Le Mont-St. Michel, a speck of an island off the coast of Normandy, France, is famous for two things: The Medieval abbey perched atop its rocky tor, and a gloriously puffy omelet. The hulking 11th-century abbey looks impressive (it was a prison during the French Revolution), but my attention was riveted on that omelet.
A travel show on the Japanese television station we subscribe to on cable showed chefs in an island restaurant gouging chunks of butter from vats and sizzling it in straight-sided skillets, while several other chefs beat eggs in copper bowls. They beat, and beat, and beat. The technique was strange – the whisks barely skimmed the surface in a back-and-forth motion.
When the eggs were poured into a pan, tiny bubbles gave the omelet the airy structure of a soufflé. The eggs were two to three inches thick in the pan and remained that thick without deflating. When done, the chef slid the omelet from the pan, folding it in half as it hit the plate. The thing was enormous, with a golden-brown exterior and the last traces of bubbles oozing from the edges.
I replayed the omelet-making part of of the program and had Tony translate from the Japanese. Although no recipe was given, the only ingredients mentioned were eggs, salt and butter. The odd whisking motion thickened the eggs and produced thousands of bubbles. The omelet originated centuries ago at the Mont St. Michel restaurant La Mere Poulard.
Of course, everything finds its way to Youtube eventually, so you can watch the final stages of the omelet’s production here.
I decided to give it a try, but I was danged it I was going to whisk the eggs by hand. I used a stick blender, which allows more control than a mixer or regular blender. By barely submersing the blades, I managed to make tons to bubbles. It took 7 minutes. Imagine how much time hand-beating would require.
An 8-inch cast-iron skillet was just the right size for four beaten eggs. I slipped the eggs into the pan and held my breath. The bubbles did not deflate. I started the omelet over medium heat to quickly produce a skin on the eggs, then turned the heat to low.
Determining when it was done was easy. The omelet developed holes, like a pancake when it’s ready to be flipped.
I loosened one edge of the omelet with a spatula and coaxed it to slide from the pan onto a dinner plate, folding it in half with the spatula. The spatula must be held in place over the folded omelet for a minute, or the omelet will unfold.
In the end, my omelet looked exactly like the one on television. It was impressive and tasted like – well, airy scrambled eggs. The second time I made the omelet I added a half-teaspoon of sugar to the eggs and a tablespoon of finely grated Parmesan just as I folded it. I liked this version better. Not that I want to mess with centuries of tradition or anything.
OMELET MONT ST. MICHELE
- 4 large eggs
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. sugar
- 2 tbsp. butter
- 1 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
Break eggs into a medium bowl. Add salt and sugar. Beat with a stick blender to combine, then hold the stick blender blades just under the surface of the eggs and beat for about 7 to 10 minutes, producing as many bubbles as possible.
Heat butter over medium heat in an 8-inch skillet with straight sides. When the eggs have thickened and are covered with a mass of bubbles, gently pour into the hot skillet. Cook for one minute, then turn heat to medium-low. Continue to cook for 8 to 10 minutes without touching eggs. The omelet is done when the top is firm and holes begin to form. The firm eggs will still be covered with a froth of liquid eggs.
Sprinkle top with grated Parmesan. Loosen edges of omelet with a spatula. Slip spatula under one side of omelet as you tilt pan over a dinner plate, allowing egg to slip out of pan, browned side down. As the last edge slips from pan, fold that edge over with the spatula to meet the opposite edge of omelet. Leave spatula in place for one minute to make sure omelet does not unfold. Serve immediately. Makes 1 omelet (large enough for two but considered a single serving in France).
HELP U COOK
The standard size egg for recipes is “large.” Many recipes – including mine – do not mention size, assuming cooks know that “large” is the default egg. Unless a recipe calls for just one egg, do not substitute jumbo for large, thinking that more is better. A large egg weighs 2 ounces and a jumbo egg, 2.5 ounces. You could screw up a recipe by substituting jumbo for large.
If you’re wondering whether the color of an egg makes a difference in recipes, it doesn’t. Brown eggs have the exact same cooking properties and nutrition as white eggs.
THE MAILBAG (Oct. 30)
From Sherri Steiner:
Re: How to cook squash or a pumpkin — This is from Kathy Hester’s blog, Healthy Slow Cooking:
“If you have a big, 6-quart cooker, cook a pie pumpkin! Take a small pie pumpkin, wash it off, and poke a few small holes in it. Put it in the your cooker. (It needs to be small enough that it will fit, of course.) Cook it for about 6 to 8 hours and then let it cool. It cuts open like butter and you just scoop out the seeds. You don’t even have to puree it, the flesh will be so cooked that it will just mash up on its own. This works for all squashes like butternut and acorn — any of those hard winter squashes that you hate to cut through. Since pie pumpkins are usually only available in the fall, you can cook up a whole bunch and then freeze in 11/2-cup portions, which equals one can.
“You can bake potatoes and sweet potatoes, too, using any sized cooker. Some people wrap them in foil or spray the crock with cooking spray, but I usually just wash them and poke them all over with a fork. Throw them in the cooker in the morning before you leave for work and when you come home, you have perfectly cooked potatoes. The sweet potatoes can be used for desserts. You can put a little brown sugar and cinnamon on them — its like a pie without a crust or you can crumble gingersnaps on top for more crunch.”
Dear Sherri: What fun. I would caution readers to drain the cooked pumpkin to eliminate some of the liquid. Otherwise, the pie may be soupy. A cheesecloth-lined sieve will work, but I’m impatient so I use a jelly bag – a very fine mesh bag for straining homemade jelly. The mesh is so fine that you can wring out the puree, quickly removing the liquid without losing any of the solids.
From Susan, Wooster:
I just wanted to thank you for the information on Weymouth Farms. I sent my husband to get some pears yesterday (he works in Hinckley) and Paul and Brenda were both so nice. They gave him samples and even went to the orchard to pick some fresh ones off of the tree for him. The pears are delicious, I had two last night when he got home. They even marked the container so that we knew which ones we were eating!!
Dear Susan: I love turning people on to great local foods such as the O’Neill’s Asian pears. Those who missed the original item can find Weymouth Farms and Orchard at 2398 Weymouth Road in Hinckley.
From Sue Essy:
I was just reading the question from Jill in Wadsworth regarding the amount of oil in apple cake. I have been substituting unsweetened applesauce for half the amount of oil in my zucchini bread for years, and always receive raves for its taste and moisture. It also freezes very well. I would caution not to substitute more than one-half the amount of oil, as the recipe will not turn out right if you do.
Dear Sue: This is good information. Thanks for taking the time to share your experience.