

Whether to beat some form of dairy and salt and pepper into your eggs before cooking is up to you. The science behind it is that the fat in dairy coats the proteins of the eggs, preventing them from coagulating too tightly and keeping the texture lighter, while the water in it provides steam while cooking, which makes it fluffier. Salt is a hotly contested topic, even among the food-science crowd it seems. Alton Brown claims in Good Eats that it toughens the eggs (protein coagulation), while America's Test Kitchen found in testing scrambled eggs that salting before cooking led to softer eggs:
A bit of investigation revealed an explanation: Salt affects the electrical charge on the protein molecules in eggs, reducing the tendency of the proteins to bond with each other. This produces a weaker protein network, which means more tender scrambled eggs. In the absence of salt, the protein molecules interact more strongly, forming a tighter network and resulting in a firmer, more rubbery texture. We recommend salting eggs just prior to cooking.
Take your pick. I tend to salt before cooking, as I've never noticed enough of a difference either way to bother me, and it means that the salt gets evenly dispersed throughout the eggs.

I prefer to use butter to grease the pan as it adds a nummy flavor, but you can use oil if your tastes lead you that way. I'd use less oil than butter - if the recipe calls for a tablespoon of butter, I'd try about half that in oil to start with. Olive oil will lend a strong flavor to the eggs, but if you like that, more power to ya.

End of part 1. Part 2 will commence with how to make a basic omelette.

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Tags: cooking, omelettes, recipe
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