By now many of you have seen Stephen Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey’s foodie masterpiece, “The One Hundred Foot Journey” staring Helen Mirren and Om Puri.
In the movie, the Kadam family leaves their home in India and relocates in the south of France where they open a restaurant directly across the road from Madame Mallory's Michelin-starred eatery.
However one might rate the movie, most would agree that the food styling and photography were superb.
I thought one scene was especially evocative: when Hassan Kadam prepares an omelet for Madame. Why an omelet? The three-folded egg dish was Madame’s “épreuve” for determining culinary talent. By tasting an omelet "Madame Mallory knows in just one mouthful if a chef has the potential to be great."
That is a pretty high ranking on the grading scale.
I began to wonder what culinary technique, ingredients, etc. make a great omelet.
I contacted Steven Pilat, CEC, ACE, Chef Instructor of Dallas’ culinary institute, a division of the Art Institute of Dallas (AI). Pilat is a graduate of the world famous Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Chef Pilat invited me to the AI campus kitchens for a private lesson in omelet-making.
When I arrived at the culinary institute, Chef Pilat was at work in the kitchen. Assisting him was culinary student Ashley Holubar. They had all of the ingredients prepared and set out.
“You can fill or top an omelet however you like, but the key in cooking is to be prepared, so have all of the ingredients chopped and ready before you begin cooking the eggs,” he said.
Starting with the eggs since they are the main ingredient — they need to be fresh and they need to be room temperature. Allowing them sit on the counter for 10 to 15 minutes does the trick.
Crack the eggs into a small bowl and whisk them until well-blended. “I did not over-beat them because I want a little texture,” he said.
He also cracked the eggs using one hand, but I think I will continue to use both of mine for this purpose.
If you are making a French omelet, you may add a teaspoon of finely chopped herbs like tarragon, chives, chervil or parsley to the egg mixture at this point.
For cooking an omelet, Chef Pilat prefers to use a small, non-stick, teflon coated skillet with rounded edges. Often referred to as an omelet skillet, it gives you more control of the egg when folding the omelet. However, many restaurants use a flat surfaced griddle and he prepared an omelet on that utensil, too.
Heat the skillet on medium-high heat and season the skillet by rubbing it with a paper towel soaked in unsalted, clarified butter or oil. Heat control is very important because unlike grilling and some other cooking methods, you don’t want “color” or browning on the cooked egg.
Pour in about 1/3 to ½ cup of egg mixture (about two to three eggs) and season with salt and pepper. If you are making a French omelet, you may want to sprinkle the mixture with some freshly grated parmesan cheese at this point.
Let the mixture bubble for a couple of seconds, then, with a wooden fork or spatula, gently draw the mixture from the sides of the pan to the center. Stir again to lightly combine the uncooked egg with the cooked egg. When partly cooked, stir again stopping while there is still some uncooked egg.
With the pan flat on the stove, shake back and forth a few times to settle the mixture. It should slide easily and look moist.
Tilt the pan toward a plate and let the omelet fall toward the edge of the skillet. Fold the side nearest to you over with a fork and then keep it rolling over. A French omelet is a three-fold omelet. Serve immediately or top with desired toppings and serve.
The difference in the American omelet and the French omelet is that the American is filled and the French topped.
The American omelet is what we see on menus most often. Before folding the omelet, the set egg mixture is filled with a variety of ingredients. Traditionally a filling of ham, cheese, onions and peppers is a “Denver” omelet seen frequently on breakfast menus. But you can fill an omelet with your choice of fillings. “It is a great way to use up those leftovers,” Chef Pilat said.
Another omelet Chef Pilat demonstrated was the “Tamagoyaki,” a rolled Japanese omelet. When finished and sliced, it resembled a sushi platter. The trick was using a bamboo sushi mat covered in plastic wrap to form the omelet.
As you can see, the omelet is a versatile dish that will please most palates and can be served from early morning breakfast to late night supper. For restricted diets, the omelet can be made with only the egg whites. Chef Pilat cautioned that because there is no fat in the egg white, it will stick to the pan, but just scrape and continue to cook as with any other omelet.
As far as the eggs, it’s your choice. There are many different eggs and price points available today. Chef Pilat believes other than the freshness of the egg, they taste the same. He does prefer pasteurized eggs in dishes that use undercooked eggs.
Eggs are all-natural and packed with a number of nutrients. One egg has 13 essential vitamins and minerals in varying amounts, high-quality protein and antioxidants, all for 70 calories. Eggs' nutrients can help you with weight management, muscle strength, brain function and having a healthy pregnancy. Add a fruit garnish and you have a delicious meal that even the kids will eat.
For a leisurely weekend brunch or dinner on a hurried school night, an omelet is the perfect answer.
The Dallas Culinary institute is located at 7080 Park Lane, between Greenville Ave. and Central Expressway. For a great dining experience at a bargain price have lunch or dinner prepared by the students at The Chef’s Gallery. (Reservations required) Visit them at www.chefs-galleryonline.com.
Rolled Omelet (Tamagoyaki)
Adapted from “Japanese Cooking: The Traditions, Techniques, Ingredients and Recipes”
3 tablespoon dashi stock or water with a pinch of dashi-no-moto
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon caster (superfine) sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
6 large or extra large eggs, beaten
Shiso leaves (optional)
Mix the dashi stock or infused water with mirin, soy sauce, sugar and salt. Add to the beaten eggs and stir well. Heat the omelet pan over medium heat. Soak a paper towel in oil and grease the pan.
Pour in some egg mixture and tilt the pan to coat evenly. When the egg starts to set, roll it up toward you using a spatula. Keep the rolled omelet in the pan but push it to the farthest side of the pan from you. Oil the empty part of the pan again with the paper towel. Again pour in some egg mixture into the empty side of the pan. Lift the rolled egg to allow some of the mixture to run under it. When it looks half set, roll the second omelet around the first. Repeat the process until all of the mixture is used.
Move the roll gently onto a sushi rolling mat covered with plastic wrap. Leave the omelet to stand for a couple of minutes. Carefully unroll and cut into slices crosswise.
Serve with some grated daikon on the side.