Having eggs year round is so familiar that we forget how seasonal they once were. Colorful eggs at Easter are more than a spiritual symbol of renewal. Until electricity was used to add hours of light, hens stopped laying through the short days of dark winter months and began laying abundantly again as spring brought longer days. So spring’s arrival was a reason to celebrate and enjoy eggs.
Whipping up a golden, buttery French omelet is an elementally simple way to enjoy eggs. I do not mean the familiar coffee shop staple, lightly browned and folded over an over-abundance of filling. A true – as in French –omelet is cooked just until the eggs are tenderly set, without time to brown, and are quickly rolled into thirds around only a filling that is just enough to add complimentary flavor.
To the French, making an omelet is a true test of a cook’s ability. Its ingredients are simply eggs, butter, and a splash of water. (A filling is optional.) What transforms them into bliss is using the perfect pan and precise technique. Getting the timing and tilting of the pan just so, the result is lightly set eggs rolled neatly into a cloud-light pillow and slipped onto your plate at just the perfect instant. Eating it can be close to a religious experience.
The good news is that all the imperfect omelets you make while practicing to get down the motions and timing will be delicious.
To feed four, a French cook will make four individual omelets, each one using two eggs, rather than produce a larger one made with more eggs because this allows control that produces perfection. Starting each omelet from scratch, a practiced cook who sets out little bowls holding individual portions of a filling so they can be added as quickly as one tosses ingredients into a wok when doing a stir-fry, needs less than twenty minutes to produce four exquisite omelets.
The proper pan for a two-egg omelet is an eight-inch skillet with a seven-inch bottom.
It must be light enough to easily lift and rotate and made of metal that heats evenly, with shallow, sloping sides that help you roll the omelet and slide it onto a waiting plate. Mine is stainless steel with a heavy bottom that I use only for making omelets and crèpes. It never goes into the sink. To clean it I add a sprinkle of salt to the empty pan, then wipe it out using a paper towel.
An omelet is a duet embellished by its filling. The better the eggs and butter you use, the more heavenly your omelet will be. Appreciating that eggs from chickens that scratch outdoors and farm-fresh butter cost a lot more than basic supermarket prices, I tested them by making two omelets and comparing the results. The one made with farm eggs from my local farmers market, gathered less than 24 hours before I cooked them and costing six dollars a dozen, plus obscenely expensive grass-fed butter, was not just a deep, rich golden color. It transported me to the sunlit kitchen of a country farmhouse. The supermarket version, with eggs and butter costing one-third as much, was paler and less flavorful, its eggs not as creamy and tender. My point is not to stress your budget since any omelet is a pleasure, but that if you can splurge on what will be the heart of your meal, the result will reward you.
The possibilities for filling an omelet are almost infinite. Spinach and Parmesan cheese is classic. (Make sure to squeeze the spinach well.) Two of my other favorites are lentil chili or ratatouille. What counts is having the filling and egg compliment one another. For this, I find one-third cup is usually right. A sprinkling of grated Parmesan, shredded sharp Cheddar, or finely crumbled feta adds savory sharpness that compliments all the other flavors in an omelet.
Two eggs, when transformed into a true French omelet, are an elegant sufficiency any time of day. Nothing is more romantic than a leisurely Sunday spent reading the papers, fooling around (to quote a Frank Sinatra lyric), and improvising with what’s on hand, which probably includes eggs you can easily turn into two perfect omelets.
Here’s the recipe: French-style Spinach and Cheese Omelette