There is a scene in Gabrielle Hamilton’s autobiography, Bread Bones and Butter, when her sister informs her that she is having chef Andre Soltner over for lunch and she plans on serving him an omelet. Gabrielle tries to stop her. Didn’t she know who Soltner was? This was a man who judged all chefs on their ability to create “the perfect ovoid omelette with tiny curds so finely pored that it resembles a baby’s butt.” And that, is not an easy feat.
I can’t tell you the number of times I have set out to make an omelet and ended up with scrambled eggs. Thanks to Christopher Kimball of America’s Test Kitchen, I may give it another go. In his recent book The Science of Good Cooking, he not only offers recipes, he explains why they work. So for an omelet, he says: Fat is your friend. Opt for 2 eggs and 1 yolk per serving. Don’t whisk. Give it no more than 80 strokes with a fork (yes, he counted) or the proteins will toughen up. Freeze your butter before adding it to the eggs. And finally, cook it low and slow. His omelet pan spends more time off the heat than on the burner. Listen to his conversation with Evan below and keep reading for his recipe for the Perfect Omelet.
Perfect French Omelets
Because making omelets is such a quick process, make sure to have all your ingredients and equipment at the ready. If you don’t have skewers or chopsticks to stir the eggs in step 3, try the handle of wooden spoon. Warm the plates in a 200‑degree oven.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
6 large eggs, chilled
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons shredded Gruyère cheese
4 teaspoons minced fresh chives
1. Cut 1 tablespoon butter in half. Cut remaining 1 tablespoon butter into small pieces, transfer to small bowl, and place in freezer while preparing eggs and skillet, at least 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat oil in 8‑inch nonstick skillet over low heat for 10 minutes.
2. Crack 2 eggs into medium bowl and separate third egg; reserve egg white for another use and add yolk to bowl. Add 1/8 teaspoon salt and pinch pepper. Break egg yolks with fork, then beat eggs at moderate pace, about 80 strokes, until yolks and whites are well combined. Stir in half of frozen butter cubes.
3. When skillet is fully heated, use paper towels to wipe out oil, leaving thin film on bottom and sides of skillet. Add 1/2 tablespoon of reserved butter to skillet and heat until melted. Swirl butter to coat skillet, add egg mixture, and increase heat to medium-high. Use 2 chopsticks or wooden skewers to scramble eggs, using quick circular motion to move around skillet, scraping cooked egg from side of skillet as you go, until eggs are almost cooked but still slightly runny, 45 to 90 seconds. Turn off heat (remove pan from heat if using electric burner) and smooth eggs into even layer using heatproof rubber spatula. Sprinkle omelet with 1 tablespoon Gruyère and 2 teaspoons chives. Cover skillet with tight-fitting lid and let sit for 1 minute for runnier omelet or 2 minutes for firmer omelet.
4. Heat skillet over low heat for 20 seconds, uncover, and, using rubber spatula, loosen edges of omelet from skillet. Place folded square of paper towel on warmed plate and slide omelet out of skillet onto paper towel so that omelet lies flat on plate and hangs about 1 inch off paper towel. Roll omelet into neat cylinder and set aside. Return skillet to low heat and heat 2 minutes before repeating instructions for second omelet starting with step 2. Serve.
Why This Recipe Works
The added fat from the frozen butter helps produce a tender omelet, but there are a few other key steps in this recipe.
Lose a White
Our recipe starts with six large eggs (enough for two omelets) but we discard two egg whites along the way. We found that the amount of butter needed to keep the proteins in three eggs from toughening resulted in a very rich omelet. Removing a single white from the equation allows us to use less butter and keeps our cheesy omelet from becoming too rich.
Break up eggs, don’t beat ’em
Many sources suggest beating eggs with a whisk or even an electric mixer. We found that such tough treatment unravels egg proteins and causes them to cross-link when cooked. The end result is tough eggs. You want the yolks and whites to be fully combined before you start cooking, so some beating of the eggs is a must. We found that a fork does the job nicely and reduces the risk of overbeating. Once the eggs look well combined, stop beating. This will take about 80 strokes.
Stir gently as eggs set.
Stirring the eggs as they set breaks the coagulating eggs into small curds that produce a more refined omelet with a silkier texture. We found the usual tool for cooking eggs in a nonstick skillet—a rubber spatula—wasn’t up to the job. The smaller tines of a fork break the curds into much smaller bits. Unfortunately, a fork will scratch the nonstick surface. We get excellent results with nonstick-friendly wooden chopsticks or bamboo skewers. The handle of a wooden spoon can be used if you don’t have either chopsticks or skewers.
Put a lid on it
Preheating the skillet over 10 minutes (see “Preheat Your Omelet Pan Slowly,” right) ensured that the heat was evenly distributed across the pan surface and reduced the risk of an overcooked, tough omelet. But we still had trouble getting the eggs furthest from the heat source to cook fully. By the time they did, often the bottom of the omelet had become tough. The solution is quite simple: Once the eggs are set but still runny, slide the pan off the heat, smooth the eggs into an even layer with a spatula, add the cheese and chives, then cover the pan. After a minute or two (depending on whether you like a runnier or firmer omelet), the residual heat trapped by the lid will have gently cooked through the top layer of eggs, and since the pan is off the heat there’s no danger that the bottom of the omelet will become tough.
Slide and roll
The traditional way to remove an omelet from the pan is to give the skillet a quick jerk in order to fold the omelet over. You then slide it out of the pan, tilting the skillet so that the remaining flap of eggs rolls over neatly. Sounds good, but this method has a high failure rate. For an easier approach, we tried slipping the omelet onto a plate, then using our fingers to roll it. The eggs are still pretty hot, so we prefer to line the plate with a paper towel, which can be used to roll the omelet into a neat cylinder without burning your fingertips.