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In 1894, The Philadelphia Inquirer published an article titled, “Two-Hundred Way to Cook Eggs”. Nearly one-quarter were ways to cook omelets, from the very basic sausage omelet to the more obscure omelet soufflé au kirsch. The omelet — or omelette — can be made sweet or savory and served any time of day. They can be flat or puffed and can be served plain or filled with any combination of items you wish.

Omelet or omelette?

Each spelling is correct although you will see “omelet” in American cookbooks and on most restaurant menus. The British use the “omelette” spelling, as do the French. The spelling is not the only difference in our omelets, however.

In America, we tend to cook omelets until the edges are browned, maybe even crispy, and the exterior of the omelet is lightly browned. We generally have an aversion to underdone eggs because of the risk of salmonella, so we leave the pan alone while the eggs set and cook through. Using pasteurized eggs greatly reduces this risk.

We fill our omelets with meat, vegetables, and cheese then turn half the omelet over onto itself creating the familiar half-circle shape. We garnish our omelets with sour cream, salsas, guacamole, and various other condiments.

The French-style omelette has a pale exterior which is achieved by constantly moving the pan so the eggs don’t stick or brown and whisking the eggs with a fork so they cook evenly. The eggs are rolled into a cylinder just as they begin to set. This leaves the middle wet and undone but results in a moist and fluffy omelette.

Fillings are typically herbs and cheeses that are added to the center to the eggs before the omelette is rolled.

Water or milk?

If you ever look at more than one omelet recipe, you may notice that some call for water while others call for milk. The basic omelet recipe calls for two or three eggs and a splash of water or milk whisked together before cooking. There is not much difference between the two and you really do not need either. That said, the steam released from either liquid during the cooking process will help prevent your omelet from browning and sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Tips for making a great omelet

Beat the eggs with a fork or a whisk until they become pale yellow. If you lift your fork up and have a stream of homogeneous yellow, your eggs are done. Using a whisk will incorporate more air into the eggs than a fork. This will result in a slightly fluffier omelet.

Too much liquid — milk or water — usually results in a tough, leathery omelet. If you choose to use either, simply whisk a small amount into your eggs before cooking. For a 3-egg omelet, use no more than a tablespoon of liquid.

Bigger isn’t better when it comes to pan size. For a single-serve omelet, use an 8-inch to 10-inch pan. Anything much bigger will make your omelet too thin to stand up to the filling and it will break. A modern non-stick skillet works best. Try to avoid cast-iron as it will retain too much heat and brown the omelet too quickly.

The omelet should always be in motion. Use a small silicone spatula to agitate the eggs so everything has a chance to cook evenly. Once the center of the omelet begins to set, tile the pan in a circular motion to allow uncooked eggs to run to the edge of the pan.

Always fill with cooked ingredients. Items like tomatoes and mushrooms give off a lot of liquid when cooking so strain these before adding to your omelet so you don’t end up with a soggy mess. Items like avocado and cheeses can be added raw. The cheese will melt under the heat of the omelet once it is folded.

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Niki Davis can be reached at rootedinfoods@gmail.com. You can find more recipes and food history on her blog Rooted In Foods at www.rootedinfoods.com.

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