Quick, what's the difference between scrambled eggs and omelets? Not much, if the truth be told, besides technique. Scrambled eggs require the lowest heat you have patience for, omelets the highest you can manage. Even the possibilities for adornment overlap. Good additions to either are, for instance, saute'ed mushrooms, even caviar and sour cream. The equipment can overlap, too; one of the best pans for producing scrambled eggs is a well seasoned omelet pan. Here, therefore, just in time for the holiday crunch, are the techniques:
For Scrambled Eggs: Two eggs per person, plus one for the pan. Butter for the pan. Salt and pepper. Additions such as mushrooms or vegetables, or whipping cream if there are to be no additions.
Equipment: One-well seasoned pan big enough to hold all the eggs in a layer not over an inch thick. Non-stick pans such as T-Fal can be used, but they seem to make the scrambled eggs watery. The ideal is a well-seasoned steel omelet pan, or a well-seasoned black iron skillet. A fork for initial mixing and a wide wooden spatula or spoon for stirring.
Heat: As low as possible.
Technique: Put butter in pan and let it melt over low heat. There should be enough butter to just barely pool in the bottom when the pan is tilted. Break eggs into a bowl, add salt and pepper and beat them with a fork or whisk just until whites and yolks are well mixed and no big globs of either remain. The salt will help break up the globs. Don't add any liquid to the eggs at this point or they will be watery in the end.
Add eggs to the pan and let them cook slowly over the lowest possible heat, stirring them constantly but gently as they cook. Make sure to reach all over the bottom of the pan as you stir. The end product should be closer to custard than to fried eggs. If you aren't adding any extra ingredients, add whipping cream just before the eggs are set, if desired, stirring it in gently. One tablespoon per single serving is about right.
Or, if you are adding extra ingredients such as mushrooms, add them now, just before the eggs are set, folding gently so as to not break up the soft curds of egg. The eggs are done when no globs of translucent white remain, but they should remain very soft and moist.
FOR OMELETS: Same as for scrambled eggs: two eggs per person, possibly three if the omelet is to constitute a meal by itself. Butter for the pan. Salt, pepper, and additions.
EQUIPMENT: A well-seasoned carbon steel omelet pan, or other slope-sided frying pan that doesn't stick and that will get very hot. An eight- or nine-inch pan (measured at the top) is the right size for an omelet for one. (The carbon steel omelet pans seen for sale around Washington usually have been made in France and are there- fore sized in centimeters. In that case you will want a number No. 22 or a number No. 24 to make individual omelets. The number is stamped on the bottom of the pan.) A fork for stirring the omelet as it cooks, and for helping you fold it afterward.
HEAT: Medium-high or, if you are expert, high.
ADDING FILLINGS: A few additions are mixed in at the beginning, but most are added as a filling when the eggs are cooked. Herbs and the garlic-parsley mixture known as persillade are mixed with the eggs before they're cooked.
TECHNIQUE: Put pan over medium-high to high heat and add butter. For an individual-sized omelet you'll want about two teaspoons. Let the butter melt -- it will do this quickly -- and then watch for it to stop bubbling and sizzling. In the meantime, mix the eggs with salt and pepper in a bowl just until the whites and yolks are broken up. If you are using herbs or persillade add them now, but don't stir the eggs enough to work up a froth.
When the butter has stopped sizzling but before it has begun to brown (it gets very quiet), add the eggs to the pan. Now grab ahold of the pan handle with one hand and begin moving the pan back and forth on the burner. While you are shaking the pan with one hand use a fork to stir the eggs with the other, reaching all over the bottom of the pan. Then when the eggs are almost set, stop agitating so that the eggs will have a chance to brown on the bottom and to form a single disk.
It's at this point that you will add the filling if you want to have your adornments folded into the middle of the omelet. Just spread them down the center of the disk of eggs.
Fold the omelet and take it off the heat while the eggs on top are still a little runny. The interior of the omelet will continue to cook after the eggs have been taken off the heat, and the finished product should be just cooked enough so there aren't globs of uncooked white.
TO FOLD: There are all kinds of fancy ways to do this. Some people -- usually those who have been doing this since they were small boys in France -- tilt the pan up by its handle, give the handle a firm whack on top, and watch the omelet fold itself. Some people give the pan a tough little shove away from them, flipping a little so that the far edge of the omelet rolls over the middle. Some people slide the first half of the omelet off onto a plate, tipping the pan so that the second half folds over the first. Other people -- many of them quite upstanding -- make the omelet fold the way they want it to with the help of a fork. If showmanship is important to you, you'll figure something out.
Present the omelet folded side down. Gloss the top with a brushing of butter and arrange on top a few representative bits of whatever you have chosen for filling.