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How to Make the Perfect Omelet

January 16, 2003

My brother and I were always responsible for our own breakfasts growing up, which is why I never eat breakfast during the week, and why I know how to make a slew of brunchy weekend foods.

The omelet that involves cooking a sheet of egg on both sides and then folding some stuff in it -- or worse, folding the egg and dropping the stuff right on top of it -- is really no omelet at all. I'm going to walk you through a basic three-egg omelet here, and I want you to appreciate that I did this one-handed (so I could take the pictures).

Gentlemen, if you whipped one of these up on the morning after a hot date, let me guarantee that your guest will be impressed. Prep time: 5 minutes, cook time: 10 minutes.

Use a standard non-stick medium skillet. Spray a very light coat of Pam or other cooking spray over the whole pan. Let the pan warm to a medium-low heat (like, 4 on a scale of 10).

(I am usually a butter fan, but I don't recommend it for this. You need very light, even greasing that won't pool or burn.)

In a bowl, add a bit of milk to your three eggs. I don't know how to explain how much milk, because I forgot to measure it. I guess about a quarter of a cup -- it's an eyeball thing. Two heavy pours, or "gloop gloop." I know some people leave it out, but I believe the milk is the 1st key to a perfect omelet.

[9-7-04. Editor's note: After two years, I finally measured. It's two tablespoons. Also, I am revising my statement that milk is necessary. I have been experimenting with both ways, since posting this tutorial, and I will grudgingly admit that a perfect omelet can be made with just beaten egg. Be sure to whisk them thoroughly, and be sure to pour into a pre-heated pan. The egg is more eggy and not as fluffy, but they set up faster and more evenly. So, make it a matter of personal taste.]
Add some seasoning to taste. I like a little salt and fresh-ground pepper, and a hit of Tony's. Whisk the eggs.
Pour the egg mixture in the skillet, and swish it around so that a fine layer of egg sticks to the side of the pan. (You might want to click on the "swish pic" at left to see the closeup.) Do this by picking up the skillet and rotating it slightly. This is Swish #1, and it is the 2nd key to the perfect omelet.
Leave the egg mixture alone for a few minutes to allow it to cook and "set up." You will know the egg has cooked enough to proceed when the egg whites have actually turned white (you can see the white chunks in the picture).
While the egg cooks, take a minute to make sure your fillings are mise en place. Anything you like can go into an omelet. In my opinion, some sort of cheese is necessary because it makes the omelet hold nicely -- and then vegetables and meats are great additions. Today I've grabbed some diced turkey, fresh mushrooms, shredded cheddar, and a slice of swiss. I wish I had some chives, but it's no big deal. Other good fillings: ham, jack cheese, smoked salmon, bell peppers, crumbled bacon, proscuitto, spinach...
When the egg is about 70% cooked solid, it is time for the second swish. Whatever liquid mixture is left in the skillet, swirl it around the edges again to make the crispy edge layer thicker. Swish #2 is (wait for it) the 3rd key to the perfect omelet.
Let the omelet continue to cook until the crispy thin egg edge starts to pull away from the pan. (click at far left for the closeup) This is when to add your fillings.
Put your fillings in the omelet on one side only, in a half moon shape. I try to put the fillings on the opposite side from where the crispy edge started to pull away, since that side will probably be easiest to fold over. Leave a little room around the circumference so the fillings don't spill out.
The edges should really be pulling away from the pan now. Take your fork and run the tines around the outside edge of the omelet, to make sure the egg layer has not stuck. Then, you can use your thumb and forefinger to grab the empty side of the omelet and fold it over the fillings. Be gentle: the egg layer is delicate -- you don't want to tear it.
Get your plate out while you let the folded omelet sit for about 30 seconds. Take a spatula and run it under the omelet to make sure it is not stuck to the pan. Get ready for the slide!
Angle the skillet over your plate and slide. The omelet should slip nicely out of the pan and onto the plate. If you like you can use the spatula underneath to coax it. Yay!
If you look underneath, you should see that both sides of the omelet are evenly browned and not burned. My omelet today was little too browned for my personal preference, but that's because I was taking pictures while I cooked. If you follow my guidelines, yours should turn out a little lighter, which is perfect.
You are now an omelet maker extraordinaire. Now, Emeril or whoever would probably garnish this with fresh fennel (I hate fennel) or some sauce or some other green stuff -- but if you are just making lunch for yourself, like I did, you don't need all that crap. If you were serving this as a meal, I would say whip up some sort of potatoes or maybe a bagel with a shmear, and you are set.


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