Cracking the code of the French omelet

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The omelet seems obvious: eggs cooked flat, filled and folded. Imagine my surprise, then, to discover that the simple supper I often serve is not an omelet. It's an American omelet.

Nothing like a French omelet. The difference comes down to technique. Like stirring: Apparently one hand is supposed to shake the pan while the other one stirs. Recipe for an aneurysm.

I'm familiar with the egg rules: low heat and a gentle touch. I'm familiar with the omelet. One high school afternoon my friend Ann recited her 4-H demonstration of the strawberry omelet. None of which prepared me for the French omelet.

I studied Julia Child, Jacques Pepin and Michel Roux. They counseled: vigorous mix, clarified butter, small pan, hot flame, shake and stir, roll. All in less than a minute.

Which explains why the French omelet has no filling. Who has time?

It takes practice. Many eggs. And a certain comfort with lumps. After a while, I got the hang of it, more or less. The French omelet is buttery and fluffy and pale. It's tender and tasty and — so far — hasn't induced aneurysm.

French omelet

2 eggs
1 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon snipped chives
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon clarified butter

Omelet-making takes practice. Stack up a couple cartons of eggs, a tub of clarified butter (make a batch or buy Indian ghee at the grocery store) and a tableful of ravenous adolescents. That, or an attitude that lets you waste a few eggs. Cheaper than culinary school, right?

Crack 2 eggs into a glass measuring cup. Drop in water. Poke the yolks with a fork, then mix vigorously, 30 seconds. The goal is an even pale yellow — no swirls of yolk or white. Mix in chives and a pinch each of salt and pepper.

Choose an 8-inch nonstick (or well-seasoned) skillet with sloped sides. Set over high heat. Scoop in butter; swirl to coat the bottom and sides of the pan.

When butter is very hot, pour in eggs. Let set, 5 seconds. Now the egg shuffle: One hand, grasping the pan handle, gently shakes the pan back and forth, keeping the omelet slip-sliding in its hot butter. The other hand, working with the side of an ordinary fork, pulls the edges of the omelet toward the center. Shake and pull until the pan is covered with fine curds, about 30 seconds.

Tip the pan up and slide the omelet until it begins to climb the far wall. Now the omelet is seated in the curve of the pan, like a football fan at ease in the La-Z-Boy. Use the fork to flip the footrest up and the headrest down, forming an oval omelet (or an uncomfortable football fan).

Switch your grip, grasping the pan handle from underneath, fingers and thumb on top. Tip the omelet out, inverting it onto a plate.

The omelet should be pale, just cooked through and form a football shape. You can neaten things up, tucking stray bits under, with the side of the fork. Enjoy. Or try again.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor. Email her at

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