I would never purport to tell you how to make the “perfect” omelet, because there are too many kinds of omelets that are good, and multiple ways to make them all. In any omelet, the star of the show is the egg, obviously, but once you get beyond the main ingredient, the myriad of toppings, ingredients and methods make it darn near impossible to pinpoint omelet perfection. The point of this essay is to instruct you how to make a basic omelet that is not terrible. Once you master the fundamentals, then you will have the freedom to build, adding additional layers of flavor and texture.
Why is this essay necessary, you may ask? Well, there are two primary reasons. First, the omelet is one of the world’s truly perfect meals in one neat package. From what I have studied, the general scientific consensus is that eggs are one of nature’s healthiest, purest sources of protein. A recent alarming study warned that egg yolks are nearly as bad for your arteries as cigarette smoke, but numerous scientists and doctors have discounted the study for lack of control and suspect scientific methods. I choose to believe the decades-old scientific conclusion that the egg is a heart-healthy food full of healthy fats and protein. When you add other healthful ingredients to eggs in the form of an omelet, you have a created a complete, satisfying meal in one delicious package. Second, this essay is necessary because it is very easy to make a bad omelet. The origin of most bad omelets is use of sub-standard ingredients, which can easily be corrected. Inferior ingredients combined with an incorrect cooking method (usually the problem is over-cooking, which produces a rubbery, tough omelet) result in many bad omelets being served in homes and restaurants all over the world. Believe me, it is well-worth the minimal extra time and effort it takes to produce an omelet that is not terrible.
Because omelets have very few ingredients, the quality of those ingredients is of the utmost importance. This isn’t a cake or a brownie where you can hide a sub-standard egg in a super-sweet batter, without anyone being the wiser. With an omelet, the egg is front and center, so you must use a good one. Farm-fresh eggs are clearly the best, without question. If you can find them, use them. Most farmer’s markets have them, and the value of their vastly superior quality in all areas – taste, texture and freshness – far outweighs any concerns about a slightly higher price. If you can’t find farm-fresh, then by all means purchase a quality super-market egg. I highly recommend Eggland’s Best Organic Eggs – they are excellent. Although you will pay a higher price, the investment is worth it. Don’t bother with store-brand or off-brand eggs because, well, you get what you pay for. Budget eggs may be cheap, but the fact is they just don’t taste very good.
Once you have your stash of good eggs, you will probably want to buy ingredients/toppings for your omelet. The same rule applies here: quality first, no matter the cost or minor inconvenience. Most people like grated cheese in their omelet, so do it the right way. Grate your own. It’s not hard. Even the highest-priced pre-grated brand-name grated cheese isn’t very good when compared to fresh-grated, and it never melts just right. I am not a cheese snob, but even the cheapest fresh-grated block cheeses fare better than that stuff in a bag. I usually use cheddar cheese in an omelet, so I highly recommend Cracker Barrel Aged Reserve or Sharp Cheddar, or Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar. For other ingredients or toppings you want to try, just use your common sense. Vegetables – onions, tomatoes, jalapenos, etc. – need to be fresh. If you include bacon, buy good bacon – Black Label or Boar’s Head are both excellent. Avoid packaged ham and go for a good razor-thin sliced deli ham. You get the idea. Choose quality.
Stocking up on good ingredients is 90% of the battle, because the process of making an omelet could not be simpler. I like a basic three-egg, one-fold omelet. Start out by heating a good quality non-stick omelet pan (I use a hard-anodized Calphalon pan) over medium-high heat. While the pan is pre-heating, beat three eggs and about two tablespoons of water in a bowl until mixed, but not frothy. Stir in salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Add one tablespoon of real butter to the pan, and swirl around until melted. Once the butter stops bubbling, add the eggs. Swirl the pan around and scrape down the sides of the pan each time. Do this three or four times, and you will have a nice edge crust on the omelet. When the eggs are nearly set, fold in half, plate, and serve. If you wait until the eggs are fully set to fold, then you will overcook and dry out your omelet – terrible!
That is the basic process for creating an omelet that is not terrible, and once you have the process down, you can start adding ingredients and toppings to build flavor and texture, just don’t disrupt the process. Here are a few suggestions:
1. For a cheese omelet, add ¼ cup fresh-grated cheese to the egg mixing bowl. Believe it or not, it is possible to have too much cheese, but it would not be a crime to add up to ½ cup.
2. Sprinkle chopped/crumbled bits of meat onto the omelet once the eggs are in the pan, but not set, such as bacon, sausage, chorizo, or ham. There is no better breakfast than a cheese omelet with hot Jimmy Dean sausage.
3. Sprinkle on fresh vegetables before the eggs set, such as diced onion, tomato, or jalapeno, or chopped baby spinach, or any vegetable or vegetable combination that you prefer. Use your imagination – it’s your omelet! Because omelets cook very quickly, I would sauté most diced vegetables in olive oil to soften them up prior to adding them to the omelet.
4. One of my favorite omelets changes up the process just a bit. Cube one or two small waxy potatoes, dust with corn meal, and fry until brown in olive oil with some chopped onion. Once brown, pour the egg mixture over and cook as you would any other omelet. Top with chopped scallions and bacon. In case you didn’t know it, fried potatoes go really well with cooked eggs.
5. Here are some other acceptable omelet toppings or ingredients: fresh salsa, any pepper or chili, cream cheese, smoked salmon, mushrooms, sour cream, and sliced avocado.
Life is way too short to eat terrible omelets. The only difference between a terrible omelet and a good omelet is preparation (i.e. ingredients) and proper cooking method, and anyone talented enough to crack an egg into a bowl can very easily accomplish an omelet that is not terrible.