The Food Almanac: Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Food Calendar
It's National Omelette Day. The quest for the perfect omelette obsesses–and frustrates–many avid eaters. The idea of an omelette is appealing: a couple of eggs fluffing up as they cook, forming a matrix that can enclose almost any other food. Even sweet things can be incorporated into an omelette.

Omelettes are the only egg dish we frequently eat outside the confines of breakfast. In that, we join the other cultures of the world; only in the United States and the United Kingdom are eggs thought of as exclusively a breakfast food. It's rare for omelettes to be offered at dinner, although that might be the best time to eat them.

Cooking omelettes well requires a skillful hand. Tiny differences in the way omelettes are cooked result in major differences in flavor and texture. The best omelettes come from French chefs, or cooks taught by them. They have the right set of goals. Here's what I'm looking for in an omelette:

  1. Moist throughout, but runny nowhere.
  2. Unbrowned anywhere.
  3. A distinctly buttery taste.
  4. Fluffy, but still substantial.
  5. The ingredients merge nicely into the matrix.

To accomplish that, here's what's needed:

  1. Start with a large number of eggs, all whisked together. (This is an advantage restaurants have over home cooks in the omelette department.)
  2. Eggs at room temperature at the time of cooking.
  3. About a tablespoon of hot clarified butter.
  4. High heat, resulting in a cooking time was measurable in seconds.
  5. Eggs are never touched once they're in the pan. The eggs are moved around by deft wrist action with the pan, including the folding-over process.

I would classify that last skill as comparable to that of a musician. It requires some practice. The specific motion is a quick jerk that makes the layer of egg closest to the bottom move away from the handle side of the pan. Then the still-liquid egg layer above it flows down to the exposed pan surface. After about ten jerks, coming at the rate of about one per second, all the egg has set, yet none of it has been in contact with the pan long enough to scorch.
The New Orleans restaurant best known for its omelettes–the Camellia Grill–takes a completely different tack. They whip the eggs into a light froth in a blender and pour it onto the grill. The result is very light and fluffy but dry, browned, and everything else I don't want. 

Once you have the egg part of the omelette down, you're home free. The range of possibilities for the fillings is nearly infinite. My own favorite: fresh tomatoes, feta cheese, and fresh basil.

Deft Dining Rule #187
The best omelettes are made by cooks who make dozens of them every day.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Goose Egg, Wyoming is about fifteen miles southest of Casper, on State Highway 220 at the junction of Goose Egg Road. It lies in the rocky valley of the North Platte River, less than a mile to the north. The place to eat there is the Goose Egg Inn, which claims to serve home-style food, but looks rather classy. Whether six geese a-laying those eggs can be found there around the Christmas season, we're not sure.

Edible Dictionary
shirred eggs, n.–A method of cooking eggs in which they're broken whole into a baking dish or a shallow cup, and either baked or broiled in the oven until they set almost completely. Usually, shirred eggs lie on top of other ingredients, which have about the same range of possibilities as omelettes offer. Sausage, crabmeat, shrimp, ham, and vegetables like spinach or broccoli have had eggs shirred atop them. In France, the method is called oeufs en cocotte–eggs in a cup.

Food Inventions
Today is the birthday (in 1894) of Percy Spencer, the inventor of the microwave oven. He worked for the Raytheon Company, the major manufacturer of radar devices. After running some tests on a radar transmitter called a magnetron, he found that a chocolate bar in his pocket had melted, to a point far beyond what could be explained by body heat. He began working on using a magnetron to cook food, and that led to the device we all have in our homes now.

Food In Politics
Zachary Taylor, the twelfth President of the United States, died today in 1850 of what was probably a food-borne illness. He ate cherries (some reports say it was strawberries, or even strawberry ice cream) with milk at a Fourth of July bash, and developed severe gastrointestinal problems. For a long time after, many people wouldn't eat cherries. But it was probably the milk, or the water he drank to ease his stomach aches, that carried the pathogen.

Food In The Movies
Today in 1999, American Pie (which isn't actually about pie at all) and The Dinner Game (which is about a dinner) opened on movie screens across the country. The plot of the latter was interesting: a group of obnoxious yuppies has a weekly dinner in which each guest brings as his guest a person who will compete (unbeknown to them) for the title of biggest idiot of the night.

Food Namesakes
O.J. Simpson was juiced out today in 1947. . . British pop singer Marc Almond came out of the shell today in 1957. . . Science fiction writer Glen Cook had his first page written today in 1944. . . Ron Burgundy, played by Will Ferrell, made his screen debut today in 2004 as the movie Anchorman opened across America. . . Charles Teagarden, jazz trumpeter and leader of his own orchestra, was born today in 1913. His brother Jack was an even more famous jazzman.

Words To Eat By
"Be content to remember that those who can make omelettes properly can do nothing else."–Hillaire Belloc.

Words To Drink By
"Get up and dance, get up and smile, get up and drink to the days that are gone in the shortest while."–Simon Fowler, British singer and songwriter.