In Gourmet Magazine this month there is a fine article by Francis Lam in which the author discusses his perfect omelet. I had never read an article by Mr. Lam before, but I have now read several online and he is becoming one of my favorite food writers. I just have a minor contention with the omelet article in which he writes that the omelet should be cooked in a specific pan and that the eggs should not be over mixed to avoid their becoming too fluffy and thus dry when cooked.
Mr. Lam has been to culinary school, I have not. Once, at the age of 17, I briefly entertained the thought of going to culinary school, but opted instead to spend the next twenty years wearing various uniforms and toting about mechanisms for killing people. Which led me to one of the best omelets ever.
While in the Army, in Germany, way back in the 80s, our battalion mess hall was a relatively small affair which still somehow was able to prepare three meals a day for nearly one thousand troops, employing a handful of pale, skinny warrior-cooks (this was a tad before the Army was taken over by civilians). And these fuckers could cook, making several entrees, sides and desserts for lunch and dinner with no waste and all of it better than anything you pay for in those "family" restaurants.
And the omelets...a few times a week the guys would do omelets, you could tell by the meez set up in front of the guy working the flat top, and the word would pass back down the line.
"Fuckin’ A, omelet day!"
Upon reaching the station the cook would ask what you wanted.
"Omelet, ham and cheese."
He’d pick up a bowl with a couple of eggs in it and dump them onto the flat top, whack ’em a couple of times with a long, solid spatula, roll ’em over then put the ham and cheese in. A few seconds later, letting the cheese start to melt and the eggs set up, he’d give the thing a flip, folding it in half before putting it on a plate and setting it on your tray. As you passed down the rest of the line the cheese would continue to melt so that by the time you had everything and had sat down it had reached a perfectly gooey state. The omelets were dense and filling, the perfect thing right after PT with five hours still to go before lunch. They were moist and delicious, the mild flavor of the eggs complemented by the smoke of the ham and the tang of the cheese.
Fast forward 21 years to New Orleans, the Clover Grill. Freshly over my hangover-from-hell and with newly shined boots I stumble back into the Clover for a quick lunch. The last time I was in I watched the cook making omelets (along with waffles, burgers, fries...) and am determined to get one now. The juke box is still blaring, but the staff is different: the cook one of the best I’ve ever watched and the waiter one of the worst. From the counter I can see everything. I’m right behind the cook as my order comes up, he reaches into the low-boy cooler and grabs three eggs, cracks them one-handed into a shake can, throwing the shells into an unseen trash can behind and to his left. He puts the can into the shake mixer and goes back to his burgers, fries and the hundred other things he’s got going on, taking a minute to yell at the customers blocking the door lining up at the register to get to go orders.
"If y’all are getting to gos you gotta wait outside, come in one at a time. Y’all can’t be blockin’ the door!" He turns back to his station shaking his head. "God DAMN," he mutters.
The suit-wearing guy a couple of stools down from me has been trying to get the waiter’s attention for about ten minutes now. The waiter is at the juke box sliding dollar bills into its face and loading us up with another half hour of rave music. The dishwasher walks out of the swinging door that conceals her station from our sight and the man yells his order at her. I’ve got to confess, I’m smiling big as the young lady stops, looks at him as if he had just asked her to perform a most unnatural sex act and yells, "I DON’T take no food ORDERS!" As she walks by me on her way to the bus tubs she is shaking her head. "God DAMN," she mutters. My eggs are still mixing in the shake machine.
My bacon on the flat top, the cook pours a ladle of oil into his pan and then pours some waffle batter into the iron and throws the old hubcap over a couple of burgers. The oil hot, he pours my eggs into the pan, immediately starting a gentle swirling motion. The eggs roll together, simultaneously setting up and breaking free from the pan’s edge as he applies more torque. He stops long enough to put the cheese and bacon in the center and then rolls the thing out of the pan onto a plate, folding it in half perfectly. The omelet is wonderful, the eggs are light and airy from the minutes of mixing, yet still moist, the bacon crisp and the cheese completely melted.
I must confess that I have never had an omelet prepared the way Mr. Lam describes them, prepared with nothing but three eggs, salt, pepper and butter, but I will be trying his recipe and the technique described to see for myself if it tops my perfect omelets.
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