"If you have an egg, you have a meal," cookbook author Marie Simmons tells me. "Nothing is simpler than an omelet."
A true omelet is neither indulgent nor unhealthy, despite what your local diner would have you believe: Their multi-egg, many-ingredient showcases are delicious, true, but an extravagant example of what should be a simple dish. At home, err on the side of less, not more.
Start with farm eggs, if you can get them. There’s nothing wrong with supermarket eggs, per se—you’ll still end up with a great-tasting omelet—but according to Simmons, a James Beard Cookbook Award winner for The Good Egg: More than 200 Fresh Approaches from Breakfast to Dessert, a fresh egg is practically art. "When you break the egg onto a plate, the yolk stands up high, the white is thick. It’s just gorgeous," she says. But it’s "all about the taste." Free-ranging chickens allowed to forage produce a much more flavorful yolk.
Speaking of that yolk: Don’t be scared. We’re making a healthy omelet, not a bland one, and the yolk packs most of the egg’s flavor. While much-maligned, eating a few eggs a week (or even more than a few!) won’t cause heart disease, so keep those tasty yolks.
Get the right pan. Simmons says one of the biggest mistakes she sees newbie omeleteers make is using a thin, oversized pan. "The pan is the most important," she says: Make sure it's heavy, for even heat distribution and rather small—no more than 8 inches. Heat it up until a drop of water sizzles.
Sauté your filling and set it aside. Greens can be a challenge—who hasn't had an impossible-to-cut omelet stuffed with too-big leaves of spinach? Here's Simmons's trick: Heat a teaspoon of olive oil with garlic in a skillet and add a half-cup of chopped packed greens, like Swiss chard or spinach (kale, she says, is "a little rough and bitter"). Cover it until the moisture on the leaves cooks down. Uncover and turn off the heat, cooking off any excess moisture.
Scramble your eggs with a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of water to lighten them and make them "fluffier," according to Simmons. Some chefs swap the water for milk, which adds thickness to your scramble—but if you’re making an omelet, it’s easier to wrap light and fluffy eggs around your filling than thick ones. Plus it’s an easy way to swap out calories without sacrificing taste.
You could cook your omelet in butter, but a small quantity of heart-friendly olive oil (or even oil spray) works just as well. Pour your prepared eggs into the skillet and let them bubble around the edges of the pan.
"Keep the heat as low as you can," Simmons says. Otherwise, you risk browning the outside of the omelet—not a mortal sin, but an effect better avoided for the best and fluffiest breakfast.
Another brush of olive oil down the middle of your cooking eggs, and you’re ready to add your fixings. The key to a healthier omelet isn’t egg whites—it’s using a little less of everything. An omelet isn’t a baked potato. It doesn’t need to be stuffed. Simmons recommends spooning no more than a quarter-cup of each ingredient down the middle of your omelets.
Adding cheese? (Do it.) You just need a little, and crumbled goat cheese is a fantastic, relatively healthy alternative to cheddar or American thanks to its high water content. Add a rounded tablespoon’s worth on top of your filling, which will melt perfectly by the time the omelet is completed.
Now for the tricky part: Simmons says to "roll the omelet from the handle right out onto your plate," which is, admittedly, easier said than done. "You can’t think about it. You just have to do it. You develop the technique, and off it will go." Nervous? Watch BBC’s Delia Smith demonstrate.
Don’t fret if you can't do that perfectly yet. "So what if it's not technically perfect?" Simmons says. "The most important thing is it's on your plate and delicious."
Swiss Chard and Smothered Garlic Omelet with Cheese
Swiss chard, a sweet-tasting, quick-cooking green, is a quick and easy filling for a simple omelet. For the cheese, use coarsely shredded, nutty-tasting French Comte or Gruyere or a Spanish Manchego. For a mild cheese, crumble a rounded tablespoon of cold fresh goat cheese and sprinkle over the greens just before folding the omelet.
Makes 1 Serving
- 3 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 thin slice peeled garlic clove, cut into thin lengthwise strips
- 1 cup lightly packed chopped fresh Swiss chard (about 2 leaves), leafy greens stripped from stems, rinsed with cold water
- 2 large eggs
- 1 scant tablespoon cold water
- Pinch of salt
- Freshly ground black pepper (optional)
- 1 rounded tbsp coarsely shredded Comte, Gruyere, or Manchego cheese or crumbled cold goat cheese
- Place 2 teaspoons of the olive oil and the garlic in a small (8-inch) heavy skillet with low, sloping sides over medium-low heat. When the garlic begins to sizzle (do not brown), stir in the wet Swiss chard. Cover and cook until the greens are wilted, about 3 minutes. Uncover and turn up the heat to boil off excess moisture in the skillet, if necessary. Transfer the greens to a side dish. Wipe out the pan.
- Beat the eggs, water, salt and pepper, if using, in a small bowl until the eggs are thin. Add the remaining olive oil to the skillet and heat over medium-high until hot enough to sizzle a small drop of water. Add the eggs all at once; reduce the heat to medium-low and twirl the pan so that the eggs will evenly coat the bottom. Let cook about 10 seconds. Lift the edges of the egg with the tip of a small spatula and tilt the pan so the raw egg from center will roll to the edges and set. Cook, lifting the pan off the heat to cool it slightly. This will prevent the egg from browning.
- After about 1 to 2 minutes, eggs will be set on the bottom but still slightly moist in the center, spoon the cooked Swiss chard down the center of the omelet. Sprinkle with the cheese of choice.
- Tilt the pan (with the handle in your left hand) and with the tip of a small spatula, roll 1/3 of the omelet closest to the handle over the filling. Turn the omelet pan over and the omelet will fall out of the pan and onto the serving plate.
From the James Beard Award Winning The Good Egg (Houghton Mifflin Company 2000) by Marie Simmons