Mastering the Classic French Omelet

According to everyone's favorite French chef, Jacques Pepin, the true test of a chef is the classic French omelet. It’s a test of technique and concentration to transform raw eggs into a sublime dish of simplicity and elegance.

Eggs, chives, and butter swirled in a pan seem simple enough, but it ain’t. Trust me, I’ve tried; many, many times. I’m grateful to our hens that supply fresh eggs every day. Without them, this would be an expensive new thing to master.

Jacques demonstrates how to make two versions of the French omelet, the country style and the classic. ( As he says, one is not better than the other, just different. Both whisk three eggs to a smooth mixture and both are cooked in melted butter. But different cooking techniques create distinctly different results.

The country style omelet appears rustic with large curd and a rough surface. The mixture is slowly moved about the pan with a fork and allowed to brown on the bottom. The omelet is then folded over to a half moon shape and inverted onto a plate. The texture is a bit tough and dry for my taste because of the browning and single fold.

I’ve mastered the simpler country style because it’s an easy technique with one movement that allows for a wider margin of error. Browning is encouraged so I’m not worried about the look so much. But not so with the classic omelet.

Creating a classic French omelet is counterintuitive to its elegance. Instead of a languid stirring, the fork vigorously cuts through the mixture while the other hand rapidly moves the pan to and fro over the flame. The two opposing movements create a translucent surface revealing snippets of chive just visible above a rich creamy interior. The omelet is finished by folding the egg mixture in thirds while in the pan and then inverting onto a plate. The creamy taste of the interior is divine.

Mastering the classic technique is a double whammy for me. First, the two opposing movements are like patting my head and rubbing my stomach at the same time. Not something I do well. And second, the intersection of time and heat are critical. Many times I've tried since last December and many times I have just cook fancy scrambled eggs.

I returned from my Camino adventure looking forward to trying once again. I had not cooked an omelet for over two months and couldn’t wait for the taste. Without any expectation of how it might look, I came very close in the taste and but not so close in the look. I guess I just needed to give the challenge a rest. I'm going to call the effort a success, but I'm still trying to make Jacques proud.

You be the judge.

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