Egg Files VI: French Flop

Japanese Garden

GUEST: Japanese Gardner

    Behold, the great American omelet packed with hunks of raw vegetables, running with cheese and wrinkled as an old man's backside, brown as an L.A. sunset, and ever so slightly disgusting. Now I think the problem is that Americans assume that omelets need to be fussy. After all, they are French. The thing is is we shouldn't be thinking France. We should be thinking Japan, because if there's any food that embodies Zen, it is the omelet. Omelets are simple but not necessarily easy, and they're a lot more about technique than they are ingredients.
    But don't get me wrong. I'm not saying filling is evil. But, a properly prepared plain omelet is a miracle in its own right. And the novice omeleteer would be wise to master its subtleties before attempting augmentations.
    Just as this gardener uses nothing more than a rake and patience to create beauty out of sticks and stones, so does the omeleteer take only a pan, a spatula and a little butter to convert this [raw egg] into good eats.

AB: [to Japanese Gardener referring to the sand garden] Here you go. Nice job out here.

The Kitchen

GUEST: French Chef

    Before we can contemplate the production of a world-class, French-style omelet, we must first define exactly what a world-class, French-style omelet is. For me, it means a combination of this [custard] and this [toast]. That's right. A smooth, rich, custardy interior encased in a golden, ever-so-slightly crisp exterior. A juxtaposition of unrelated forms, you say? I think not. After all, what is an egg, but a custard ready to happen? And, thanks to its unique fat and protein content, it toasts very nicely too.

    Now to get started, we will need three of these [eggs] warmed for five minutes in hot, not scalding, tap water. Now the faster an omelet cooks, the more tender it's going to be. Since cold eggs have a longer thermal trip to take, starting with warm eggs makes good sense. You'll never see this step mentioned in a French cookbook because the French don't refrigerate their eggs. Now while these soak, we'll contemplate some hardware.

3 eggs warmed for
5 minutes in hot (not
scalding) tap water.

    The first thing you're going to need is a ten-inch nonstick aluminum pan. [cell phone rings] And you ... excuse me.

AB: Hello?
FRENCH CHEF: Idiot! You must use a cured steel omelet pan! You must never cook anything else in it! You must never ever wash it!
AB: [in a French accent] Who is thez? [catching himself] I mean, this?
FC: Who do you think it is, you fuzzy-headed ninnyhammer?

    I don't care what the voices tell you. You do not need a special omelet pan. But when purchasing the nonstick pan that every kitchen needs, you should keep an omelet's needs in mind. Now, fast heat absorption is key, so consider an aluminum pan rather than a steel or clad pan. Like a crepe, an omelet needs to slide, so look for the kind of smooth, non-stick surface usually found on less-expensive pans. You also want to steer clear of pans that have a distinct line between the bottom and the sides. You want to look for something that's got a very gentle slope, almost like a bowl.
    Now, this is my favorite omelet pan, which I picked up at my friendly neighborhood restaurant supply store for a song. Of course, this is only one part of a binary system, the other part being a spatula.
    Etymologically speaking, 'spatula' comes from the Latin 'spatha,' meaning a flat, elongated instrument. From that, the Italians get 'spada,' or 'broadsword' and from that we get 'spade,' as well as the term 'spay.' Which is not to say you should fix your cat with a sword, but I guess it would do the trick. The diminutive form of 'spatha' is 'spathula,' and that's where we get 'spatula' from, meaning a 'small elongated instrument.' Which one is best for an omelet? Follow me.

W's Lab


GUEST: W, Spatula Specialist

AB: Hey, W. How's the new gig going?
W: The coffee's terrible, this smock is polyester, and I'd rather punch you than this time card.
AB: Time card. Well, we'll work that out later. How are the spatula tests coming?
W: Blades were tested for flexibility, staining, heat resistance and overall design.
AB: Really?
W: Oh, come on. Plastic isn't flexible so we ruled those out. Rubber's flexible, but it stains, cracks with use, sticks to many soft foods and doesn't do too well in the high heat test.
W: Silicone, however, doesn't crack or stain, and it can handle up to 600 degrees.
AB: Excellent! What about the handle design?
W: Wood handles are strong, naturally insulated, but they warp, are hard to clean, and offer little ergonomic support. And ... Intercom: Malfunction. Malfunction. [the end of a spatula came off it's handle while be mixed]
W: ... they come off when you least expect it. Once this happens, food checks in ...
AB: ... and it doesn't check out. Yuck! So what's the solution?
W: This spatula is unique because the silicone blade extends to a long, easy-to-clean collar. It joins into an ergonomic, food-grade plastic handle whose long shaft lends the right support of balance and flexibility. The wide blade is perfect, whether folding egg-whites or frosting cakes.
AB: Outstanding! So what you're saying is, this is basically the only spatula I need.
W: I suggest three: the wide blade, a narrow one to get in tight places, and this slightly concave model, called the spoonula.
AB: A spoonula! You gotta be joking! Huh?
W: AB, I never joke about my work.

    Or about anything else, for that matter.

The world's largest omelet was made with
16,000 eggs in 1994 in Yokohama, Japan.

The Kitchen

    Remember, crack on a flat surface, like a saucer or counter to avoid driving shrapnel up into the egg. As for mixing, I like going with a nice, big coffee cup, cause it's just the right size for the job, and it's got a convenient carrying handle. As for the beating tool, I like using a fork rather than a whisk. Whisks tend to invite unwanted air bubbles to the party.

Inside the Bubble Mixture

    Bubbles are bad because they act as an insulator, preventing the heat from finding its way quickly into the egg. The result? A rather dry foam. Not good eats.

The Kitchen

    Ah, yes. Many omelet procedures call for up to a tablespoon of water per egg to be added to this mixture. There are a few times that I'll go along with that, but this isn't one of them. Nope, the only thing I'm going to add are a few pinches of fine-grain salt. Alas, my beloved kosher flakes dissolve too slowly for this process.

2-3 Pinches Fine Grain Salt

    You know, one of the reasons that I think Americans make pretty onerous omelets, by and large, is because we work with recipe books that suggest that omelet making only involves three or four steps. Truth is, a good omelet takes about thirty-nine steps. [the camera pans to the door as if to leave assumedly because 39 steps are too many]

    Oh, relax. There are only ten steps to making great omelets, and most of them are little teeny-weensy steps. Besides, we've done the first three. We warmed the eggs, we seasoned the eggs, and we beat the eggs. Next, we have to heat the pan. Step 1: Warm Eggs
Step 2: Season Eggs
Step 3: Beat Eggs with Fork
    As you practice your technique, you'll discover the right temperature setting for both your pan and your cook top. For now, I'm just going to start halfway between medium and high. No higher, or you'll make all toast and no custard, if you get my drift.

Heat halfway between medium and high.

    Now, even a nonstick surface is pocked with tiny microscopic crevices and pores, and of course some scratches. Eggs can pour into those and set, grabbing hold of the pan. Heat expands the metal, squeezing many of these openings shut, so always heat your pan empty for a few minutes before adding the eggs. Step 4: Heat Pan Empty
    How hot? Well, for those of you with an infrared thermometer, I'd say 325 to 350. For those of you that don't have nifty infrared thermometers, heat the pan until butter does this, that is, foam briskly.

    Now some people endorse an oil-butter combo, the ideal being that the higher smoke-point of the oil will prevent the butter from burning. But since it's the solids in the butter that burn in the first place, I'm not buying it, okay? The best way to protect against burned butter is to start with clarified butter, which has had all of the solids removed or, to start with butter that has been softened just to room temperature. That way, the already-melted portion of the butter won't have time to burn while it's waiting for the refrigerator
-hard remains to liquefy.

Use Clarified

    Another argument for butter, besides taste and rapid browning, is the fact that butter will tell you when it's ready. It foams, it smells nutty, you cook. Now, once melted, we want to brush this butter around with a basting brush. Sure, you could just swirl the butter, but this allows you to cover a lot more area with a lot less butter in a lot less time. Now, we're ready for step five. And it's a big one.

    Pour the eggs right into the middle of the pan, and then stir vigorously with your silicone spatula for five seconds. Notice that I'm not so much moving the spatula around the pan as I am moving the pan around the spatula. That creates a more even curd. There. Step 5: Pour Eggs Into Center Of Pan & Stir Vigorously With Spatula
    Now, as soon as a semi-solid mass of curd starts to form, we move to step six, which I like to call 'swirl and sweep.' Catchy, huh? We're basically going to lift the edge of the pan, and swirl all the way around so that the excess liquid can pour off into the pan. There. Then we're going to use the tip of the spatula to basically wipe around the perimeter. That'll tidy up the round shape, and push back the edge a little bit, which is important. Step 6: Swirl & Sweep
    We now arrive at step seven, which happens to be my favorite. Walk away. Do nothing for ten seconds, okay? At this point there is no amount of prodding, poking or fiddling that you can do to make that omelet cook any quicker. In fact, messing with it now will probably only result in an omelet that's stuck to the pan. In other words, scrambled eggs. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just not really what I want today. Step 7: Walk Away

    If you do see the omelet start to jump up out of the pan at this point, like Mexican jumping beans, turn down the heat to medium-low. But this looks good. I would say that we are definitely in time for step eight. Which is the, well, we'll call it the 'jiggle step.'

    Basically, we want to make sure that the omelet's completely free of the pan. You wouldn't be able to do this in a really expensive Teflon pan because it would have too much texture. Step 8: Jiggle Pan
    We now come to step number nine, the big finale. The folding and the plating. Lift up the far edge and snap the pan back towards you. As soon as you get there, use your spatula to fold over one third thusly. Step 9: Fold
    Then, change your grip from an overhand to an underhand and move to the plate. I like to brush just a little butter on the plate. Helps the omelet to slide out. Don't want it to bind up. And just ease the pan over. There, not perfect but nice. Step 10: Slide Onto Plate & Flip
    One of the things that I really dig about the tri-fold presentation is that it keeps the inside of the omelet nice and warm while I slather on a little more butter. Just a little. Why more butter, you say? Well for one thing, it really tastes good. For another thing, it creates a suitable substrate for herbage, like some nice chives. Ah!

Butter Optional

Sprinkle With Chives Or Other Herbs

    Here we have a meal with a thousand uses. It could be served alongside your favorite breakfast fare, or in place of your favorite breakfast fare. Me, I just like to serve it up with a little side salad and a glass of wine, and call it dinner. I also call it Good Eats.

It is said that the Roman epicure, Apicius
(born approx. 2 B.C.) invented the omelet.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Spike, The Iguana

    Speedy preparation and cheap ingredients make the omelet perfect for mass munching. But when the numbers of munchers mounts, we need to find a more manageable method. In this case, the blender.

    I like to go with two and a half eggs, plus one tablespoon of water for every diner. Now since I haven't seen any half-eggs on the market lately, that means 5 eggs plus one ounce of water for every two diners. And if my math is right, that translates to 10 eggs and a quarter cup of water for four diners. Which is what we have here. 5 Eggs & 1 oz. Water Per 2 People
    Now would also be the time to add some seasonings and flavors. For instance, some salt. We'll say two heavy pinches.

2 Pinches Salt

    And if you wanted to get a little fancy with things, you could consider an herbal addition right now. For instance, basil gets along very very nicely with eggs. Dill, ditto. Parsley, always a classic. Tarragon, surprisingly fine with eggs. And chives, always welcome to the party. Rosemary, not so much. Besides the fact that you might get a splinter in your tongue, it's just too resinous for eggs. Overpowering. Me, I'm gonna go with a cluster bomb of chives, dill and parsley. Bam!

    Last but not least, the water. 2 oz. Water
    Now as I said, I don't normally advocate the addition of water when you're talking about eggs, but we're about to put some serious hurtin' onto these eggs. Serious agitation. And the water will allow us to reduce the viscosity. A lower viscosity means that we're going to be able to beat the eggs faster, and that means less bubble formation and less denaturing, either of which could wreak havoc on our omeleture.

lower viscosity = faster beating = fewer bubbles and fewer damaged proteins

    [voice over] Now since most eggs contain about 1.5 ounces and we usually make an omelet with 3, that means we need a 4.5 ounce ladle. Now check the temperature. At 325, very good. And lube up with some butter. Nice sizzle. Looks just right. There we go.

Average Large Egg
Is 1.5 - 1.7 oz.

4.5 oz. Ladle

Heat Pan & Wipe With Butter

    Now ladle in the goodness, right into the middle of the pan. There we go. And now the stir phase. Remember, moving the pan as much as we move the spatula. Very good. And now the sweep.

Add 1 Ladle To Pan


Swirl & Sweep

    Stop! Just hold it there a second. [the scene freezes and AB walks into the scene] Look, I've gotta tell you, right up front. Even if you become the great Zen grand-master of plain omelet-making, somewhere along the line, somebody is going to say "You gonna put some fillings in that?" Sorry, it's gonna happen, okay? You are going to have to deal with fillings and now is the time to be thinking about it, okay? Now just ... You've got to remember this: omelets have enough to do just cooking themselves, without having to worry about cooking whatever you decide to stick inside of them.
    So, with the exception of cheese, which should be either grated, crumbled or shredded, and fresh herbs, which obviously can be added directly to the batter, all added ingredients need to be not only cooked, but brought to room temperature. Or better, they even need to be reheated.

    And don't just throw things in willy-nilly. Think through the combinations and try not to add more than two things at a time. For instance, grated Gruyere and sautéed mushrooms. Or, crumbled Feta cheese with cooked and drained spinach. Or, then again, there is my personal favorite, red and green peppers, sautéed with onions and finished with Monterey Jack cheese. Yum. By the way, now would be the time to add it. Gruyere Cheese
Sautéed Mushrooms

Feta Cheese
Cooked & Drained Spinach

Sautéed Red & Green Peppers
Sautéed Onions
Monterey Jack Cheese

    When you're ready to add, sprinkle ingredients only over two thirds of the surface of the omelet, facing away from you. There you go. Don't go overboard. Just a little sprinkle around will do. Well, maybe just a little more cheese, cause I like it. That leaves you a third of your room to fold. Now do your snap back, flip over, change your grip, and move directly to the plate. Sprinkle ingredients on 2/3 of omelet.

    There ya go. For you. Oh, sorry! That would help, huh? What's the matter? What are you, the food police or something? [a hand pops up and flips on a badge wallet] Oh, heh, you are the food police. Hey, nice wallet. Um, look, I know that technically speaking we're not supposed to eat eggs until they're absolutely, perfectly set inside, and odds are these are still just a little bit runny. But, you know, in my own defense I will offer that you are more likely to get salmonella from ... from your ... well heck, from your pet iguana [camera pans around to Spike] than you are from this omelet. Of course, if you really are concerned, do what I do and use pasteurized eggs, available in the shell in most mega-marts. See ya, Copper! Ha ha ha ha ha ha!

In 1885, Daniel E. Salmon discovered the first
strain of Salmonella in the intestine of a pig.

The Kitchen

            Other Crewmembers

    [the camera pans along 20 plates of omelets] Ah, well. You know what they say, practice makes perfect and some of us just need a little more, mmm, practice than others. You know, there is one omelet that doesn't require any practice at all. The Italians call it a frittata, and it distinguishes itself from a French omelet because it is flat, rather than folded, and it is firm, rather than creamy. And there's one other thing that's really great about it. Come on.
    Since frittata are flat, they're not nearly as fussy about fillings as French omelets. Excuse me.

AB: Come and get it!

[the camera crew rushes in and takes all of the omelets]

    In fact, frittata are a lot like that other eggy favorite, the qui ...

CREWMAN #1: Excuse me.

... quiche. In other words, they are refrigerator Velcro. Whatever ya got, it's good to go. Let's see, I have some roasted asparagus leftover. What's this? Smells like ham. It is ham! Excellent. Some Parmesan cheese, always a welcome addition. Yeah, it's store bought. So what? And, herbs. Parsley, in fact. Where I got it from, I have no idea, but that ought to do it.

    Set your oven to broil, high if you've got it.

Set Oven To Broil

    Oh, and you're also going to need a pan, nice and hot. You'll notice that I have moved up to a different pan. I've got my 12-inch non-stick here, and I don't care, really, about shape in this case because I don't have to do any fancy folding, flipping and plating, so to speak. So all I care about is a nice wide-open space with plenty of Teflon.

12-inch Nonstick Pan

    Now the first job is, we've got to get the vegetables heated back up, so I'm just gonna dump everything in. This looks about right. How much filing you actually use depends on the pan and also depends on the type of ingredient you're using.

1 Tbs. Butter
1/2 Cup Roasted Asparagus
1/2 Cup Country Ham

    Now I like to see just kind of a single layer spread out on the bottom. That looks about right. If it was any tighter than that, the egg wouldn't be able to get in and set around it, and we'd just end up with scrambled eggs. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm just gonna let these cook until I know they're cooked through and hot.

    Now that these are good and hot, we are ready for the egg mixture. You're going to need to mix about one ounce of grated Parmesan cheese with six eggs and a little bit of black pepper. Thank you, Thing. Speedy little guy.

1 oz. Parmesan
6 Eggs
1 tsp. Black Pepper

    Now, I'm just going to pour this directly in, just like making a French omelet, only we're going to stop short of the fold. Just starting to firm up on the top. We're getting ready to move to the oven. Last thing I'm gonna add, the parsley.

    Two to four minutes under the broiler will do it. Remember, we're looking for brown and puffy, not incinerated.

2-4 mins Under Broiler

    [voice over] Ah, golden brown and delicious. Now, if your non-stick skillet really is, then this should slide right out onto a cutting board. For portioning, I prefer a pizza cutter. Just glide right on through. Depending on how many guests and how hungry they are, you can get six to eight slices.

    Mmm, a little dollop of sour cream finishes off the dish quite nicely. I hope that the last half hour has filled you with the fierce desire and considerable confidence necessary to create your own omelet. Now, if you find that you're full of the former but kind of lacking in the latter, why don't you try firing off a few frittata first, just to get your hand in before you attempt the more complicated French fare.
    And even then, remember, sure the perfect French folded omelet may bring you to enlightenment, but in the end, even an imperfect practice omelet will really bring you Good Eats. See you next time.

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Transcription By: ElectroWolf & Mario Garcia

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010