Eggs and Omelets
GIVE me half a dozen eggs, a few spoonfuls of gravy and as much cream, with a little butter and a handful of breadcrumbs, and I can get up a good luncheon.” So wrote Marion Harland seventy years ago, and she added, “Eggs are I he cheapest food for the breakfast or lunch table of a private family. They are nutritious, popular and never an unelegant dish.” She might have added that they offer infinite variety, for there are more than two hundred ways in which they can be prepared.
The frugal French, who really understand the artistry of life, invented the omelet. It is the best way to cook eggs, because three eggs do the work of four and their food value is increased by the incorporation of fat, in which the egg is slightly deficient. It takes only two minutes to make a three-egg omelet, but every motion has a reason of its own. This is how and why.
First beat three eggs just enough to break up the whites and mix in the yolks. Twenty sharp beats with a fork will do it. Then heat your frying pan or skillet. When it is warm, put in a good lump of butter. As soon as the butter is melted and begins to sizzle, pour in the beaten eggs. What happens? The moment the eggs touch the hot greased pan, they begin to coagulate and form a thin pancake on top of which the uncooked egg floats.
If you left it alone your omelet would scorch before it cooked. To prevent this, raise the handle of your frying pan and with a fork throw over the film of cooked egg into the center of the pan, allowing the uncooked egg to run down in its place. Repeat this performance two or three times and you will have in the center of your pan a mound of semi-cooked egg impregnated with butter. When nearly all the uncooked egg is thus absorbed, take the pan from the fire and fold the two sides of the omelet over the mound in the center, and roll it onto a hot oval dish. It should be unbelievably light, smooth, rich, unctuous, and of a delicate golden color. The French say that a perfect omelet is baveuse— it should drool goodness.
If the omelet scorches, the lire was too hot; if it sticks, not enough butter was used. I have eaten many omelets in this country, but none to compare with those served in the humblest French auberge. The American omelet is cooked too slowly and no attempt is made to incorporate as much but ter as possible in the cooking process. Too often it is merely fried beaten egg, folded over. Also any old frying pan is used. In every French family a frying pan is kept sacred to the use of omelets. It is never washed. Water ruins frying pans. They should be wiped thoroughly, while still warm, with a wad of paper.
For a savory omelet, a heaping tablespoonful of finely chopped chives, tarragon, and parsley leaves, mixed with the egg before it is poured in the frying pan, makes a delicate dish. All other stuffings for omelets should be cooked separately and added only after the frying pan has been removed from the fire and the omelet is about, to be folded.
One of the most nourishing, and a great favorite with the hardy peasants of sunny France, is the potato omelet. Cook together small cubes of fat pork and cold boiled potatoes and add them to an omelet which has been made with lard instead of with butter. This is a grand dish. Skinned and cooked tomatoes, peppers, and mushrooms also make wonderful omelets, and almost any leftover of chicken or ham can be cut up fine, heated in a little butter, and used to stuff this wonderful dish.
Another good way to cook eggs is to scramble them, but here again the American scrambled egg is a very poor imitat ion of t he real thing. No matter what the cookbooks say, the only way to scramble eggs to perfection is over hot water. Always use a double boiler with a top receptacle having a rounded bottom. When the water is approaching the boiling point, put two ounces of fresh butter to melt in the top of the double boiler and then pour in five large or six small eggs thoroughly beaten. Mix well with the butter, using a wooden fork, and continue to stir till the eggs are done.
At the end of about four minutes the eggs will begin to coagulate. Then lower the heat, since the water in the double boiler must remain just below boiling. Continue to stir, being careful to detach any egg that may coagulate on the sides or bottom of the receptacle. Just before the eggs are cooked, add a tablespoonful of rich cream and remove from the heat. Stir well and bring to table. Anything added to scrambled eggs—asparagus tips, mushrooms, sweet red peppers, chicken livers, ham must be cooked separately and added just before the dish is served.
There are only two great systems of cooking in this world, the French and the Chinese. Neither owes anything to the other; both are entirely different. And so with Chinese scrambled eggs. The dish is simplicity itself, but rich and very nourishing. Pour two or three tablespoonfuls of peanut oil into a frying pan and when the oil is hot, but not smoking, pour in five or six well-beaten eggs and whip them up in the hot oil. In less than no time you will have a mound of fluffy scrambled egg which will have absorbed all the oil. It is something to eat on hot toast.
Here is a striking egg dish for a formal luncheon. Separate the whites and yolks of as many eggs as you expect guests, putting aside each yolk in its half-shell. Beat the whites as stiff as possible and place them in a buttered dish, smoothing the top with a knife. Now in your beaten whites make as many holes as you have yolks, and into each hole pour a raw yolk. Salt lightly and sprinkle heavily with grated Parmesan cheese. Cook in a hot oven for eight minutes or less.
Of all hot desserts, an egg soufflé is the best. To make it, beat up six yolks of egg with six ounces of crystallized sugar, and keep on beating until, when you raise the fork, the mixture falls away in a ribbon. Then fold in the whites of eight eggs beaten as stiff as possible. Use a wooden spoon and as few motions as possible so as to prevent the air you have beaten into the whites from escaping. Pour the mixture on a well-buttered shallow dish. It should be stiff enough to form a mound. Sprinkle it well with sugar and set in a hot oven for ten to fifteen minutes. It must be brought straight from the oven to the table, for after three minutes it begins to fall. A souffle never waits for the guests; the guests have to wait for the soufflé.
Two other egg desserts are the rum omelet and the jam omelet. For the first, make your omelet in the usual way, sprinkling it with lots of sugar before folding. Then sprinkle again with sugar, pour over it half a cup of hot rum, and light it so that it comes to table burning like a Christmas pudding. The jam omelet, is merely made by heating any kind of jam and using it to stuff the omelet. But be particularly careful, when making sweet omelets, to salt the beaten egg as usual; otherwise the omelet will lack tone.