My earliest recollection of actually seeing an omelette dates back to late 1969, early 1970. I had moved from Jackson to Kansas City, Mo., and being in my early 20s and desirous of a night out now and then, I became familiar with late-night dining at Nichols Lunch at 39th and Southwest Trafficway. The local 24-hour eatery, open since 1921, fit the bill as the spot to eat, laugh and stretch out an evening's fun. Omelettes were on the menu; I saw many being served but never tried one. Why would anyone want to add meat, vegetables or cheese to their eggs?
I was raised on plain, Southern home-cooked breakfast fare that called for the ham to be sliced, bone-in, sitting beside the scrambled eggs and buttered biscuits. My mama did deviate in that she also served melted cheddar cheese, spooned onto our plates from the six-inch Pyrex dish it was melted in, beside the biscuits baking in the oven. That slightly warm, thick and easy-to-cut-with-a-fork cheese set off the eggs and ham, or bacon or sausage, in a taste and textural way that I remember fondly to this day.
Growing up eating melted cheese with a fork, why would I think an omelette sounded weird? I, who had never eaten a casserole—not until my not-yet-mother-in-law's green bean casserole made with cream of mushroom soup and topped with Durkee's onion rings at Thanksgiving 1971—and thought that corned beef meant kernels of corn had been somehow stuffed one-by-one into a beef roast. For me, food was supposed to remain separated on the plate, becoming mixed together only once it was being chewed in the mouth.
I was wrong, wrong, wrong—in big neon letters. Tastes and textures together are one of the delights of cooking and eating.
Now, over 30 years later, I've decided to cook omelettes. To that end, recently I cut some chunks of pungent Wisconsin cheddar cheese, sprayed my non-stick eight-inch Mirro skillet with a non-stick spray and set it onto the stove. Once I had cracked two eggs into a bowl, I lit the burner beneath the skillet and started to briskly stir the eggs, letting a droplet slide down the fork and splat onto the skillet's surface; it took three droplets before I heard the sizzle that meant the skillet was hot enough. Once I had poured the eggs into it, I let the skillet sit for a few seconds. Picking up the skillet, I swirled it around, like I'd seen the young lady do who makes omelettes on Sunday mornings at the Ameristar's Harvest Buffet. More of the egg cooked; I forced myself to leave it alone, but I did lower the heat so that it wouldn't burn. In a few seconds, I put the cheese chunks onto one half of the eggs and lifted the other side with my plastic spatula, folding it over onto the cheese. It was gorgeous. A few seconds later, I slid my cheese omelette onto a plate and proceeded to eat it with toast and grape jelly. Yummy.
Since then I have expanded my omelette operation to include rough chopped Vidalia onion and fresh tomato along with some shredded Kraft cheddar cheese that I will never buy again—I'll do without instead.
Each ingredient sat ready on the counter in small Boontonware salad bowls, from the trendy plastic set Mama bought in 1956 to match our tri-level Pacemaker house trailer. I felt like a TV chef as I used the fourth bowl for the eggs and then followed the same sequence as with my cheese omelette, picking up my little bowls and adding ingredients to the eggs, veggies then cheese, before I folded it in half. Once it was on the plate, I cut into it expectantly only to be disappointed—the center remained runny. It tasted so-so, too, but that could have been due to my aversion to what most people call soft-scrambled eggs—I call them shiny and always order mine dry. I figured it was that dratted processed cheese. Later that same morning I made Mama's using only veggies inside and sprinkled the cheese on top, as a sort of controlled experiment. Doggone if that one wasn't runny, too, but that's the way Mama likes her eggs.
Days later on the phone with Lamont, my older chef son, I recounted the entire experience. "Guess what I discovered?" I explained proudly. "Those vegetables released a lot of liquid when they were heated, and I thought it was that disgusting cheese."
"Yes, they do, Mama," Lamont laughed heartily before telling me how proud he was of his mama, the novice experimenting chef back home in Mississippi.