He put me through the paces, and it took me 23 tries before he grudgingly gave my effort an approving nod. I suspect he enjoyed tormenting me, an upstart American who'd invaded his temple of haute cuisine, but I have to admit that last specimen was a beauty. My previous efforts were nice Greek-diner specials, but number 23, mon dieu, number 23 had soul. It was everything an omelet should be: fluffy, creamy, and with a slight spring, almost like pastry in your mouth.
After he shared his secrets and I got the technique down, the process was a snap. (I also consulted Julia Child's cookbook, which reinforces the instructions with step-by-step line drawings.) Start with a base: three eggs at room temperature, broken into a small metal bowl. It is important to beat them with gusto, dipping a fork into the bowl and lifting the eggs high into the air. You want to get a good amount of air into them, beating until a fine spray of bubbles froths along the surface. This gives an omelet its light, spongy texture.
While you wait for the pan to heat up, sprinkle the eggs with a generous pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Then film the pan with olive oil; add a tablespoon of butter, and when it has melted, immediately pour in the eggs. "It's all in the wrist," my chef-tormentor instructed, gripping the pan handle and waving it back and forth with diabolical dexterity. As the mixture started to firm, he ran the underside of a fork back and forth under the edges to nudge the liquid toward the center. Then he tilted the pan away from him so that the omelet began to slide a bit, just an inch or so toward the edge. With a quick forward-then-back flick of his wrist, the omelet folded over itself and simply rolled out onto an awaiting plate. Voilà!
In truth, all it takes is about two or three tries to master the technique. Practice for a friend; rest assured they won't mind eating your failures. Or donate to charity: In my house, the family dog was well fed (although he turned up his snout at a sautéed broccoli special).
My omelets more consistently approached the gold standard after I bought a new pan. For the longest time, I'd been cooking them in the same old model I used to fry fish and tacos. Mostly, I wound up scraping egg off the bottom. A friend suggested I buy a small nonstick pan, around 7 to 9 inches in diameter, to use exclusively for omelets. And never use soap to clean it—simply wipe the pan with a paper towel and hide it from the other sautéers in your house.
Now that I've perfected the basic omelet recipe, I continue to experiment like mad. Sometimes my efforts fall flat, for instance, when I tried adding anchovies to the mix. And take it from me, there's no reason on earth to marry lamb chops and eggs. My latest fantasy is to incorporate my beloved pulled-pork recipe into a nifty dinner omelet. When that day comes, according to my wife, I'll be dining alone.
Bob Spitz's recent books include The Beatles: The Biography (Little, Brown) and The Saucier's Apprentice (Norton).
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