The Gleeful Gourmand: The Classic French Omelet

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Classic French Omelet

I have omelets on the brain this week! It all started back on Good Friday when my Mom and I went to my favorite restaurant, CanCan Brasserie, for lunch. It was a warm, beautiful spring day, and I wasn't feeling like eating anything too heavy. When I saw they had an omelet with gruyere and herbs served with a spring salad, I was sold. Paired with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, it was perfect. Unlike American omelets, the French omelet is not stuffed to its furthest corners with massive amounts of cheese, veggies, or meat. It is delicate, with no brown on the outside, almost custardy on the inside, and treated so gently it practically melts in your mouth.

Flash forward one month, and there in Bon Appétit magazine is Chef Ludo Lefebvre's recipe for a classic French omelet. I was fascinated by the article. I absolutely love eggs, but making omelets are not my strong suit. I can still remember making an omelet for a friend for breakfast and seeing the look of bewilderment as they choked it down, nice and crispy brown. Said friend was raised in Europe, so it's no surprise looking back now why they were horrified.

But this...I could tackle this! I could finally make an omelet the way it's supposed to be made! The way it's explained makes perfect sense: Low, gentle heat, loads of delicious butter, lots of movement, and rolling it right. Lefebvre uses only a filling of a little Boursin Pepper Cheese, which melts deliciously into the eggs. Unfortunately, I'm not a huge fan of Boursin (I really have to be in the mood to eat it), but I figured a little Gruyere, like what I had at CanCan would do the trick, especially since freshly grated Gruyere melts beautifully. I was off to make the perfect French omelet.

One week and at least two cartons worth of eggs later, I think I've got it. At least, I've got part of it. Turns out making the perfect French omelet is not as easy as Bon Appétit and Lefebvre would have you believe (although to be fair, the writer of the article did say he also went through dozens of eggs before nailing it). Still, I think that despite a couple of missteps, I have the general technique and idea down of how to get it right. Here are the steps (and missteps I made):

A little mise-en-place, pouring the eggs, adding the cheese, and ready to roll.

1) Have all your ingredients ready. Once the omelet gets going, the process goes quickly, especially since you really have to pay attention to what you're doing to keep it from browning. Having all ingredients at the ready, as well as the plate you're using standing by is key. You don't want to get caught not ready to season when the time is right.

2) 2 large eggs. They say use "insanely fresh." Unless you have a chicken in your backyard running around, just use the darn eggs in your fridge. Whisk those bad boys vigorously so that absolutely no streaks of egg whites are showing.

3) 1 Tbsp. of European Butter. Why European? Usually you'd reserve the higher priced European butter for pastry work. The difference between this and regular butter is fat content. European butter (or cultured) is 83-86% fat content, where regular butter has about 81%. European butter is also made with a slower process, so the cream has time to develop a better flavor. I splurged just because. Toss that 1 Tbsp. into a small, cold, nonstick pan.

4) Gentle heat. Turn the burner on to medium, or in some cases (all stoves are different) a touch above medium-low. Melt the butter, being careful not to let it sizzle. There can be some bubbles (that's a good way to tell if your pan is ready), but as Chef Lefebvre says, "Cooking an omelet should be quiet. You want to hear almost nothing." Once the butter is melted, pour in your eggs. Season with a little Kosher Salt and White Pepper (black pepper will overwhelm the flavor).

5) Okay, here's where I started screwing it up. Using a rubber spatula, make figure 8 motions while turning the pan left-to-right, or rather a back-and-forth motion, like drawing a half-circle. The first time I did this I made scrambled eggs immediately. Apparently you want some curds to form, but you also want the bottom to start forming. I only got this part half-right. I did have some curds, but I couldn't figure out how to do it their way and not make scrambled eggs. Anyway, about 2 minutes in the eggs should be nearly cooked through underneath but still runny on top. If you're successful in lifting an edge and it holds together, you're ready to hit it with the cheese.

6) Take the pan off the burner. The eggs will still be cooking, so no worries. I spread the grated Gruyere down the middle of the eggs in a neat line. Then, here's where I screwed up again. Instead of rolling it just one way all the way over in increments (so bottom to top, rolled about three times), I misunderstood, and rolled it halfway over the cheese, and then took the top half and rolled that over the cheese too. At the halfway point of rolling, add 1 more Tbsp. of butter. It will help the omelet slide out of the pan.

7) Slide the omelet out onto your plate, using the edge of the pan to gently guide it, seam-down. Drizzle the butter from the pan on top. They want you to sprinkle the top with Fleur-de-Sel, but since I didn't have any on hand, I just used a little more Kosher salt, and finely chopped chives.

8) If eating for lunch (or dinner!) serve with a fresh mixed green salad that has a light vinaigrette. Apparently the best wine to drink with eggs is Champagne. But if you're like the rest of us and don't have a bottle of bubbly on hand, try a glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc (my favorite is Joel Gott) instead. Eat. Revel in the taste sensations.

It wasn't rolled right, but it tasted amazing!

Okay, so here's the real deal. At least 70% of the omelets I made this week (I made so many I'm starting to dream about them) had just the barest hint of browning. Almost like a light golden brown, but not all over, just in some small spots. Most people wouldn't notice, but I noticed, and I'm sure Chef Ludo would notice. And I know I got it wrong with the main technique of forming curds, but gosh darn it you know what? The way I did it (making figure 8s without going all the way through to the bottom of the pan) was good enough. And the rolling was wrong, but guess what? It tasted amazing. It was a revelation, all smooth and creamy, and ridiculously delicious. For the egg lovers in our house, we couldn't get enough, and Lord knows, we had plenty of them to eat.

So there you go. I didn't perfect it in one week, but I'm not going to give up. And when I finally do get it 100% correct, I'll post a video to show all of you how you can do it too. Start stocking up on those eggs now! In the meantime, if you want the step-by-step pictures that tell the real story of the "right way," you can find them by clicking here.

The Classic French Omelet.


Kirsten Oliphant said...

I want to try this! I wish I had a video showing me how to do the first part, because I would totally make scrambled eggs. Look delicious.

Jenna said...

I think that link to Bon Appétit would take you to step-by-step pictures and their video, but I still haven't perfected that "making curds" part! I'll post a video once I get it down pat. Right now doing it their way equals Scrambled Egg City! ;)

Garima Pal said...


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