The Omelette

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Years ago, I took a cooking class that focused on eggs.  Out of all the classes I have taken, I would argue that this one was the best, the most revelatory.   I still think back to that day-long Saturday class in which I developed a fundamental understanding of the most versatile and elemental tool in cooking:  the magnificent egg!   The chef started the class by cooking scrambled eggs, and then launched into eggs benedict, a prospect that made my mouth water until she said she would be making it with bearnaise sauce instead of hollandaise.  I’m sure my face visibly sagged with disappointment.  I had wanted the classic experience, the purest form of eggs benedict.  I wanted to witness precisely what it should be and, for me, that involved hollandaise.  But had I gotten my wish, I never would have tasted bearnaise and I would never have become The Best Eggs Benedict Maker I Know.   The bearnaise deserves all the credit.  The perfectly poached free-range eggs, the precisely chewy English muffins, the hand-shaved black-forest ham, all of these things play a part, but it is the bearnaise that lifts the eggs benedict to its most glorious form.  We don’t even order eggs benedict at restaurants anymore.  What’s the point?  How could it ever measure up to mine?   (And with that kind of hubris, I will never again be able to poach an egg.)

More recently, I read Michael Ruhlman’s The Elements of Cooking: Translating the Chef’s Craft for Every Kitchen, or at least the non-encyclopedic part of the book, and my appreciation for the egg increased even further.  He writes,  “My reverence of the egg borders on religious devotion.”   From that loaded introduction, he proceeds to list the reasons why the egg is the epitome of food perfection (page 22, if anyone cares to read it) and elaborates on its various methods of preparation.  If ever I needed a reason to love the egg even more, this gave me a trove of pro arguments.    One of things he discusses, of course, it the making of an omelette.  In my Introduction to Eggs class, the chef told us all that the making of an omelette is something that many chefs use to test the skill of their potential staff, something I’ve heard echoed a few times since then.   So naturally, I felt that the first skill I was going to work to perfect was the making of an omelette.

It turns out that the method which I was taught was sort of a cross between an American-style country omelette, and a classic French omelette.  (Dude, I hadn’t even known there were different types of omelettes, let alone techniques.)  I was taught to use a very hot, non-stick skillet, to slowly draw the large curds from the outer edges of the pan towards the center, to fold the finished omelette into three overlapping parts, and, under no circumstances, should I ever allow the bottom of the omelette to brown.   This technique, I thought, was The Way To Make An Omelette.  Little did I know of the variations in technique, and the incredible difference in flavour the technique can make.  I mean, eggs is eggs!  How different could they taste if scrambled or made into an omelettle?!   Turns out:  quite a bit, my friend.

Since that fateful class, I have been drawn to any and all kinds of instruction on how to make an omelette.  We’ve watched the America’s Test Kitchen version, which involved using chopsticks and the broiler; I must’ve read a couple dozen of written How To’s;  we’ve watched Julia Child make them, Julia & Jacques make them, Bobby Flay make them and – the latest – Jacques sans Julia make them.   Truly, they are astonishingly different, these lessons.  I have to say, I liked Jacques Pepin’s classic version the best even though I CAN’T STAND that he uses a metal fork to scrape the bottom of a non-stick skillet.

I think it’s fair to say that I am still developing my own style. I like the idea of using chopsticks to help swirl and scramble the eggs around the pan because it’s easy to use them as pincers to pick up the edges if need be, and I am determined to master the technique of folding it into a perfect Pepin-torpedo.  I respect the knowledge of the egg that Rulman imparted and if ever the omelette turns into scrambled eggs, I adopt Julia’s attitude of “no excuses and no apologies”.   Above all, I love the creamy taste of the classic French omelette, and that alone warrants the effort.  It is that version that I plan to perfect, and when I do, I think I’ll buy a chef’s hat.

Ham & Eggs

Friday, August 14th, 2009

sandwich3Since we’ve begun baking our own bread, it is only natural that our sandwiches have begun to involve a little more thought and effort.  Marc produced a glorious loaf of Anadama bread, which I turned into simple Niman Ranch ham sandwiches with dijon, and a side of raw asparagus salad.  That loaf barely lasted a few days, so darkly sweet, even plainly toasted and smeared with butter.


Our baguettes are hit and miss.  When the shape and texture are right, it’s hard not to eat a whole one warm from the oven.  The last good round inspired egg salad sandwiches, which I laced with truffle oil and layered with white anchovies.  Scrumptious. I defy even those who are disinclined to enjoy the egg to resist egg salad made with tart, homemade mayo and truffle oil.

Anatomy of A Bunny

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

In terms of dog teasing, I doubt that there is a joke that could ever wear thin. When Sam was a puppy, and I lived on the outskirts of a suburb on the outskirts of the city, the wild hares were regular visitors to the backyard. He could see them clearly from the kitchen window and would drive himself bonkers barking his head off and whining at the bunnies. They, of course, would barely look up from their foraging and would all but laugh “na na na na na” as they skipped around the yard. Sam’s long-suffered vendetta against these rabbits was never fulfilled, but that didn’t stop me from teasing him ruthlessly, asking him excitedly if there were bunnies outside. “Outside?! Bunnies?! Go see!” And still, this joke has not lost its punch, even now; we live where no rabbit would ever be outside the window, but where one has been unlucky enough to join us for dinner. That was rabbit the upon which he was most recently fixated and about whom I teased him relentlessly. “Bunnies?! Sam, is there a bunny in the kitchen!?” whereupon he would fly to the window.

Christmas Day Menu

“Bacon and Eggs”

Rabbit Fricasée

Haricots Verts

Tarte Tatin

We picked up the very last rabbit at the butcher (who the hell is cooking rabbit?) and the first thing the recipe for rabbit fricasée instructs one to do is divide the rabbit into eight pieces. So, now, just think about that for a minute: what exactly are the eight pieces into which a four-legged rodent should be divided? Umm… 2 front legs, 2 back legs, 2 “breasts”, a back and… a tail? I don’t know, I’ve never divided a rodent before! Seems logical for a member of the poultry family but a member of the rat family..?


So Marc did it.


I’m not even sure now how he managed it, to be honest. I think there were tenderloins. I know there were “wing”/front legs. It’s kind of a blur. The rest of the preparation was much more straightforward: sautéeing the bunny bits in a hot pan with mirepoix, roasting it in the oven and finishing the sauce with cream and egg yolks, which I suppose is what makes it a fricasée..? We even deep fried some sage leaves as garnish for what turned out to be illuminating example of how good wild hare can be. Marc couldn’t get enough of it, picking up the bones and [politely] gnawing the tender meat. If I didn’t think too hard about how cute was the animal that I was eating, it was delicious. Sam was nearly inconsolable, having spent all day racing to the window only to be denied the pleasure of crunching on the bones of his arch nemesis. He did, however, snarf down the few shreds of meat we left on our plates.


Prior to the main course, I put together another French Laundry objet d’art, condescendingly referred to as “Bacon and Eggs”, which is really “Soft Poached Quail Eggs with Applewood Smoked Bacon”. True to form, San Francisco readily provided us with both quail eggs and applewood-smoked bacon; we didn’t even have to veer from our regular grocery shopping course. Though we did go back to the Berkeley Bowl, because we were across the Bay anyway and wanted to treat ourselves for Christmas with a visit to mecca.

Allow me to provide an excerpt from The Book so as to demonstrate the details with which one must contend if one is to cook as they do in heaven:

“The best method for poaching eggs is in a deep pot of water. As the weight of the yolk pulls the egg through the water, the white encircles the yolk and sets. The deeper the water, the farther the egg travels before it stops, and the more the poached egg will resemble its original shape. Hold each [tiny, fragile, quail] egg on its side on a towel and use a serrated knife to cut halfway through the larger end of the egg.”

It’s as though formulae of physics are being applied to the poaching of a quail’s egg. I love it! I gleefully used the knife to serrated-ly open the quail eggs, I used the pot of deep water, I gently “lifted one egg at a time from the ice water and used a pair of scissors to trim their ‘tails’ of egg-white”. The result was that I spent three hours preparing the elements of a dish that was consumed in three mouth-fulls. Three hours, three bites, totally worth it.


As the eggs were being poached and the rabbit fricassed, Marc assembled the tarte tatin. This is another of those intimidating classics about which I am apprehensive. tarte-tatin.JPGSo many things could go wrong with a dish that cooks for so long on the stove top and then has to be baked and flipped out onto a serving dish. Usually, we’re happy to use an easy, cheater’s short-cut tarte tatin that is just sliced apples layered on top of puff-pastry and drizzled with honey (exceptional, by the way). But in the true spirit of the holidays, we went through way more trouble than was necessary in order to deliver perfection. Indeed, though he was too chicken to roll out the pastry dough and place it gingerly on top of the caramelized apples for fear of ruining the pastry, Marc’s efforts were rewarded with a sugary, apple tart with all the lovely, dark flavours that caramelization proffers. And it turns out that tarte tatin, in addition to being a crowning glory of a dessert, is also a magnificent breakfast.

Kickin’ It Up a Notch

Monday, September 17th, 2007

We’ve been improving some of our favorite recipes.

cimg7109.jpgInspired by the breakfast burrito at Nellie’s Restaurant in Calgary and the fennel sausage pizza from Gioia’s Pizza in Berkeley, we made some revisions to our own breakfast burrito. We added olives, jalapeño, fennel sausage and toasted anise seeds, which we initially thought were the same as fennel seeds, but our taste tests have determined to be sweeter with more licorice flavor. Refried beans added smoothness, weight and held everything together. Flour tortilla’s were substituted for corn tortillas, which worked well in the lighter version, but would have been too much with the beans and sausage. Fresh mozzarella, scrambled eggs, sour cream, cilantro, salsa, and avocado finish the ingredient list. We didn’t finish the food in the picture, flagging halfway through our second burritos.

While breakfast burrito’s are a great treat, we usually eat yogurt with fruit and/or granola. Inspired by her cherry pie, Janet grated a little nutmeg on top of maple yogurt and bing cherries–simple and tasty.

Ever since I tried cimg7114.jpgthe butternut squash pizza with the thin crust, I’ve been thinking about making a classic thin crust pizza. We topped ours with fresh tomato sauce, caramelized onions, anise seeds, fennel sausage, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, pine nutes and Parmesan cheese. It’s definitely in the top three pizza’s I’ve ever had, with Gioia’s Pizza’s and Alegretto in Chile being the other two.

Leftover Frittata

Thursday, August 2nd, 2007

cimg6959.jpgI was left to figure something out for supper after having forgotten to go to the grocery store. I failed to find a use for the jar of kimchi or the fennel, but managed to put everything else together into a fine frittata. Thyme, Chili powder and salsa were added to the beatten eggs. The potatoes were well boiled, having learned a lesson for the last time I tried to make a frittata.

We had finally purchased a heirloom cast iron frying pan at Sur La Table a few days ago after repeatedly eying it over the past two months. It did an excellent job of frying the red onion, leeks and green beans in a generous amount of butter. After heating up the potatoes in the pan, I stirred in the eggs until almost scrambled, sprinkled some Parmesan cheese on top and then put the pan in the oven for 15 minutes to finish. There wasn’t actually any basil in the frittate, but it made a good garnish visually when placed on the plate with some sour cream and salsa.

Although thyme with Mexican and Spanish ingredients wasn’t a perfect compliment, I did manage to clean out the fridge.