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How to make an omelet

Classic Folded Omelet

Total time:15 min

Services:1 to 2

Total time:15 min

Services:1 to 2

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At hotel breakfasts, fancy brunches or even the college dining hall, the omelet station always felt like the height of luxury to me. Omelets hold a revered, almost mythical position in popular and culinary culture as well, whether it’s the hypnotic comfort of famed French chef and cookbook author Jacques Pépin demonstrating his recipe or watching Helen Mirren’s character discover the bliss of a masala omelet made by the aspiring chef played by Manish Dayal in “The Hundred-Foot Journey.”

But cooking a great omelet at home needn’t be shrouded in mystery. If you already feel confident about your scrambled eggs, you’re most of the way there. In “CookWise,” Shirley O. Corriher explains: “Basically, omelets are glorified scrambled eggs. They start out the same way, and then, when the eggs are partially set but still juicy, they are folded over.”

How to make excellent scrambled eggs, just the way you like them

That means many of the same tips I shared almost two years ago in my much-discussed piece about scrambled eggs hold true here as well.

For me, that advice is exemplified by this Classic Folded Omelet, a mash-up of recipes from chef and cookbook author Michel Roux and cookbook author J. Kenji López-Alt, along with some of my personal tweaks. Think of it as a cross between a French omelet and a diner-style omelet. It has the smooth and custardy texture of the French version, with the folded appearance and filling versatility of what you might get at a casual restaurant. To me, it’s the best of both worlds.

Here are some of the keys to its success, which can help with your omelets whether you make this specific recipe or not.

Picking the right skillet. There are two parts to this. Eggs are prone to sticking because in their liquid form they can flow into any microscopic surface imperfections, Corriher says. For this reason, I turn to my nonstick skillet. If you have a well-seasoned cast-iron pan you’re confident the eggs won’t stick to, by all means use it.

Why food sticks to your pans, and what you can do about it

The other half of the equation is choosing the right size pan for the job. I’m really loving my new 8-inch skillet for individual or 2-serving omelets. It keeps the eggs from spreading too thin and overcooking. It’s also very easy to maneuver. If you’re looking for bigger omelets to share, consider using a 10-inch for 4 or 5 eggs and moving up to 12 inches for 6 or more eggs.

Salting. López-Alt is the one who sold me on salting eggs a little bit in advance of when you cook them. This gives the salt time to dissolve evenly so that it can act as the most efficient buffer between the egg proteins and prevent them from binding too tightly. When that happens, moisture is squeezed out and you get tough, rubbery eggs. If you forget to salt in advance, adding it right before the eggs go into the pan is okay. But if you think to add the salt at the same time you start preheating the pan, you’ll be golden. Speaking of preheating …

Be patient, then work quickly. A sufficiently preheated skillet will help guard against sticking, so that the eggs start cooking as soon as they hit the pan. As Cook’s Illustrated notes, preheating your pan slowly leads to a more even heat across the whole pan — and gives you a larger window for adding your eggs without overcooking them. While the magazine recommends low heat, I prefer medium for a slightly quicker but no less even result. When using medium-high heat, per the recipe from Roux in our archives that I worked from, I found more color variation in the omelet than I wanted, as well as a tendency for overcooking. If you’re a confident cook who likes a bit more puff and color to the omelet, you can use medium-high so long as you take the higher heat into account with your timing.

Here’s where the working quickly part comes in. Once your bread has been preheated, and you pour in the egg, it’s time to embrace the speed. Quickly stir the eggs to further distribute the heat and get all of them cooking. Eleven curds start to form, stop. Rapidly work your way around the pan, lifting the edge of the set eggs and tilting the skillet so that the liquid runs into the gaps on the sides. This method gives you a smooth, pretty exterior. The whole process should take no more than a minute and a half.

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Mind the fillings. Because the omelet itself sets so quickly, López-Alt says, any fillings that need to be softened should be completely or mostly cooked in advance, as they won’t cook through while atop the eggs. You can do this in the skillet while your salted eggs rest in a bowl or in a separate skillet. Mixing the warm ingredients with the cheese will help jump-start melting, too. Then scatter your filling over half the eggs while they’re still in the pan just before you remove it from the heat.

Let the eggs finish off heat. After you’re done with the tilting step, let the skillet stay on the heat until the eggs are almost completely set. They will still look wet but should not be runny. This is the point where it’s easy to let the eggs overcook, which is why I like López-Alt’s suggestion to remove the pan from the heat and then cover the skillet to let the eggs finish in the residual heat. Simply fold in half (or thirds, if that’s your thing) and serve. The result: a creamy, custardy omelet.

You may need to practice and tweak, but it won’t be long before you have your own omelet station at home.

Classic Diner-Style Omelet

Omelets are simple to make and easy to mess up, so we’re offering a recipe with a few smart tips to ensure success. Salting the eggs a little before cooking and then letting them finish setting off the heat helps ensure a tender result without overcooking.

For tips on how to turn this into a filled omelet see the VARIATION, below.

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  • 3 large eggs
  • fine salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • Fresh herbs for garnish, such as thyme leaves, minced chives or chopped parsley (optional)

Break the eggs into a small bowl, season lightly with salt and pepper and, using a fork, lightly whisk to combine. Let them rest for at least 10 minutes (15 is even better) while you heat the skillet and prepare any possible fillings (see VARIATION). Salting in advance helps keep the eggs tender during cooking.

Heat an 8-inch, nonstick skillet over medium heat. Be sure you give it enough time to ensure the eggs start cooking right away. A few drops of water flicked on the surface should skitter and evaporate immediately. Add the butter to melt, swirling it to coat the bottom and sides of the pan.

Pour the eggs into the skillet and let the mixture set for 10 to 20 seconds, then use a spatula to start agitating the mixture, stirring until some curds begin to form. Lift the edges of the coagulated egg and tilt the pan to let the uncooked egg fill in the gaps.

Repeat the process as you work your way around the entire pan. This part should take no more than 60 to 90 seconds. When the omelet has set on the bottom but still looks slightly wet but not runny on top, pull the pan off the heat and cover it with a tight-fitting lid or plate. Let rest until the eggs have reached your desired consistency, 1 to 2 minutes.

Use a spatula to fold the omelet in half and transfer to a plate. Sprinkle the herbs on top, if using, and serve hot.

VARIATION: You can use this recipe to make your choice of filled omelet. Vegetables will not cook through sufficiently in the omelet, so you’ll want to saute them first in butter or oil, over medium to medium-high heat. Transfer to a bowl, where you can mix with grated or crumbled cheese, if using. When the eggs are almost set, sprinkle your filling on half the omelet before removing from the heat and covering to rest. Then fold in half and serve.

Calories: 158; Total Fat: 13g; Saturated Fat: 6g; Cholesterol: 294mg; Sodium: 204mg; Carbohydrates: 1g; Dietary Fiber: 0g; Sugar: 0g; Protein: 9g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

Based on a recipe adapted by Andreas Viestad from “Eggs,” by Michel Roux (John Wiley & Sons, 2006), as well as a recipe from “The Food Lab,” by J. Kenji López-Alt (WW Norton, 2015).

Tested by Becky Krystal; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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