Help! My perfect pan doesn't work anymore!
January 23, 2011 4:32 AM   Subscribe

Why has my omelet pan stopped working? What do I do?

I've been using the lid part of a Le Creuset marmitout to cook awesome 2- and 3-egg omelets for years (the inside of the lid is cast iron in the old style, not enamel like the picture). It pretty much worked like a well seasoned nonstick pan.

Then I moved to a house with an electric stove instead of a gas one--haven't used one of those in years. Now scrambled eggs and omelets that used to come out perfect stick on the bottom before the top is done cooking. Moving the eggs quickly to scramble them seems to make it worse. I tried turning down the heat, but it doesn't seem to get hot enough to cook through the volume of egg. It's got to where I'm thinking about cooking my eggs in the wok instead! Has anyone else had a similar problem, and what did you do?
posted by SockyMcPuppet to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I used to always have problems cooking omelettes on electric stoves, but a friend who is a chef showed me some tricks. She puts in a ton of butter and oil to start with, gets it really hot, drops in the eggs and turns the heat OFF as soon as they start to firm up even a little (like, after about 30 seconds). Then the omelette sits in the rapidly cooling pan (preferably with grated cheese on top) until it's cooked all the way through, which takes between 5 and 10 minutes more. The fact the pan is off stops it burning, and the sheer quantity of butter/oil stops it sticking. She drags the edges into the middle and tilts the pan to redistribute the uncooked egg to the bottom, but only a couple of times right after she first puts the omelette in.

From what I remember about cooking with gas, the responsiveness of the heat means you don't have to do the silly "hot > off" trick.
posted by lollusc at 4:45 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ergh. Electric stoves suck. Maybe try heating the pan for longer first before putting the eggs in? It's not your pan that's stopped working, gas just provides much more instant and easily controllable heat.
posted by Jubey at 4:46 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

PS: if you are trying to cook omelettes made by that technique where you separate out the egg whites and beat them until stiff before folding the yolks back in, I suspect that is impossible to get right on an electric stove: I've tried so many times but it always fails.
posted by lollusc at 4:49 AM on January 23, 2011

Do you know if there's any way to do that without adding a ton of butter (before I only added about a half tsp or less of oil when making eggs), or should I stick to the microwave for now when I want some quick, not-too-fatty eggs?
posted by SockyMcPuppet at 4:51 AM on January 23, 2011

Heat the burner first to medium heat. Give it a 3 minute head start. Place the pan on the burner, then a teaspoon of butter.

At least a few things are at issue here:
1. Electric stoves heat slower than gas, and when they do heat, they oscillate around the final temperature, which is rough for proper protein coagulation.
2. Next, I'd need to inspect the surface of your le creuset I'd imagine over time you've now built up a bit of gunk on it. Basically that means, salt+oil over heat and scour out the surface clean and smooth again (this is called seasoning your pan. I wrote a howto here.)

Good luck, and yes, use that much fat on an electric stove. Make sure the pan is at temp before an egg touches it.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:14 AM on January 23, 2011

I'm reluctant to use ginormous amounts of fat for the sake of 2 eggs. Microwave it is I guess. Thanks for the answers everyone.
posted by SockyMcPuppet at 6:21 AM on January 23, 2011

SockyMcPuppet: "Do you know if there's any way to do that without adding a ton of butter (before I only added about a half tsp or less of oil when making eggs), or should I stick to the microwave for now when I want some quick, not-too-fatty eggs"

Agreeing with all of the above, but if you still need an alternative why not just get a decent 8"-10" non-stick pan? Cooking eggs is what they excel at, and will surely give you better results than the microwave. If you're worried about PFOEs and PTFEs you can try this Green Pan. I've cooked with it a few times and it worked very well.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:27 AM on January 23, 2011

Weird, that link worked on preview. This should work, sorry.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:29 AM on January 23, 2011

I've found that heating the pan fully to medium BEFORE adding butter works best, allowing you to use less butter while reducing the tendency for stuff to stick. I seem to recall there's some science behind this, something about the heat opening the metal's pores sufficiently to accept the oil, which then creates a uniform slick surface.
It did help, before I took room-641-As advice and got an egg-dedicated non-stick pan.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 6:40 AM on January 23, 2011

When I lived in a place with electric burners, I used these (although not this particular one- I can't find the exact one I used). It seemed to help spread the heat out a bit so there weren't any hot spots.
posted by dogmom at 6:48 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a Green Pan and while it did well the first few times, it degraded rapidly and was essentially non-stick after a few months. I don't recommend it.
posted by proj at 7:02 AM on January 23, 2011

Learn to love scrambled eggs.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:06 AM on January 23, 2011

I have a crappy electric stove. What works best for me to compensate is this Scanpan. Heat it up thoroughly, then add a little butter, then turn heat down.

(But I still miss gas, big time.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:23 AM on January 23, 2011

Are you covering it as it cooks? If the only problem is that the top isn't cooking fast enough to keep up with the bottom on lower temps, that would seem to be the first solution I'd use. I am granted no kind of gourmet chef, but I've always covered my omelets and I manage with my electric stove and really cheap pans without using more than Pam.
posted by gracedissolved at 8:46 AM on January 23, 2011

My guess is that the pan isn't staying hot enough. To prevent sticking, you need to keep the pan up past the boiling point.

What is happening is that electric "burners" don't have the same temperature recovery rate as gas burners. When you are cooking and sense that the pan is getting cool, you would turn up the gas and the pan would heat right back up. But electric doesn't do this as quickly. So what happens is that the eggs hit the pan and "suck" all the heat out of it faster than the burner can replenish it. When this happens, the moisture from the eggs cuts through the oil and gets into the microscopic grit of the surface of the pan and sticks.

(Think of it like deep frying: when done correctly, very little oil is actually imparted into the food, because there is a stasis between the water cooking out of the food and the oil trying to get in. Same thing happens on the surface of the pan. The layer of oil is what is cooking the food, not the pan. If it doesn't stay hot enough, the food absorbs the oil and directly contacts the pan and sticks.)

Try this: warm the pan to whatever your normal starting temperature is. Add butter, let it work in and do its thing. Turn the burner to high, wait for the elements to get red hot and the pan to start showing signs of almost too hot, add eggs. Adjust the burner down as it is cooking to maintain the right temperature. After a couple of tries, you'll figure out what the right settings are.
posted by gjc at 9:04 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks gjc, I'll try it. I can't wait to move somewhere where I can make decent omelets and stirfrys again though :(

Thanks dogmom, I have burner covers already and they work OK for some stuff but so far not for this.
posted by SockyMcPuppet at 9:57 AM on January 23, 2011

Don't despair of making excellent omelets on your electric stove! In addition to gjc's advice on finding the right temperature, you can also control the pan's heat with more nuance with a small adjustment in habits.

Don't lower the burner; raise the pan.

Here's what you do: when you sense that the pan is getting too hot, do not turn just down the heat. Instead (or in addition), lift the pan slightly off the burner. You're mimicking the quick responsiveness of a gas burner by immediately reducing the amount of burner heat reaching the pan. It may take some practice, but you'll soon be turning out great omelets again.

When I'm cooking omelets, I like to let the burner and (not non-stick) pan get nice and hot for a bit before I put in any fat, then be sure the butter has foamed and subsided before I put in any egg. That way, your egg is going into a pan that's plenty hot, so the chilled egg doesn't suck out all the heat. (If you're nervous about doing this with an empty pan, you can always put some water in the pan and heat that, then pour it out and wipe dry or cook off the last few drops.)
posted by Elsa at 12:50 PM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Given that the consensus here seems to be that at least part of the problem is the eggs sucking the heat out of the pan, it might also help to let the eggs warm up at least to room temperature before cooking them. Get the eggs out of the fridge first thing (even before you start making coffee or whatever it is you do first) and let them sit on the counter until they're no longer cold to the touch. Recipes for baked goods will often specify "room-temperature eggs," and there's no reason not to be just as careful with eggs you're cooking on their own.

If my ex were answering this question, he'd claim that as long as you use them within a week of purchase there's really no reason to refrigerate them in the first place (and the fact that I'm still alive may be a testament to his correct-ness), but I won't go that far.
posted by dizziest at 1:59 PM on January 23, 2011

I've only had the omelettes work out well with the ton of butter method, but usually a large amount of the butter is left sitting in the pan once I slide the omelette out. So you really aren't eating all that fat, if that's what you are worried about. Alternatively, you could make your omelette with only one egg yolk and a bunch of whites, which decreases the fat of the actual eggs, and then make it up with the extra oil or fat in the pan: you'll get similar total fat content, but without the stickiness problem.
posted by lollusc at 4:05 PM on January 23, 2011

dizziest: I keep the eggs at room temperature already-- problem is room temp where I live is pretty f'in cold! Maybe I should run warm water over them first.

lollusc: good point. I'll try half with yolks/half without next time.
posted by SockyMcPuppet at 3:45 AM on January 24, 2011

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