Cooking Techniques: Omelets

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“Do I look like a ma’am to you?”

I was 15 and working at a military base Burger King.  I asked a woman, “Ma’am, would you like cream and sugar in your coffee?”

“Ma’am?” she asked. “Ma’am? Do I look like a ma’am to you?”

At 15 I didn’t understand what I had said to make her so upset, but fast forward fifteen years later….

I had been out shopping, using the gift cards I had received for my 30th birthday.  Arriving home, I dropped my bags on the floor and slumped into the nearest kitchen chair.

“What’s wrong?” asked my husband.

“What’s wrong? I’ll tell you what’s wrong.  Pimply-faced teenage clerks kept calling me ma’am.  Do I look like a ma’am to you?”

As the words slipped from my mouth, that woman’s face from fifteen years earlier swam before my face. I had one of those “ah-ha” moments where everything is so clear that you wonder how you hadn’t realized it before.

Those ah-ha moments come in all sorts of situations. I still remember my first cooking “ah-ha” moment. I had taught myself at a young age to make omelettes. I had the basic principles down – mixed eggs; setting the eggs to form a base for the meat and/or cheese and/or vegetables; and folding. My omelets, however, lacked a certain something. They were flat, and quite often they broke when I folded them over. I wanted thick, fluffy omelettes which would hold the filling and provide a good  egg to filling ratio.

One weekend, as a teenager, my parents took me to a conference where the breakfast buffet included the chef making fresh omelettes for the guests right at the table. As I watched him, everything I had been doing wrong became clear.

I was reminded of this particular ah-ha moment this past week when my middle child wanted me to teach her how to make omelettes, so for this post, we’ll look at omelette technique.

Figuring Out Omelettes:

1. Eggs alone verses eggs and liquid: My grandmother always told me that she put water into her eggs because they made them fluffier than putting milk, and if you google omelettes and scrambled eggs, you’ll find “advice” on all sides of the issue. After experimenting, I have not found that adding milk or water affects the fluffy factor at all. Adding any type of liquid simply makes your eggs more “liquidy” and less “eggy”. Whether you add liquid or not is really a taste preference: Eggs blended on their own will be a little dryer. Water added will make for thinner but slightly moister eggs. Milk adds some flavor as well as moisture. Cream makes for a richer omelette. If you do add water or milk or cream, though, don’t add more than 1 tbsp per egg, because too much liquid will only cause liquid to separate out from your eggs.

2. Low heat heat verse higher heat: I always cooked my omelettes over low heat because I feared burning them while I was waiting for them to set, but the chef I watched made his omelettes over a medium-high heat. If you google the subject, you’ll once again find many differing opinions. The one consensus among the opinions and my own experience is that you shouldn’t ever cook eggs over high heat. It doesn’t give the eggs time to set properly, and if you’re not watching like a hawk, they will burn. After experimenting, I’ve found that starting the omelettes on a medium-low heat and turning down the heat to low actually works best for cooking an omelette more quickly while also setting it without burning it.

3. Setting the eggs: I had always set my omelettes by cooking the blended eggs over low heat with a lid on top. This worked well, but it made for a very flat omelette which wasn’t very solid nor was it fluffy. Watching the chef that day, however I realized that he knew the secret. You have to create layers to your egg. To do so, you bring the liquid egg sitting on the top to the more solid bottom part of your egg.

How do you do this? When you pour your egg mixture into your pan, within a minute, it will start to set around the edges. Just it begins to set, you gently lift a sold edge of the omelette and tilt your pan so that the egg that hasn’t solidified can run underneath your omelette. You keep doing this around different parts of your edge until no more eggs will run down underneath. What this does is to create depth to your omelette which makes the omelette thicker and fluffier and more stable for your filling.

4. Pan size and type: Once again, people have a lot of opinions about what you should use for cooking omelettes. The only two things you really need to know are: 1) No matter what type of pan you use, it should be one that your eggs won’t stick to. That doesn’t necessarily mean a nonstick pan. It just means that you need to grease your pan well. I normally put a tsp of olive oil into my pan and make sure I spread it all around the pan, including up the sides. 2) Your pan should be properly sized. A omelette made with two eggs or equivalent should not be cooked in a pan larger than 6 to 8 inches wide. The larger the pan, the more your eggs will spread, and the thinner the omelette will be. Similarly, if you’re making an omelette to share and are using four eggs, you want your pan to be 9 to 10 inches wide so you’ll have proper heat distribution and enough egg space for your filling.

5. Fillings: Few people make omelettes plain with nothing in them. If they want their eggs plain, they simply scramble them. Omelettes are specifically designed for filling, even if it’s simply with cheese. A couple of tips for really good omelettes: 1) Since an omelette usually cooks in about 3 to 5 minutes, if you want your filling to be warm, you should saute them first. I like to saute chopped mushrooms, broccoli, peppers and spinach. My husband likes to saute chopped ham. Whatever you prefer, if you saute the meat or veggies for a minute or two, they’ll be warm and you can season them with the spices and herbs you like for added flavor. 2) If using cheese, shredded is always best. You want something that will melt quickly just from the heat of the folded over egg. About a tablespoon of shredded cheese or cheese substitute for a two egg or equivalent omelette is good.

6. Flavoring: Most recipes for omelettes simply use salt and pepper, but for really good omelettes you should always consider adding herbs or spices, and for health reasons, omit the salt. I make my omelettes with black pepper, chopped chives and paprika. My oldest likes to make hers with cumin. One friend of mine swears by thyme. Another believes only oregano and basil should allowed in an omelette. Experiment and see what flavors you prefer.

Okay, for a recipe. Here’s how I make my omelettes these days:

Omelette

Ingredients:

olive oil (2 tsp, divided)

fillings (meats and/or veggies), about 1/4 to 1/2 cup worth, chopped

seasonings for the filling (pepper, herbs, spices)

two egg whites or 1/4 cup liquid egg whites

one whole egg

1 tbsp flax milk (or whatever you prefer)

ground black pepper (a pinch, about 1/8 tsp)

chopped chives (a good sprinkle, about 1 tsp)

paprika (a dash, about 1/4 tsp)

1 tbsp of shredded Daiya cheddar “cheese”

Cooking Instructions:

1. Spread 1 tsp olive oil in a pan and heat on medium-low.

2. Chop vegetables and meat into small pieces and saute in the pan with seasonings like pepper, oregano, basil, onion powder, whatever, just until the vegetables begin to soften and meats are warm.  Remove from the pan and set aside.

3. Re-coat the pan with another 1 tsp olive oil and warm over medium-low heat.

4. Whisk with a fork: the egg whites, whole egg, flax milk, pepper, chives, and paprika until well blended.

5. Pour the eggs onto the hot pan and let the edges begin to set. Should do so pretty quickly. Once setting begins, lower the heat to low.

6. Using your spatula, gently lift a solidified edge and tilt your pan so some of the liquid egg runs down underneath. Do the same with an edge side opposite the one you just did and continue until your liquid eggs are gone. This will only take a minute.

7. Add your filling to one side of the omelette, and add the shredded cheese on top.  Using a spatula fold the empty side of the egg on top of the filling. Turn the heat off and cover the omelette with a lid for about 30 to 60 seconds.

8. Remove the lid and slide the omelette onto a plate to enjoy.

*NOTE:  If I’m serving omelettes for company, I make three to four, but instead of putting all the cheese and meats into the omelettes, I keep some back for the top. I make the omelettes and then lay them side by side in an ovenproof dish. Then, I sprinkle the remaining cheese and meat on top of the omelettes, sometimes adding thinly sliced tomatoes and spinach leaves on top as well. After I put the dish into the oven at 170 degrees which not only melts the cheese but keeps the omelettes warm until we’re ready to eat.

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