- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2004

My first professional French-style omelet was a disaster.

At the age of 20, I arrived at the three-star Oustau de Baumaniere in Provence, founded by legendary chef Raymond Thuilier. I had already worked at Maxim’s in Paris and the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, so I thought I knew what I was doing.

The famous chef looked me over. “So, you know how to cook?”

“Yes,” I replied confidently.

“Good. Make me an omelet.”

Suddenly, I was nervous. I heated a copper omelet pan while I whisked and seasoned the eggs. Then I threw a knob of butter into the pan. Maybe I left it on the heat a little too long and didn’t swirl it well enough to coat the pan. The butter was already smoking a little when I added the eggs. A minute later, when I went to roll the omelet out of the pan, it stuck. I had to use a spatula to scrape out the pieces, quickly patching them back together like a puzzle.

It looked OK, I hoped, when I put it down in front of Thuilier. The chef stared down at the plate, then up at me.

“If you showed that to a chicken,” he said, “it would be embarrassed by what you have done to its wonderful eggs.”

I’ve learned a lot about omelets since then. First, buy a good-quality omelet pan with a nonstick surface. That will ensure your eggs not only cook perfectly but also roll out of the pan and onto the plate easily.

Next, heat some oil in the pan before melting the butter. Doing so not only keeps the butter from burning but also further prevents sticking.

While the pan is heating, beat the eggs until they are a little frothy. When the butter has melted, add the eggs and cook them, shaking the pan slightly while stirring with the back of a fork’s tines held parallel to and just above the pan’s bottom, until softly curdled and still creamy. Add a filling if you like such as cheese, sauteed vegetables, crumbled bacon, cooked baby shrimp or smoked salmon.

Finally, turn the omelet out onto a heated serving plate. The easiest way to do this is to grab the pan’s handle with your palm down. Lift the pan and, holding a plate below it, raise the handle so the omelet begins sliding toward the opposite side. As the omelet falls onto the plate, continue lifting the handle as if you’re flipping the pan upside down, thus folding the omelet over onto itself.

It all goes so quickly that you can easily make the omelets one at a time, as they should be. Each time, you’ll come closer to mastering the technique. But don’t worry if you make a mistake: It will still taste delicious. And besides, you won’t have a famous chef waiting to judge your work.

A CLASSIC FRENCH-STYLE OMELET

Serves 1

2 or 3 large eggs

1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, if using an omelet pan without a nonstick coating

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Heat an 8- or 10-inch omelet pan, preferably nonstick, over medium-high heat.

While the pan is heating, break the eggs into a mixing bowl. Add the salt and a pinch of pepper. With a wire whisk, briskly beat the eggs until frothy.

Carefully hold your palm about 1 inch above the cooking surface of the pan. If you can feel the heat from the pan, it is ready for cooking.

If using a pan without a nonstick coating, add the olive oil. Once the oil is hot enough to swirl easily, carefully tilt and swivel the pan to coat the bottom well.

Add the butter to whichever pan you’re using. When the butter begins to foam, tilt and swirl the pan to distribute the melted butter evenly. Immediately add the eggs and leave them, undisturbed, for about 10 seconds.

Using a potholder if necessary to protect your hand, grasp the pan by its handle and tilt the pan forward and back while stirring the eggs with a fork or wooden spoon so that the still-liquid egg slips beneath the cooked egg.

After 15 to 30 seconds, when the eggs are cooked on the bottom but still fairly moist on top, tilt the pan to about a 45-degree angle by raising the handle so that the cooked eggs fall and gather near the opposite end. Top the eggs with any prepared filling.

Hold the far edge of the pan over a heated serving plate and continue tipping the handle up so that the omelet folds over onto itself, enclosing the filling, and rolls out of the pan onto the plate. Serve immediately.

(Chef Wolfgang Puck’s TV series, “Wolfgang Puck’s Cooking Class,” airs Sundays and Wednesdays on the Food Network. Write Wolfgang Puck in care of Tribune Media Services Inc., 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY. 14207.)

2004 WOLFGANG PUCK WORLDWIDE, INC.

DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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