01 March, 2007


My first experiments with herbs must have been when I was about 12 or 13 and got inspired by something I had seen, maybe by watching Graham Kerr galloping through his kitchen or perhaps a picture in a teen magazine. It was a glowing golden vision of airy delight, tenderly folded onto a plate and decorated with a bit of parsley, perhaps. As exciting gastronomy, it was perhaps not perfectly qualified, but in the tiny village where I grew up, it seemed to promise a whiff of the kitchens of Paris, fancy hotels of New York, or even more fascinating, chefs whose arcane magic whirled up bowls of batter and sauces that levitated onto plates of gold, and were eaten by the exciting and literate while they spoke of cabbages and kings.

With my head full of visions I set out to reinvent the omelette. I say re-invent because my house was a house of no cookooks, and my town a town of no bookstores. The only library was the school library and we were likely to find nothing more exciting there than collections of Romantic poets, falling apart at the seams, or maybe a single copy of the latest Nancy Drew. So with only an idea of what I was going to make and no directions to make it, I began the first of many experiments, feeling my way towards that omelette heaven I imagined. I burned a lot of eggs, so much so that my mother called them my "kitchen messes". Every one was a disappointment. I expected airy delight but all I got was the taste of ....eggs. So I tried whipping the egg whites, shaking the pan, scrambling the heck out of them, wooden spoon, metal fork, different size pans, everything I could think of. I quickly discovered I needed a small pan and that a few eggs, no more than three, were best. I don't remember how long it took me to understand that the pan had to be very hot and that there should be a mixture of butter and oil, or oil alone and that there had to be enough to encourage the eggs to puff up when they were put in, the exact degree of breaking up the eggs that was needed, and how to dance the eggs around in the pan. It wasn't a waltz, more of a tango.

I do remember learning how long to cook them before folding in the filling and that the mushrooms needed to be sauteed before they went into the centre of the just slightly runny eggs. Somewhere I discovered that good seasoning and a bit of parsley, basil or fresh sage made the flavour sing. I discovered heating the plates to keep the omelette from deflating before we could get our mouths 'round it. And I learned that lifting the edges of the omelette, so that the uncooked eggs would run underneath, led to an even and well-shaped result. It took me a good few years to learn everything, and I must have picked up hints from cooking shows and cookbooks along the way. Today food art is everywhere. We can see famous chefs cooking on TV, cookbooks are as handy as online shopping, and food blogs abound. There is no longer the thrill of imagining omelettes in the air. But still, there is the thrill and love of discovering new tastes that seem to carry the romance of entire countries and continents with them.

And there is still the thrill of cooking and eating a now airy and delicious, golden omelette.

Take a small steel or non-stick pan; the ones especially made for omelettes are the best. If you keep this pan for omelettes only, then it will always give good results, but if you have to share it, then make sure it is really clean and wipe it out with a little oil just to make sure.

Beat up your eggs with a fork, two or three medium or large should do. Don't overdo it, you just want to combine the eggs so they look almost uniform in colour. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to the pan until the bottom is covered well. Heat the oil until it is hot but not smoking. Throw in the eggs and as soon as they begin to puff around the edges, start to lift them with a spoon or fork and tilt the pan so that the uncooked eggs run out to the sides and start to cook. Do that all around until the centre of the omelette is just a bit moist.

If you are using a filling such as mushrooms and herbs, or a mixture of cooked onions, garlic, chopped tomatoes, peppers and basil, have it already cooked and waiting and slide a likely amount in a fat line on the centre of the omelette. If it's cheese then have it grated. Fold the omelette over once, about a third of the diameter from the top down, and then slide it onto a warmed plate, folding again onto the plate, so that the two sides are folded under and you have a rounded top. Garnish with whatever herbs you like, and some people even like to gild it with a small pat of butter. Herb butter is sensational.

It's also good plain, eaten fresh and hot, sprinkled with just a little sea salt and freshly ground pepper.


Anonymous said...

your story of childhood experimentation in the kitchen is tuoching and inspiring. Armed with your advice I'm off to cook an omelette!

vegetablej said...

Thanks, anonymous. Enjoy.:)