I first learned how to make an omelet when I worked as the early morning waitress at the best restaurant in Ravenna, Ohio, a small farming community an hour outside Cleveland. I occasionally also helped out cooking breakfast if the cook was behind in preparing the day’s special. Omelets were unknown in my family: We were sunny-side-up, scrambled egg people. Unfortunately, I might have been on the job a week when a judge from the nearby courthouse stopped in and asked for one.
“One cheese omelet, please,” I told the cook.
She didn’t look up from the long pan of lasagna she was making. She was close to 8 AM and she had two more pans to go before the 11:30 AM lunch hour began. “You do it.”
Several thoughts went through my head: I’m the only waitress; there are a slew of starving farmers up front; I don’t know anything about omelets; can I quit without tanking the household finances.
“I don’t know how.”
Still not looking at me and so unable to gauge my panicked face, she replied, “it’s easy.”
“Who’s it for?”
“One of the judges.”
“Go get three eggs and some cheese.”
I gathered the ingredients from the refrigerator and came back beside her.
“Crack the eggs in a bowl.”
I cracked the eggs in a bowl.
She finally looked over her shoulder. “Where’s the milk? Go get milk.”
I ran back to the refrigerator and returned with milk.
“Not too much,” she ordered.
I poured what seemed not too much milk.
“Now poor on grill and wait.”
I poured the eggs on the grill and watched them spread out to look something like a map of Germany. Simultaneous grabbing another pan and laying out the bottom layer of lasagna noodles, the cook checked on my progress and raised her voice. “No, no, make a circle, a circle!”
I did my best by judiciously separating Poland and Austria from their German borders. That got a nod of approval and the next step involved adding a slice of American cheese and then folding one half of the egg over it. All that needed to be done next was to slide it onto a plate and Viola! the judge’s omelet.
“Don’t forget the home fries,” the cook said and I nestled a good portion of slightly greasy home fries beside the eggs then off I went to serve it to the judge who ate it all without further comment.
I followed these very instructions for most of the thirty years since that morning, never making them for breakfast but rather as a fast Friday or Saturday dinner. They were wonderful for late nights out, too.
A week ago, I made one of my omelets for my aunt who promptly told me it was the worse omelet she ever had. Through her long life, having lived in Europe and studied French cooking, she cooked a heaps of omelets and I knew that while her criticism was deflating I need to heed it.
“What’s wrong?’ I asked.
“Everything,” she said and shuffled over to the refrigerator for more eggs, butter and milk. She then nudged me away from the counter and stove and began her lesson:
Whip the eggs into a small froth while the butter melts slowly in a proper omelet pan.
Pour in eggs. Slowly circle the pan about to evenly spread the eggs over the bottom of the pan. Just as they begin to form a solid base, gently comb a fork through the eggs, creating delicate wrinkles.
Now it’s time to add a filling. If you’re going to add something savory, warm it up a bit first. Omelets make a hell of a dessert, too, with the sweet addition of fruit, jellies, creams–whatever you can think of. My aunt crumbled in a light layer of creamy Le Delice de Bourgogne and let it melt a little. Then she slipped a spatula under a third of the eggs and carefully folded it over once, then twice, forming a neat roll.
Cook on low for a few minutes more to warm the filling. When you feel it’s ready, tip the omelet out of the pan and onto a plate. Serve immediately.
My aunt is of the opinion that if you don’t know how to make a proper omelet then you can, in no way, claim to be a knowledgeable cook. Her theory rests on the fact that there’s so many basic technical lessons that go in to creating a perfect omelet. What I love most about the preparation is how observant you need to be to get the right composition and texture. How patient you must remain to allow the eggs to develop just right.
I’m an impatient person, and this is so hard for me to do. Patience and observation is critical to baking, too, which is why I’m a pretty incompetent baker. (See my One Two Three Four Cake posting.) But I rather practice my omelet skills than baking because the heart of it is so innocent–just eggs, butter and cream. It’s so versatile, able to meet whatever you desire at the moment. Most of all, it is forgiving, for while you strive for mastery, even the most lopsided results is right enough to satisfy what your need–morning, noon and late at night–to nourish you.