- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Rudolph Stanish says making an omelet requires only skill. He should know. Mr. Stanish at 93 has flipped his famous omelets for Princess Diana, Whoopi Goldberg and Tennessee Williams.

“I made the omelets for JFK’s inaugural breakfast,” he says. “Of course, I’d met both Jackie Bouvier and John Kennedy at parties in Newport, Rhode Island, years before they married.”

Being a cook for American financier and industrialist Paul Mellon propelled his career. Mr. Stanish and his omelets starred at parties for the likes of Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

With an assistant, he could bang out 180 omelets an hour on four burners running full tilt. People would line up for their dinner, and an assistant would toss butter into a pan with herbs to sizzle, then hand off the pan to Mr. Stanish, who would add the eggs, fillings and toppings.

The process would take 30 seconds to a minute. He would be on his feet from 8 p.m. until 2 or 3 a.m. with people getting in line for seconds.

I was lucky enough to get a lesson from him in making a great omelet:

• When preparing an omelet, eggs should be at room temperature. Allow an hour after they come from the refrigerator.

• Do not overbeat the eggs, or they will become too thin and the omelet will be tough.

• Break eggs into a bowl and beat with a fork until they make a stretchy ribbon when the fork is raised.

• Put the eggs through a strainer to remove the white connecting bits.

• Have ingredients ready and available before you begin cooking.

• Use unsalted butter for best results. Salted butter can cause sticking.

• Never allow the butter to brown before adding the eggs. It will change the flavor and cause the finished omelet to be too brown.

• Keep the skillet on medium-high heat with the heat readily adjustable.

• Omelets should always be served at once on warm, but not hot, plates.

Instead of putting a filling inside the omelet, jazz it up like this: When the omelet is on a serving plate, make a slit down the center and spoon on the garnish mixture. Sprinkle with chopped herbs and serve. This works well with mushrooms, sausage pieces and sauteed onions and peppers. Douse with spicy tomato sauce, if you like.

An exception to this is a cheese omelet. When the omelet is set and just before rolling, scatter 1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese over the surface. It will melt from the heat of the eggs.

The omelet pan is critical. Most cooks agree that a special pan should be kept solely for making omelets and crepes. The ideal pan measures 7 inches in diameter for a two-egg omelet, 9 inches for a three-egg or especially puffy omelet, and has sloping shoulders that allow the egg mixture to spread and, when tilted, to slide easily onto the plate. Omelets have been tested in cast iron, aluminum and steel-washed copper, all with good results.

The more the pan is used, the better it becomes. After use, the pan should be wiped carefully and thoroughly with paper towels.

Avoid detergents and soap because they remove the nonstick sheen. If some egg residue remains, clean the pan by scouring with salt, followed by a swipe with a paper towel.

Once the pan has been seasoned, only two things should be cooked in it: butter and eggs. Herbs may be added to the butter. Anything else will stick and should be added as a topping.

Sometimes you may have to cheat to get a perfect omelet shape. Do this by laying a paper towel on top of the cooked omelet and gently shaping the omelet so that it forms a symmetrical oval.

Beyond a generous hand with butter, fresh eggs and a seasoned pan, you need a good measure of self-confidence. The only way to get that is to practice.

A confident cook might make omelets in assembly line fashion for a brunch or late-night party. Have guests form a line and choose their fillings before you begin to cook. Use a 1/2-cup ladle (for 2-egg omelets) as a measure. Once you get a groove going, you’ll be able to work two pans at once.

Here are the steps showing how to make a basic savory omelet and a puffy dessert omelet:

Basic savory omelet for one

Fillings and garnishes of choice

3 large eggs or 2 extra-large eggs

Scant 1/4 teaspoon salt

About 4 drops hot red pepper sauce

2 teaspoons minced fresh herbs, divided

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Place a heavy 7- to 8-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Have fillings and garnishes ready to go. Put a serving plate in a warm place.

Combine eggs with 1 tablespoon cold water, the salt and the hot red pepper sauce. Beat egg mixture with a fork until it begins to look stringy. Do not aerate by whisking or overbeating.

The temperature of the skillet is just right when a quick flick of water makes bubbles that dance and skitter over the surface of the pan. If the pan is too hot, take it off the heat until it cools down.

Using a fork to secure a large pat (1 tablespoon) of butter, run the butter quickly all over the surface of the hot skillet and up the sides to the rim. When the butter foams and dies down, add half the herbs and swirl for a few seconds.

Pour the egg mixture into the skillet. With a fork, tines up, begin to make a circular motion on the bottom of the pan. At the same time, shake the pan to and fro. This creates layers of fluffiness. As the eggs begin to set, pat any holes with some still liquid mixture. Pause briefly to allow eggs to set, forming a layer on the bottom.

Before you begin to roll the omelet, change the position of your hand on the handle to palm side up, making it easier to tilt the pan so that gravity will assist in the rolling. Tilt the skillet, and with the fork, roll the omelet away from the handle and fold over.

The omelet should be rather soft, only 95 percent done. Roll folded omelet onto a warm plate. It will finish cooking on the plate. Sprinkle with remaining herbs. Makes 1 serving.

Cheese omelet: Sprinkle 1/4 cup of grated cheddar cheese over the surface of the omelet before you begin to roll it.

Mushroom omelet: Make a slit down the center of the finished omelet on its serving plate. Spoon sauteed mushrooms into the slit.

Sweet dessert omelet for two

With a sweet omelet, you can be as elaborate as you like. Make it with marmalade, or add fruit and flambe it for high drama. The flames will caramelize the sugar, which will give a slight crunch to the surface of the omelet. Or just sprinkle the finished omelet with sugar and top with fresh fruit such as blueberries or sliced and sweetened strawberries.

½ cup apricot preserves, plus more for saucing

3 eggs

3 tablespoons sugar, plus ½ teaspoon, divided

Pinch salt

1 tablespoon butter

3 tablespoons liqueur, such as Grand Marnier, or rum

Turn on oven broiler. Warm preserves in the microwave, and pour the warm mixture onto a heat-proof oval serving platter.

Separate eggs. Beat whites with 1 tablespoon sugar until stiff, glossy peaks form. If they are properly beaten, you can invert the bowl and they will stay in place. Using same beaters, beat egg yolks with 2 tablespoons sugar and a pinch of salt until light and thick. Fold egg yolks into whites with a rubber spatula until blended.

Heat a heavy 9-inch skillet until thoroughly hot over medium-high heat. To test: Flick on a few drops of water. When they dance and skitter over the surface of the pan, the skillet is ready.

With 1 tablespoon butter on the end of a fork, swirl butter over skillet surface right up to the rim. As butter foams and then dies down (do not allow it to brown), pour in the eggs.

Using a spatula, spread egg mixture over entire surface of skillet right up to the rim. The egg mixture will take on the concave shape of the skillet. Take care not to disturb the bottom, which will have begun to set.

Cook, checking browning every so often by pulling omelet away from side of pan with a spatula. When barely golden brown, slip skillet under broiler, not too close to the heat. Watch carefully until top is set and slightly glazed, just a matter of seconds.

Have 3 tablespoons liqueur (at least 80 proof) warm and ready in a small pan. Grasp the handle of the skillet palm up. Tilt the pan and with a spatula, and fold over the edge of the omelet nearest the handle to make a half-moon shape.

Do not try to roll a puffy omelet. Turn omelet out onto warm preserves on the platter; sprinkle top of omelet with ½ teaspoon sugar.

Heat liqueur or rum just until tiny bubbles appear around the edge. Using a long match, ignite liqueur and while flames lick in the pan, very carefully pour it over the omelet. Serve at once. Serve with additional warmed preserves, if desired.

Makes 2 servings.

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