Tips from Vail Valley omelet expert
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – I was 8 when I learned never to order an omelet in a restaurant. I thought I didn’t like them. Turns out I don’t like them when they’re overcooked. It’s such a simple food – cooked eggs and a little seasoning at its most basic. And yet it can be the perfect breakfast, lunch or dinner any day of the week.
How do you make the perfect omelet?
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Omelets are one of those deceptively simple dishes: seems easy enough until you’re standing at the stove, plating up an overcooked scramblet. I decided to call Paul Ferzacca on this one. The chef-owner of La Tour and ZaccaZa is a natural at breaking down culinary techniques into a straightforward series of steps. It’s what helped his Pro Start high school culinary students take the gold in first the state and then the national culinary competitions. (It also doesn’t hurt that he worked the omelet station during Sunday brunch at a fancy-schmancy hotel once upon a time.)
He says the most important concept in omelet-making is mise in place, a French term that refers to having all the ingredients for a particular dish out and ready to go before starting. “An omelet is a 45-second dish,” said Ferzacca, referring to the actual cooking time. “If everything isn’t ready to go you’ll overcook it.”
And “everything” doesn’t just refer to the omelet fillings: there’s also the matter of what else is on the plate. Left to his druthers, Chef Ferzacca goes for applewood-smoked Neuske’s bacon and a fruit salad with fresh figs, oranges and a cinnamon-flavored crema.
The recipe is easy, but it’s all about technique.
1. Chef tip: When cracking eggs, use a flat surface like a plate. If you use the side of a bowl, you’ll force the shell into the egg. A flat surface allows the shell to simply crack.] Whisk together 2.5 eggs, 1 teaspoon water, salt and pepper. The lesson here is you shouldn’t make an omelet for one since nobody wants to divide an egg. Lots of people add milk instead of water, but there’s no need. What you want is to add a little moisture to the egg so it doesn’t dry out. Chef Ferzacca uses white pepper because he’s classically trained and doesn’t like to see the specks of pepper. I’m Sicilian and am not bothered by peppery contrast. Use whatever you have on hand, as long as it’s freshly ground.
2. Take a look in the fridge and decide on your fillings. Nothing will actually cook with the eggs – there won’t be enough time – so pre-cook anything that needs it. Sauteed mushrooms, roasted and peeled peppers, chunks of ham and shredded cheese all make great fillings. You can do all your prep work the day before if you like, but make sure the fillings come to room temperature before you start using them. That way the egg mixture won’t cool, plus it gives the cheese a fighting chance to melt.
3. Grab a smallish Teflon-coated pan. A really seasoned iron skillet will do, too, but a nonstick skillet is easy. Heat the pan on medium-high. You want it to almost smoke. If it starts smoking just pull it off the heat for a few seconds.
4. Put a bit of butter or oil in the pan. It might start browning immediately and that’s fine. Just don’t let it scorch. Most restaurant kitchens have clarified butter, which has a higher smoking point than regular butter. That’s ideal, but nothing to fret about not using.
5. Ladle the egg mixture into the pan. If you have a 4-ounce ladle, now’s the time to bust it out. If you don’t have one (and really, why would you?) you can use a 1/2-cup measuring cup. The egg mixture will probably start to bubble a little immediately. Don’t worry, it’s not burning – but it is cooking, and fast. So don’t get distracted.
6. At this point you can go one of two ways, both of which utilize a rubber spatula. 1. You can pick up the pan and twist and turn it while scooping the more cooked egg to the center and letting the runny egg rush to the outside of the omelet. Or 2. You can just gently stir the egg with the spatula as it cooks. Ferzacca prefers this method because it’s just plain easier.
7. When the egg starts to set but is still glossy on top (30 seconds or so), run the spatula around the edge of the omelet and give the pan a hard shake. You want to make sure the omelet isn’t sticking to the pan. It should slide across the pan easily.
8. Now the fun part: start adding your toppings. Put in whatever you want, but only put it on half of the egg. Fold the empty side over the full side, and with a mere flick of the wrist flip the omelet onto the plate. The cheese will start to melt as soon as the egg is folded.
9. It bears mentioning that the classic French omelet is a tri-fold affair. There’s no reason you should try to mangle a perfectly good omelet in the privacy of your own home. A half-moon omelet tastes just as good as a tri-fold, and is much easier.
And voila, an omelet! In fact, if you practice enough you’re allowed to spell it omelette. And that is something, no?
Extra-special fruity salad
Fresh orange slices
Stir together in whatever proportion you prefer.