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Lesson Plan on Omelet Making: French vs. American

15 July 2010

By Colin Roche, MBA, CEC, CCE, FMP, CHE

Whether French, American or Italian, an omelet is one of the easiest dishes to prepare once the technique is mastered.

Eggs are reasonably priced high-quality proteins that lend themselves to an endless number of flavor combinations. They are also the basis of a large variety of wonderful dishes, including the omelet.

So ... what is an omelet? An omelet, sometimes spelled “omelette,” is a dish consisting of beaten eggs that are cooked without stirring until set. It is then folded over in half, often around a filling, right in the pan. Omelets are remarkably easy to prepare, and can provide a quick, yet impressive, dish that can be served at any meal period.

An individual omelet is generally prepared with two or three whole eggs, although they may be prepared from egg whites only. The list of suitable filling ingredients is quite lengthy and the combinations varied, limited only by one’s imagination. Of course, filling ingredients may also be omitted to create a plain omelet. Unfortunately in this country today, most omelets are often heavy, over-cooked, dark-colored masses; not the characteristics of a properly prepared omelet. For example, a properly made French omelet is a smooth, airy, golden oval that is tender and creamy inside; and takes less than a minute to make!

No one knows for sure who invented the first omelet. Linguists trace the French word back to the Latin word lamella, meaning “small thin plate,” an apt description for a thin, unfolded omelet. French cookbooks from the 1600s contain recipes for what now is considered a classic French omelet. However, recipes written in 25 B.C. by the Roman Apicius have convinced some culinary historians that the omelet originated with the Romans. Other historians theorize that the omelet might have been born even earlier, in ancient Persia. The contemporary Iranian version of an omelet is called the kookoo or kuku. It consists of a mixture of chopped herbs in beaten eggs, which is fried in a round pan and then sliced into wedges.

Regardless of the actual origin of the omelet, its popularity has stretched worldwide in a variety of forms. Traditional Spanish cuisine offers the tortilla (unrelated to the Mexican tortilla): a thick, firm egg dish filled with potatoes. The Italians, in turn, prepare the frittata: an open-faced, flat omelet, often containing hearty vegetables. The frittata is fried, and then finished under a broiler and served in cut wedges.

The Lesson
There is a certain technique used in making an omelet correctly, and the easiest way to learn is to have an expert give you a lesson, and then to practice over and over yourself! Repetition is the key, so practice making one after another if possible, being willing to throw some away if necessary. With practice, you will soon develop the art and skill of omelet making.

Lesson Objectives
  • Define an omelet.
  • Describe and explain the differences between a French omelet, an American omelet and a frittata.
  • Describe the qualities of a properly made omelet.
  • Demonstrate how to cook a French omelet and an American omelet.
  • Reflect on the experience of making the two types of omelets.
  • Share why knowing how to make an omelet is important in the foodservice industry.

Omelet Lab: Working alone or in teams, students prepare and plate the two types of omelets. Afterward, ask each to share what he and she have learned about the experience in making omelets.

Step 1: Following the procedures listed in the Method of Production section below, students should cook one of each type of omelet as directed by the instructor. They should use a small omelet pan to cook and make both a French omelet and an American omelet, filling them with any ingredients of their choice.

Step 2: Each type of omelet should be plated when done and labeled with the student’s name and the type of omelet.

Step 3: The plated samples of each type of omelet should then be presented to the instructor for evaluation.

Method of Production
Cooking an omelet begins the same way as cooking scrambled eggs. The difference begins when the eggs start to set in the pan. An omelet is folded or rolled, and can be filled or folded around a variety of ingredients, such as vegetables, meats and cheese. However, any filling that requires more than just melting needs to be cooked before adding to the omelet.

Omelets are usually cooked in a single serving size, using two or three eggs, in a seasoned omelet pan or nonstick sauté pan. Omelet pans are shallow skillets with sloped sides that are designed for cooking omelets and eggs. An omelet cannot be made in a sticky pan because the eggs must be able to slide around freely.

There are generally two types, or cooking styles, when it comes to omelets. One is the French omelet and the other is the American omelet. Both French and American omelets are folded omelets that often have fillings added in the center before folding. However, the French omelet must be stirred and shaken simultaneously when cooking, a technique that takes practice. French omelets also have two advantages over American omelets: They are lighter and puffier in texture, and they cook faster.

The French omelet is rolled and tightly folded with an oval, completely closed shape. Its surface is smooth and tender, and the interior is soft. The French omelet is often served plain, although fillings can be added during cooking or by making a slit in the top of the plated omelet and filling the omelet from the outside. However, to make a French omelet, one must shake the pan constantly and stir the egg mixture just until the eggs begin to set. The omelet is then rolled to create its characteristic shape.

The American omelet is similar to the French version, but the pan is not shaken while the eggs are stirred. Instead, as the eggs begin to firm, the edges are lifted allowing the still liquid eggs to run underneath. This creates layers and a thicker, denser omelet. It is for this reason that the heat is generally lower than the heat used for a French omelet, so that it doesn’t over cook and turn brown. This is also the reason it takes longer to cook an American omelet than a French omelet. Once cooked, the American omelet is also folded in half (rather than tightly rolled) and served.

A frittata is an Italian-style omelet that is partially cooked on a skillet and then placed in an oven or under a broiler, leaving it open-faced. There are many variations of frittatas, but the basic ingredients include vegetables, meat and cheese. In the strictest sense, the difference boils down to a matter of mixing in the filling rather than folding the eggs over it. Omelets traditionally cook the egg mixture and then fold around a filling, whereas a frittata just mixes it all up and cooks everything all at once, open-faced and not folded. It sort of ends up like a crust-less quiche!

Step 1: What You Will Need to Make an Omelet

  • A burner
  • A non-stick sauté pan, size dependent on the number of eggs in omelet
  • High-heat rubber spatula
  • A fork to whisk the eggs
  • Bowl for mixing eggs
  • Oil, butter or cooking spray
  • Eggs (3 being the preferred amount)
  • Optional: milk or water, and any ingredients to fill your omelet such as grated cheese, cubed ham, diced onion, chopped tomato, crumbled cooked bacon, etc.

Step 2: Mise en Place: Preparing the Omelet Ingredients

  • Have all ingredients ready before you turn on the stove because this will make cooking your omelet much easier (i.e. grate the cheese, slice and chop ingredients, pre-cook items, etc.)
  • Break eggs into a bowl and with a wire whisk or fork, combine the yolks and whites. A tablespoon or two of milk or water may be added to make the eggs fluffier. Add seasonings such as ground black pepper and your favorite herbs to the egg mixture if desired. (Avoid adding too much salt, as it can toughen the eggs.)
  • For a fluffier omelet, whisk the eggs longer than usual. The more you whisk, the more air gets in.

Step 3: Start Cooking the Omelet

  • Coat an 8- or 10-inch nonstick omelet pan or skillet with oil, butter or cooking spray and heat it over medium heat. (High heat would be used for a French omelet.) The smaller the pan, the easier it will be to manage the omelet; however, if using more than 3 eggs, a pan of greater size will be needed.
  • As the butter melts, tilt the pan in all directions to cover the sides. An indication that the pan is hot enough is when the foam has almost subsided and the butter is at the point of coloring.
  • Once the pan is hot, pour in egg mixture and gently swirl the pan to evenly distribute the eggs. (For a French omelet, you would immediately start stirring the eggs with the back of a fork while simultaneously shaking the omelet pan back and forth rapidly using the pan’s handle.)
  • After 20 to 30 seconds the eggs will begin to set at the edges. For an American omelet you would gently push the eggs with your spatula from the outer edge of the skillet toward the center. This will allow the uncooked liquid eggs to flow into the exposed pan, spread out and cook. Tilting the pan also helps the uncooked liquid eggs run to the open areas.
  • Once the eggs are 70% to 80% solid in either the French or American omelet is when you would add the filling ingredients, and only on one side in a half moon shape. Be sure to leave a little room around the circumference so that the fillings do not spill out. Obviously you do not want to add too much filling or it will be difficult to fold the omelet.
  • Once the eggs are cooked, run your spatula or the tines of a fork around the edge of the omelet and under the empty half to make sure the egg layer has not stuck. Then gently fold the empty side of the omelet over the top of the full half so that it covers the ingredients and makes a semi-circle.
  • Using the tines of the fork or your spatula, run it under the omelet to make sure it is not stuck to the pan. Allow the omelet to remain in the pan for an additional 20 to 30 seconds.
  • Angle the pan over a serving plate and slide the omelet out of the pan onto the plate. (For a French omelet, the omelet would be rolled out on to the plate so that the seam is covered, giving a round appearance to the omelet.)
  • Garnish the top of your omelet with whatever optional toppings you may have and serve as soon as possible, for omelets toughen if they are kept warm.

Omelet Tips

  • Though eggs come in different sizes, most recipes assume the use of large eggs.
  • To reduce fat, omelets may be prepared using only the egg whites. Two egg whites are equivalent to one whole egg.
  • An egg white is easiest to beat at room temperature. If time allows, take the eggs out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before using.
  • The addition of a tablespoon or so of water or milk beaten into the eggs will result in a fluffier omelet. This is strictly a matter of personal preference.
  • Many omelet recipes call for butter. Butter does not merely prevent the omelet from sticking to the pan, but enhances the flavor of the omelet. To avoid butter, an olive oil spread or nonstick cooking spray may be used.
  • Chopped vegetables may be sautéed before adding to the omelet. If fresh mushrooms are used as an ingredient, they should always be sautéed before adding them to the omelet.
  • Lastly, before you start to make an omelet, you must read and remember the directions from beginning to end. Once the eggs are in the pan, everything goes quickly and there is no time to stop to read over your recipe to see what comes next.

Colin Roche, MBA, CEC, CCE, FMP, CHE, is department chair at the College of Culinary Arts at the North Miami campus of Johnson & Wales University, as well as an assistant professor teaching a variety of culinary and hospitality courses.

Last modified on Tuesday, 07 September 2010 01:16

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