Monday, March 19, 2012

On Omelettes

A few weeks ago I read a recipe in New York Times about beet greens and feta cheese omelette.

These recipes are always eye catching and appear wholesome and nourishing. However, my palate yearns for simple things and I put away the newspaper and turn to the prospect of what I would really like for lunch. An omelette? Mais, oui. But not NYT style. Elizabeth David style perhaps, or Julia Child style, or (inevitably) my own style with some bits of mushroom and a hint of cheese or parsley thrown in. Served with the crackling, crusty bread that my cast iron pans are now steadily producing. A small salad on the side. If I don't have these ingredients, then an Indian omelette would satisfy me as well - bursting with finely chopped onion, a little green chilly or coriander leaf, a bit of fresh tomato.

It's hard to find satisfying omelettes, simple as they are to make. Omelettes are easily overdone, sometimes oily. I generally prefer using butter for cooking these - the taste is better and its easier to gauge the right temperature of the pan. I cannot cook them as lightly as is desired for fear of salmonella, but I do try and retain at least some of the original creaminess and tenderness. Most importantly I serve (and eat) them remarkably swiftly.

I quote from a couple of books, charming aspects of omelette making and serving (am not able to get the perfect fonts, so please excuse some of the French):

"As far as omelettes are concerned I cannot do better than to quote "Wyvern's" wholly admirable views on the subject:

"The recipe for this omelette differs somewhat from those usually propounded, being that of the cuisiniere bourgeoise rather than that of the Chef. The latter looks very nice, and is often finished tastefully with a pattern skilfully wrought with glaze, cordons of purees and other decoration. To my mind the omelette suffers in being made so pretty, and is not as good thing a thing to eat as that of roadside inn or cabaret.

"An omelette ought never to be stiff enough to retain a very neatly rolled up appearance. If cooked with proper rapidity it should be too light to present a fixed form, and on reaching the hot dish should spread itself, rather, on account of the delicacy of its substance. Books that counsel you to turn an omelette, to fold it, to let it brown on one side, to let it fry for about five minutes, etc., are not to be trusted. If you follow such advice you will produce, at best, a neat-looking egg pudding.

"Timed by the seconds hand of a watch, an omelette of six eggs, cooked according to my method 'by the first intention', takes forty-five seconds from the moment of being poured into the pan to that of being turned into the dish.

"Though cream is considered by some to be an improvement, I do not recommend it. Milk is certainly a mistake, for it makes the omelette leathery. I confess that I like a very little minced chives in all savoury omelettes; but this is a matter of taste. Finely chopped parsley should be added with a seasoning of salt and pepper."
(A Book of Mediterranean Food, by Elizabeth David)

"A good French omelette is a smooth, gently swelling, golden oval that is tender and creamy inside..." (a two paged recipe follows!)
(Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, Luisette Bertholle, Simone Beck)

But the very nice thing about omelettes is that even if you mess them up totally, they still taste quite good when served warm with a hot crisp slice of toast or bun, especially on a rainy day.

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