08 December 2011

Pas d'omelette ? Si.

On ne fait pas d'omelette
sans casser des œufs.
You can't make an omelet
without breaking a few eggs.

I don't know if this proverb first showed up in French or in English. But what it means is that when you make big changes, there are inevitably risks and sacrifices involved. And as somebody said, whether or not you're happy about the changes depends on whose eggs get broken and who gets to eat the omelet.

I tend to think the proverb originated in French, because that's obviously where the word omelette comes from. ("Omelet" without the final -te is chiefly an American form.) And France is the place where the best omelettes are made, in my humble opinion.

Une omelette aux épinards

What makes a good omelette? First, the egg whites and yolks need to be mixed together quickly with a fork, not a whisk. The eggs shouldn't really be rougnly beaten, in other words — that's too violent. And then the omelette needs to be cooked just enough to hold together. It should be very tender, not browned on the outside, and slightly runny inside.

In France, that's called an omelette baveuse — one that "drools." I don't think I've ever had une omelette baveuse outside France (unless I cooked it at home). Maybe things have changed...

The first omelette made in the new pan

Some say that how well a cook can roast a chicken — just a plain chicken cooked in the oven — is the ultimate test of cooking skill and talent. You might say the same thing about making an omelette.

The Larousse Gastonomique says this about it:
Making an omelet looks harder than it really is. You will succeed every time if you follow these rules:
  • Cook the omelette over a very hot fire;
  • Use a rigorously clean pan that is used only for cooking omelettes;
  • Beat the eggs only moderately, and only at the last moment before putting them in the pan;
  • Don't put too much butter (or other fat) in the pan;
  • And finally, "have confidence in yourself."
Here's the French:
La difficulté de préparation de l'omelette est plus apparente que réelle. On la réussira toujours si l'on observe les points suivants :
  • Avoir un feu très ardent ;
  • Opérer avec une poêle rigoureusement propre et ne servant qu'à cet usage ;
  • Battre modérément les œufs, et seulement au moment de faire l'omelette ;
  • Ne pas mettre trop de beurre (ou de graisse) dans la poêle ;
  • Enfin, « avoir confiance en soi ».
In other words, nobody can really tell you how to make a good omelette. You can make a good bœuf bourguignon or coq au vin if you just follow the recipe. For an omelette, you have to have faith in yourself and just figure it out.

I'm certainly not an expert. But I've been thinking about omelettes a lot lately, because we just got a new non-stick frying pan. If you know any good tricks, I'll be glad to hear them.


  1. I picked up a vintage Larousse gastronomique at a garage sale before coming to France. It's in a box with all my other cookbooks, waiting to be used.
    Love that cooking bible.

  2. My partner makes an excellent omelette. While I don't know how he does it, I do know he has a dedicated non stick omelette pan. That said, sometimes they are are on the wet side and sometimes on the dry side, but always delicious.

  3. I have got a high sided skillet that has been with me since college in the early '70's. I don't intend to replace it unless I have to... it is perfect for pancakes and omlettes! Even if it has lost much of the non-stick [solved by wiping out with a sheet of paper towel and not washing it to thoroughly... the left over fat cooks onto the metal and 'seasons' it... the original form of non-stick]

  4. For a few years I had a dedicated pan only for omelets and never used soap on it. I rinsed it with hot water; if something stuck (it's not nonstick) I cleaned it with salt and hot water. Nowadays I use it for a lot of things and use detergent if I have to. It's a nice heavy little pan, not nonstick.

    Things I've learned--touch the edge of the pan to learn whether it's hot enough for the butter. As the butter melts, tilt the pan so the butter coats the bottom and sides. After you pour in the eggs, lower the heat so the flame is the size of a pea. The following part is probably not classic, but it makes the omelet fluffy: as the edge gets firm, use a fork to lift part of the edge and tilt the pan so the uncooked omelet runs underneath; repeat. We like ours brown on the outside.

  5. I've tried, but really never succeeded. I'm no cook, to tell the truth. I, too, have had a small non-stick pan for years dedicated to crêpes that I clean only with paper, as has been done in my family for generations, but it didn't work with omelettes. I might try again following the "rules." I'll keep you posted!

  6. Love omelettes, love pot pies, love corn bread! YUM!

  7. Runny eggs are not my thing.

  8. I was taught to add the slightest splash of cold water to the beaten eggs.

  9. We just bought a new skillet - it's non-stick and heavy and perfect for making omelettes.
    Your omelette looks just right.

    The best omelette I ever had was at a roadside cafe which was just about to close and the owner took pity on a pair of tired, hungry and scruffy bikers. It had nothing other than a few herbs in it and was also served with the most delicious fries. Fabulous.

  10. Hi Ken,

    I recently learned to make wonderful omelettes by watching Julia Child on YouTube, and on the pbs website. She shows the classic French method where you shake the pan (as best as I can describe it). It makes a real difference to WATCH someone do it.

    Lynn from Oregon

  11. I made an omelette for myself last night! I, too, have heard about adding a little water (it seems like it would be milk - but it is water).
    My recollection is that one is NOT to use a high heat on non-stick pans. Has anyone else heard that?

    Mary in Oregon (Eugene)


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