Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Omelette Exploration 5: The 'Lyon Housewife' Method

I am no fan of Michael Portillo (born 1953) either as a politician or a television presenter.  However, this approach to omelettes came as a result of me channel surfing and ending up watching the final episode of Series 3 of 'Great Continental Railway Journeys'.  It was first broadcast in late 2014, but has been repeated since.  Portillo, the presenter, was in the French city of Lyon, somewhere I would like to visit, talking about the traditional, homely 'housewife' style of cooking which is apparently favoured in the city, even among chefs.  This is in contrast to much of the restaurant cooking in France these days.  Even in small places in backwaters the cooking is heavily influenced by nouvelle cuisine approaches which is clearly the prime method taught by chefs and catering schools these days.  The Lyon chef Portillo was speaking to used the example of omelette making to outline the Lyon approach and, this being an interest of mine, I took on board what was said and tried it out myself.

Apparently the Lyon approach is to put coarse sea salt into the egg liquid before cooking.  Once the liquid is in the pan rather than moving it so that the liquid is spread evenly, instead you cover the pan and then draw the cooking egg incessantly into the centre, with the gaps left behind filling with remaining uncooked egg liquid until the omelette is cooked right through.  Of course you use butter for the cooking.  As it is, French butter tends to be very salty.  Typically you come across two types of butter - doux meaning 'sweet' which is unsalted; and demi-sel meaning 'half salt' which has 3% salt content, but tastes as if it has much more.  I would only ever use a doux butter if I had to use French butter.

I do not really see the benefits of this approach.  You end up with very much a 'gathered in' omelette almost looking like a rosette.  Without the flat surfaces you do not get the golden brown coating that I personally favour.  There is also a risk as when you over fill an omelette, that it will break up and you get something resembling scrambled egg rather than an omelette, not bad in itself, but not what you are seeking in this case.  There is a challenge with fillings if they are put in at the cooking stage because they have a different consistency than the egg liquid and can get 'left behind' in the gathering in so leading to a maldistribution of filling in the finished omelette.

I know it is a question of taste, but the sea salt was overbearing, despite me only grinding a pinch of it into the egg liquid, giving the omelette a dry, thirst instilling taste.  I suppose that counters the moistness of omelettes.  However, if using the Lyon approach be aware of the impact that it will have on your fillings; the flavour of a mild cheese or ham will disappear, you would have to use a blue cheese and a strong-flavoured ham to appear beyond the salt, ending up with an 'arid' omelette with a forceful flavour which might make an interesting change but probably too much for the ordinary British consumer.

Perhaps I need to practice more with this approach.  However, for me it produced an omelette very different from one with the attributes I aim for.  I would be interested to hear from others who have given this method a shot or use it habitually to hear more about the benefits of it.  Maybe it simply stems from a dislike of strongly salted dishes in contrast to some people I know.

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