Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack time. Hard boiled, scrambled, poached, fried. We’ll take eggs any time of day, any way you want to cook ‘em. But if we had our choice, the omelet just might be our favorite. Like an edible envelope that can be stuffed with anything you desire, an omelet is a quick and healthy way to satisfy hunger. You really can’t go wrong when eating a meal based around such an excellent source of protein, choline, selenium and vitamin D.
Unless, of course, the thought of cooking an omelet makes you break into a cold sweat.
At one time or another, almost every cook has been defeated by an omelet that refused to un-stick from the pan or cook all the way through or stay snugly wrapped around its fillings. Like most things, practice makes perfect when it comes to omelets, which gives you another incentive to make them a regular part of your meal plan. The key to great omelets is getting organized beforehand, as they turn out best when cooked quickly. Fillings should be ready-to-go and within arm’s reach, and so should two basic kitchen tools: an 8-inch skillet (non-stick is the most forgiving for omelet-making) and a heat-resistant rubber spatula. Three eggs are about right if you’re using an 8-inch pan, as it keeps the egg mixture from being too thick and cooking unevenly. If you’re extra hungry, consider making two omelets of this size rather than one gigantic one. A few tablespoons of either butter or oil – both work well – should be warmed in the pan over medium heat before adding the eggs. The part about medium heat is important if you want to avoid an overly browned (and usually dry) omelet. And finally, it helps if you decide which style of omelet you crave, since there are a few ways to go about making a perfect omelet.
The fastest and easiest method for most, this is your basic dump-some-eggs-in-a-pan-and-add-ingredients omelet.
Pour the three beaten eggs (lightly seasoned with salt and pepper if you like) into the awaiting skillet where your butter or oil has already been warming. As the eggs cook, the edges will be the first part to firm up. Gently pull the edges back with a rubber spatula and tilt the skillet so the runny egg in the middle flows to the edges of the pan to cook. Do this continuously until there is very little uncooked egg left and the middle has set. Give the pan a few shakes – the omelet should move around easily and not be stuck to the bottom. If it is sticking at all, either you didn’t add enough butter/oil or you’re cooking over too high of heat.
Some people like to flip the omelet at this point, but this runs the risk of tearing it. If you’re feeling lucky, go for it. Otherwise, leave the eggs be and simply add any fillings across the middle of the omelet.
With your spatula, lift the edge of the omelet closest to the handle of the pan and fold it across and over the top of the filling, so that the edges of the omelet line up. Put a lid on the pan and cook for another minute.
For all types of omelets, use your spatula to lift the omelet out of the pan, or better yet, hold a plate level with the skillet and tilt the plate and the skillet towards each other. Then, flip the skillet over the plate so the omelet turns over and rolls out.
This variation of the basic omelet is type most often served in diners and has a fluffy, cloudlike texture.
You begin with three eggs but this time, separate the whites from the yolks. With a whisk or electric mixer, beat the whites until soft peaks form and the whites have basically tripled in volume. You can whisk all three whites, which results in a very fluffy omelet, but it’s a bit hard to cook all the way through. For a little bit of fluff, leave two whites with the yolks and beat just one egg white into soft peaks. Either way, stir the yolks with a fork then pour them in with the fluffy whites, gently stirring until fully incorporated and the mixture is a pale yellow color.
While this method guarantees an airy texture, it isn’t the only route to a fluffy omelet. You can also whir the eggs yolks and whites together until frothy in a blender (or with a handheld mixer). Or, whisk the yolks and whites together by hand, but add two tablespoons of water to the mixture. Be warned – this last method is very controversial among omelet purists. Some say the water steams the eggs a bit while they cook making the omelet lighter, and others claim it does nothing more than dilute flavor.
Whichever route you choose, you’re still going to heat butter or oil in a pan over medium heat and add the eggs. As the omelet cooks, occasionally shake the skillet vigorously so the egg moves around and doesn’t stick. Super-fluffy eggs won’t set all the way through like runny ones do, so after about a minute you’re going to have to flip the sucker. This can be done very quickly with a large, flat spatula or if you’re really good, with the flick of a wrist.
If you’re adding fillings, now is the time, then put a lid on the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes more. Fold the omelet in half and roll it out of the pan using the same method as for the basic omelet.
Julia Child seductively described a French omelet as a “smooth, gently swelling, golden oval” which should convince just about anyone to give it a try. Considered the “classic” technique, no aspiring chef graduates from culinary school without mastering this method. This is also the favored method by those who prefer an omelet to be a bit loose and custardy, rather than firm or rubbery.
French omelets are not made American-style, that is, stuffed until bursting with a dozen ingredients. Rather, it’s all about the egg. A light filling of some sort can be added, but sprinkling fresh herbs on top is our favorite simple preparation.
French omelets are in and out of the pan in a minute or two and therefore can be cooked at a higher heat, closer to high than medium. Butter is the preferred fat, so melt about a tablespoon and add the eggs just after the foaminess subsides and before the butter begins to turn brown.
Right away the eggs are stirred continuously, using a rubber spatula or the flat side of a fork, while shuffling the pan back and forth over the heat. This keeps the eggs from sticking or browning, even while over high heat. For the first 10 seconds or so, it’s almost as if you’re making a scramble instead of an omelet. But as soon as the eggs move from runny to thick and custardy, it’s time to stop stirring. If you’re adding a filling, add it to the middle of the pan now.
Tilt the pan at a 45-degree angle and use your spatula to coax the eggs, partially rolling them and partially pushing them, to the end of the pan farthest from the handle. Hold the pan tilted over the heat for a few seconds to give the outside of the omelet a final chance to cook. At this point, the omelet will look like a long, lumpy, rolled bundle of gently cooked egg. Loosen any grip the eggs have on the pan by gently sliding your spatula underneath the omelet or by hitting the handle of the pan several times to bounce the omelet around.
Roll the omelet onto a plate so that the smooth bottom side is now face up. A French omelet is traditionally and deliciously finished by melting a pat of butter on top.
While a French omelet is usually filled with refined and delicate flavors like sautéed asparagus, crab, truffles, or a little cheese, the basic and/or fluffy omelet can continually be re-invented by adding any number of bold flavor combinations. Go Tex-Mex by adding avocado, salsa and sliced steak, or choose an Asian theme with shrimp, scallions and dash of tamari. You can’t go wrong with a bacon or sausage filling mixed with dark, leafy greens or by swirling in some pesto and mushrooms. When you have a bit of a sweet tooth, try flavoring your omelet with cinnamon and sliced strawberries. The options are only limited by your own imagination. And don’t forget about omelet muffins and frittatas, close cousins of the omelet that will add even more variety to your breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) routine.
What are your favorite and most unusual omelet combinations? Do you have any tricks to share? Let us know, because we’ve got a dozen eggs in the fridge right now, just waiting to be whisked into the Perfect Primal Omelet.
This is the mini-challenge relevant to this post:
Cook at home: If you don’t know how to cook the challenge above really will be a challenge. Over the next 30 days we’ll be covering some essential cooking skills and techniques that anyone looking to go Primal should master. If you’re the type that dines out more often than dining in, and doesn’t know a pot from a pan, make an effort this month to get into the habit of preparing your own food.
(This is just one of many challenges. Learn about all of the 30-Day Primal Blueprint Challenges here.)