Introduction: The Perfect French Omelette
A classic staple of any French chef’s repertoire, the elegant French omelette can often be intimidating to many a home cook. But with a little practice, you too can be reward with the rich, delicious egg-creation that is the French omelette.
When most of us (me included!) think of an omelette, we think of an American diner-style omelette: the large, half-moon triple-egg breakfast that’s browned on the outside and stuffed with veggies, meat, or cheese until it is doubled in height. American omelettes aren’t bad, per se—they’re different. Certainly, American omelettes are easy to cook, have less risk of undercooked eggs, and have more room for shoving in delicious goodies. But if you’re up for the adventure of French omelette creation, read on!
A perfect French omelette meets the following criteria:
- Runny on the inside: firm enough to not drool out of the omelette when cut in half, but soft enough to be creamy and moist
- Smooth on the outside: in contrast to its American counterpart, a French omelette should have no browning on its outside
- Almond shaped: American omelettes are folded into half moons; French omelettes are rolled. A good French omelette will look a bit like a giant almond—bulgy in the center and tapering off on both sides.
History of the French Omelette:
Note: if you’re starving by this point, skip ahead!
Although there are versions of omelettes all, around, the, world, these delectable dishes first originated in 16th-century France. The word omelette derives from a 14th century French term meaning “blade (of a knife or sword),” which itself comes from Latin “lamella ‘thin, small plate.’” [Source]
Over time, the omelette became a classic test of budding French chefs to determine their cooking ability. French omelettes are traditionally cooked in a very hot pan, making it a difficult task to prevent the eggs from browning or overcooking.
Step 1: Ingredients and Equipment
Not much is needed for a good French omelette.
- Two eggs
- Salt and pepper (freshly ground, if possible)
- Cheese* and cheese grater
- Small mixing bowl
- Stiff plastic fork
- Teflon/non-stick pan in good condition
*A note about cheese: Some cheese are better than others at melting, which is what you’re going for in a good omelette. Good melting cheeses for omelettes include: Gruyère, Cheddar, Swiss, and Fontina, but many more will work. You can find some more information about the science behind melting cheese over on Serious Eats.
Step 2: Preparing Your Eggs
Crack your eggs into the bowl, taking care not to get any shell in there. As this recipe is all about the egg, try to find the best quality eggs out there—I’m lucky to have chickens that will lay me eggs, but try to either find farmer’s market eggs or the freshest supermarket eggs if you don’t have chickens.
Lightly salt and pepper your eggs before whisking. Some people say pre-salting your eggs will remove moisture from them, but in reality putting in the salt earlier will result in a better-tasting omelette.
Whisk the eggs using the plastic fork. I like to angle the bowl to the side slightly and pull the fork through the deepest part of the egg mixture rather than traditionally whisking in a circle—this will agitate the egg and mix them faster. Mix the eggs until they’re fully mixed and bubbles begin to form. Again, the amount you mix the eggs is up to deep dispute—but this is what I find is the tastiest and easiest.
Step 3: Ready to Cook?
Before turning on the stove, make sure that you have everything you need to cook your omelette right by the pan. This is a French cooking concept known mise en place — ‘everything in its place.’ Practicing good mise en place will speed up your cooking and ensure that when you have to execute a number of steps in precise timing, like making an omelette, you aren’t scrambling around trying to find the cheese (pun intended).
While this isn’t pictured in the photo, make sure to have your plate handy!
Step 4: Cooking the Omelette - Scrambling the Eggs
Turn on the stove to medium low and add a half-tablespoon or so of butter. Wait until the butter begins to foam, but does not brown.
Pour your eggs into the pan, using the plastic fork to scrape any reluctant remainder.
Immediately begin whisking the omelette with the plastic fork, trying to break up any curds (solid egg) that forms as it cooks. As you whisk, shake the pan with your other hand to further shake up the omelette. We use a plastic fork so as to damage the surface of the non-stick pan as little as possible.
If things are cooking too fast, raise the pan above the flame to effectively reduce the heat. Once most of the eggs have cooked to the point where they are jiggly but not liquid, use your fork to evenly distribute the curds over the bottom part of the pan.
Step 5: Cooking the Omelette - Grating the Cheese
Working efficiently, grate some cheese over the entire omelette. You can put as much as you like, but I tend to be conservative in my cheese application—this is a time for the eggs to shine!
Step 6: Rolling the Omelette
After grating the cheese, turn the stove off and immediately begin rolling the omelette up using the fork. It may help you to tilt the pan.
This is where having a good non-stick is extremely important. Even if you have a non-stick pan, if it’s been heavily used the Teflon can be scratched, making it stickier than a newer non-stick. If you are having trouble getting your omelette rolled up nicely off the pan, investing in a new non-stick might be worth it—the cheap $10-$15 ones will work fine.
As you finish rolling the omelette, position the pan above your plate and roll the omelette onto your plate. Feel free to adjust with a cloth towel if it doesn’t roll on quite right—like many of the other steps in this process, this will improve with practice.
Step 7: Enjoy!
For maximum luxuriousness and instagrammability, apply a bit of butter to the top of the omelette to give it a little shine. Totally optional, however—and I usually don’t.
Enjoy your omelette!