Making an omelette, the Pepin way.
May 25, 2006 2:32 PM   Subscribe

Help me master this simple, straightforward omelette recipe.

I'm trying out the omelette method seen in Jacques Pepin's Techniques, the same recipe is also present almost verbatim on Pepin's website, seen here.

1. Beat £ large eggs with a dash of salt, finely groundpepper and 2 tablespoons fresh chopped herbs ( a mixture (or plainof parsley, tarragon, chervil and chives) in a bowl with a fork until well combined; pieces of egg white should no longer separate from the yolk; the egg should be well homogenized. Melt 1 1/2 teaspoons of unsalted butter non-stick 6 to 8 inch skillet. Swirl the butter in the pan and, when the foaming has subsided, add the eggs. Holding the fork flat, stir the eggs as fast as you can while shaking the pan with your other hand so the eggs coagulate uniformly.

These instructions seem pretty easy, but it's that last sentence that's giving me trouble. I cannot get my omelette to look anything close to how it appears in the photo (#2) on the website. I'm doing this with 3 eggs in an 8-inch nonstick omelette pan under high heat. After adding the eggs, I wait 6 seconds for them to coagulate, then, using a silicone spatula (so as not to scratch the nonstick coating), I stir up the coagulated eggs at the bottom. What I wind up with is a bunch of peaks surrounded by raw egg, producing a runny omelette--if i wait for all the egg to cook, the bottom will be burnt. (Even if I went to a 10-inch omelette pan, I still don't think I could match the pictured result.) I can't get the omelette to form the evenly coagulated, textured surface that is in the photo:

So, can someone expound on how to reach the result shown in the photo? Is Pepin omitting a step? Should the omelette be flipped at some point?

[Mind you, I'm not interested in just any omelette recipe--I want to better understand this particular one.]
posted by Brian James to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Try a whisk.
posted by IronLizard at 2:34 PM on May 25, 2006

Try turning the heat down? Cooking on a lower heat means it all cooks more evenly, the bottom doesn't burn and the rest gets cooked. Sure, it takes a bit longer, but it's worth it.
posted by MaJumelleDiabolique at 2:40 PM on May 25, 2006

Try a lower temperature? Do you have a gas or an electric stove? Electric stoves are a bit tricker to regulate and tend to pump out more heat. I have a gas stove and I find that I use a medium setting on a small burner and things generally work pretty well.

In truth, everything I know about making omlettes I learned watching chefs in hotel breakfast buffets make omlettes. Those guys make a few hundred a day and their consistency is remarkable. I suggest going to a breakfast buffet where they make custom omlettes for you and watching the guy carefully. Plus you get an omlette into the deal.
posted by GuyZero at 2:41 PM on May 25, 2006

Salt? Salt makes eggs tough. I'd take that out of the recipe (once you get it working) and salt the omelette *after* it's cooked, to see how it compares.
posted by jammer at 2:43 PM on May 25, 2006

Mark Bittman's omelet recipe works great for me - more butter (2 tablespoons for the pan, plus a bit to rub on the omelet after its done), medium-high heat. Bittman's description of cooking:

Cook undisturbed for about 30 seconds, then use a fork or a thin-bladed spatula to push the edges of the eggs toward the center. As you do this, tip the pan to allow the uncooked eggs in the center to reach the perimeter. Repeat until the omelet is still moist but no longer runny, a total of about 3 minutes.

Try that. More butter, lower heat, push the eggs in.
posted by jellicle at 2:46 PM on May 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

What jellicle said is what the breakfast buffet omlette makers do. Only he remembered it when I couldn't.

After it's moist but not runny, you can flip it over to completely cook the other side, or just fold it if you prefer a runnier omlette. I think for health & saftey reasons the hotel employees cook omlettes until they're solid throughout, but you wouldn't have to do that at home (unless you like it that way). If you like cheese in the middle, it goes on the omlette in the pan just before the fold.
posted by GuyZero at 2:51 PM on May 25, 2006

Here's what Craig Claiborne says in The New York Times Cookbook (1961 edition); his recipe is similar to Pepin's:
"With left hand manipulating the pan -- flat on the burner -- with a fore-and-aft motion, hold fork in the right hand and stir eggs with a circular motion, letting flat of fork touch flat of pan without scraping.

"The fore-and-aft motion of the left hand prevents omelet sticking. The circular motion of the right hand causes layers to form, giving lightness to the omelet."
posted by Opposite George at 2:55 PM on May 25, 2006

Shaking the pan separates the egg from the pan and moves uncooked egg to the pan surface.

Julia Childs uses Pepin's technique on her show; you might see if you can find repeats on TV, or hit up your neighborhood lending library.
posted by Mr. Six at 3:14 PM on May 25, 2006

Free range/organic eggs make a huge difference in taste. I like fresh tarragon in omelettes, as well as thinly sliced mild cheese, like Friulano. I don't stir the eggs while cooking, but gently lift the cooked perimeter while tipping the pan so as to run the liquid egg underneath all around. When there is no more runny egg but the top is still uncooked, fold the omelette in about three or four folds, right to left (if you are right-handed) with the spatula, lifting the pan to help the folding, and immediately take off the heat. The residual heat of the cooked parts folding on the uncooked parts will finish cooking the omelette on the plate. The whole process is very quick--less than a minute.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 3:43 PM on May 25, 2006

I've seen him doing this on TV. It's not like other kinds of omelettes you might see at buffets and restaurants. It's basically big cigar shape mass of nearly cooked egg. I've managed to kind of replicate it a couple of times. It's delicious if you don't mind wet eggs. Here are some keys.

- Stir quick. As soon as the egg hits the pan start stirring. You want all of the egg to cook at the same time. A fork or whisk would work better than a spatula.
- Stir quickly. He used a fork and stirred pretty vigorously.
- Don't over cook. It will look underdone. By most standards it is underdone. You have to start step 2, while things are still pretty moist otherwise it won't come together smoothly.
posted by jefftang at 4:03 PM on May 25, 2006

Response by poster: I'm cooking on a gas stove. In the Techniques book, Pepin says to use maximum heat, so that's what I've been doing.

I'll try stirring more vigorously, and immediately after pouring in the eggs, instead of letting them sit for 6-8 seconds.

I found this photo tutorial on eGullet for a fines-herbes omelette, which has wonderful photos, but they don't give any more detail than Pepin does.
posted by Brian James at 4:22 PM on May 25, 2006

Lower heat. That's all you're missing for this to work.
posted by desuetude at 4:24 PM on May 25, 2006

after years of thoroughly unscientific auto-experimentation, i have hit on a markedly different technique, the of which results are non-runny, light, fluffy, and (i think) delicious. i think the 'fork method' is a bit too need a moment or two to make the toast, no?

-trick one: after introducing to the pan (on medium-high heat) wait about 45 seconds (for the eggs to firm up on the bottom), use a spatula to life one edge of the omelette, and as you do, tip the pan toward the edge you've lifted. this allows the liquid uncooked egg to flow underneath the cooked parts. repeat this procedure 2 or 3 times around the sides of the pan until there are no large pools of runny egg on top.

-trick two: now slap on a lid! and trim down the heat to med-low. the bottom will subsequently *not* burn, and the resultant steam will cause the entire omelette to puff up into a light and fluffy breakfast contraption.

[the lid-method also allows for a crucial yum-inducing step 2.5 during which you introduce cheese to be melted in the final 30 seconds or so] damn, i'm hungry!
posted by garfy3 at 4:44 PM on May 25, 2006

Lower heat and stop waiting 6-8 seconds. Also, I think Jacques is using a well-seasoned iron skillet with much more even heat transfer properties, not a nonstick pan, although I may be wrong. You will certainly ruin your Teflon-coated omelet pan in short order with this method if you are using a metal fork.

Also, bear in mind this Jacques Pepin person is French. To an American, it will seem like you are serving raw eggs onto the plate.

Let us know how it turns out.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:45 PM on May 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

Once I started using a lower heat for omelettes, no matter what the recipe suggested, I stopped having badly made omelettes. I can't help you with this particular method though. All I do is give the pan a shake every so often and on a lower heat setting, they seem to "coagulate uniformly" without any fancy fork-stirring techniques. And as ikkyu2 said, French omelettes can seem almost uncooked in the center, whereas with most American omelettes, the eggs are usually thoroughly set and cooked all the way through.
posted by Orb at 6:03 PM on May 25, 2006

-trick one: after introducing to the pan (on medium-high heat) wait about 45 seconds (for the eggs to firm up on the bottom), use a spatula to life one edge of the omelette, and as you do, tip the pan toward the edge you've lifted. this allows the liquid uncooked egg to flow underneath the cooked parts. repeat this procedure 2 or 3 times around the sides of the pan until there are no large pools of runny egg on top.

Yes yes yes. I've literally cooked thousands of omelettes at various restaurant gigs and this is the way to go. Also experiment with flipping the omelette as the underside may very well look more congealed (it's easy to do. Once the cooked omelette slides around easily in the pan, tilt the pain down and do a quick flick of the wrist upwards. Once you get the hand of it, show off!).
However, depending on the heat level, I would also suggest stirring the omelette some during the 45 seconds as it can burn on the bottom if it's too thick.
posted by jmd82 at 6:05 PM on May 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

Alton Brown had a good omelet episode, "Zen and the Art of Omelet Maintenance."

Looks like it's not in the rotation for re-air soon, but it might be on DVD. Local library maybe?
posted by Marky at 6:14 PM on May 25, 2006

Here's a trick that improves the results for just about every egg dish: crack the egg into a strainer and let the watery part of the white drain out.

If you look you will see that eggs have three distinct components, yolk, white, and thin watery stuff. Lest you fret that you are wasting good egg, save up some of this watery stuff and try to cook with it, its basically useless.

Every thing just comes out better without it.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:15 PM on May 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm cooking on a gas stove. In the Techniques book, Pepin says to use maximum heat, so that's what I've been doing.

So, having read the recipe finally, what he describes is not the standard omlette I describe making. But for the millionth time, try lowering the heat. I don't know why, but recipes consistently call for a higher setting than what really works on my stove.

My guess is that commercial stoves like Pepin uses actually produce less heat, as home stoves are configured more for boiling water than producing delicate omlettes.
posted by GuyZero at 7:51 PM on May 25, 2006

Sorry you're getting so many other techniques instead of an answer to your question.

Using a fork is definitely integral to this technique. The multiple small tines aerate, fluff and uniformly mix the eggs. He's using it as a mini whisk, since a real whisk couldn't get down in the shallow eggs very well. I know you're loathe to bring metal into your non-stick pan (and rightly so), but a silicone spatula just won't do the same thing, as you've seen. Not enough friction or aeration. Keep the fork flat and as close to the bottom of the pan as you can without touching. You'll barely have a circular motion at all; mostly just side to side. You will hopefully keep any contact glancing and not damaging.

As jefftang said, speed is also key. He's not really stirring. He's whipping the eggs. That's probably why he can get away with such high heat. He's keeping the temperature uniform by keeping the whole lot in constant motion. Nothing gets chance to stick, set or scald. Turning down the heat, not using a fork, or stirring more slowly would create a different omelette. This omellette's essence is high heat and whisking while it cooks.
posted by team lowkey at 12:41 AM on May 26, 2006

Damn internet, if someone showed you this method it would click instantly and you'd always be able to make a perfect omelette - it really does work a treat.

The only hints I can really give in text are:

1. You want a medium heat - enough heat that the butter would eventually start to brown after foaming if you left it alone - low heat won't really cut it, you'll get flat scrambled eggs

2. As others have said - use a fork. If you're worried about the pan, buy a cheap non-stick 6" omelette pan - even with a few scratches it won't ruin your omelettes, and you can replace it cheaply if it does. A well seasoned cast iron omelette pan if you're worried about teflon, although you'll have to work hard to get a good finish on it

3. Essentially the technique is somewhat similar to making scrambled eggs, and this is how your mixture will probably look until it really starts to set. Pour in your eggs and agitate them somewhat vigorously around the pan with the fork so that they cook evenly (I think this might be the main thing you're missing at the moment). As they start to set and clump together, then spread them around the pan with the flat of the fork, so you have an even layer of egg. Leave the omelette to finish cooking - checking if it's done by sight (no more than a minute or so - you don't want any fully liquid egg on the surface, and it's nice to have a little browning on the pan side - which you can check by gently lifting the edge with your fork)

4. Like scrambled eggs, omelettes really should be cooked soft - don't worry if the surface still seems a little undercooked (but not liquid) - it's much better that way. If you're worried about your eggs poisoning you then buy better quality eggs :)
posted by bifter at 2:55 AM on May 26, 2006

GuyZero - I strongly suspect the problem isn't your stove, but your pans. It's not generally a problem with omelettes because they are constantly stirred, and quickly cooked, but with saute and saucepans, cheap equipment with thin bottoms will cause food to stick and scorch very easily unless it's constantly agitated. The only real solution to this is better quality equipment.
posted by bifter at 2:58 AM on May 26, 2006

Also - try 2 eggs in a pan smaller than 8" - that's a little larger than a traditional French omelette pan, and I suspect it will make at least an incremental difference.
posted by bifter at 3:01 AM on May 26, 2006

Nobody else puts their omelettes under the grill for a minute after cooking, for extra fluffiness?

I cook (until cooked on the outside but runny in the middle), then fold, then put the entire pan under the grill.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 4:00 AM on May 26, 2006

Are you also following the instructions at the end of step two? "Now stop stirring while the eggs are still moist in the center." If you keep stirring until they are mostly cooked, the final product will be a loose mass of cooked (or half-cooked) egg curd, not a coherent shape.

ikkyu2: To an American, it will seem like you are serving raw eggs onto the plate. Indeed; in France, eggs are often (typically?) served baveuse, runny. It's entirely possible that this is a traditional French omelet, and Pepin didn't alter the recipe for American tastes by, say, lowering the heat. Unless you are as adept as a seasoned chef at producing a smooth exterior (and I'm not saying you won't be someday!), the outer body of the omelet peeks open, exposing the sloppily moist interior. That on its own may account for the difference between your omelet and Pepin's.

Lowering the heat really may do the trick. Unless you like your eggs chalky-dry, remove it from the heat while it's still moist and glistening, so carry-over cooking doesn't dry it out too much.

As for the shaping, Pepin's been at this since he was thirteen. If your omelets are a bit more ragged than his, remind yourself that after sixty years of practice, yours will be just as handsome.
posted by Elsa at 5:24 AM on May 26, 2006

Find a copy of the "Jacques and Julia Cooking at Home" PBS Series - there is an episode on eggs where this technique is demonstrated by Jacques.

Actually, of the two techniques demonstrated in that episode, I think I like Julia's better - but I can't recall it well enough to describe it here.
posted by Brando_T. at 11:12 AM on May 26, 2006

Throw away the non-stick pan (or at the very least, save it for something else). Contrary to popular belief, non-stick skillets are not ideal for omelette making. I don't know why this is, my guess is that it has something to do with how Teflon holds and distributes heat. Also I think you might just want to try another recipe or technique. This omelette is supposed to be wet-ish. French people like it that way. If you don't prefer runniness (I'm inventing a lot of words here), then I suggest the lift and tilt method already described here ad nauseam.
posted by katyggls at 11:13 PM on May 29, 2006

I'm almost positive that the technique you're talking about is demonstrated in this downloadable video of the Eggs episode of Julia Child and Jacques Pepin: Cooking at Home.

There's a preview which doesn't show the technique, but buying the whole video costs $1.25.

It's quite impressive to watch. The first time I saw it, I had to rewind and watch it again a few more times.
posted by Caviar at 8:54 AM on May 30, 2006

Also, two other notes on omelets. 1) A tablespoon or two of water beaten into the eggs thins them out, makes them cook more evenly, and gives the finished product a more delicate flavor. 2) French style omelets are not browned on the outside - they should be golden yellow when properly cooked.
posted by Caviar at 8:59 AM on May 30, 2006

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