We all think it's so simple, but nobody gets it right every time. So take an easy route to making the perfect omelette

From time to time - and, it must be said, increasingly more often of late - I find myself asking this question: why is it assumed that all cooks are capable of making an omelette? And here, please note, I choose not to preface that pale yellow, buttery pillow of just-set beaten eggs with its usual adjective of "simple''. Making an omelette has never been a simple task. It has always been the trickiest of kitchen manoeuvres. With omelettes, one needs tuition and practice.

From time to time - and, it must be said, increasingly more often of late - I find myself asking this question: why is it assumed that all cooks are capable of making an omelette? And here, please note, I choose not to preface that pale yellow, buttery pillow of just-set beaten eggs with its usual adjective of "simple''. Making an omelette has never been a simple task. It has always been the trickiest of kitchen manoeuvres. With omelettes, one needs tuition and practice.

Even now, I still cock them up, and I am supposed to know everything. My good friend, the chef Rowley Leigh, is the only person I know who rarely messes up an omelette; then, if he does, he has the opportunity to discreetly discard, but I'm quite sure he never does. Rowley learnt to cook hundreds and hundreds of perfect omelettes every single day while working in the kitchens of Joe Allen's restaurant, Covent Garden, during the closing years of the late Seventies. Tsk, tsk ... is it not absolutely typical that it was within the kitchens of an American-style restaurant where the perfecting of a French classic took place.

Any skill takes a modicum of persistence to master and - let it be said - some intelligence, allowing the skill to embed itself within the brain as something worthwhile to have learnt. Twenty years hence, it might only be the exacting expertise given over to the shaving of slivers of Parmesan over mixed salad leaves, balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil that now so easily thrills the average punter. Sadly, the initial preparation of an omelette - uncommonly fresh eggs, a suitable bowl, a natural deftness with regard to correctness of beat and whip and judicious seasoning - now seems of little importance to the average home cook. (''Suitable bowl? What do you mean?'') In these days of stir-fry, filo-wrap and a packet of Aunt Bessie's ready-made frozen Yorkshire puddings, or some such aberration, the very idea of honing a traditional skill seems to have conveniently been forgotten. Until, that is, the subject comes up. "Omelettes? Pancakes? Batters? Yes, yes, we know all about them, thank you very much for asking." Oh, yeah, sure.

To suggest that even one's keenly inspired, average gourmet neighbour might be in any way proficient at transforming three eggs into that which we commonly know as "nothing more than a simple omelette" would be hopeful to say the least. A lump of clay and a potter's wheel might produce better results. Yet, bizarrely, it will always be these same neighbours who continue to complain when presented with a poorly made omelette, cooked, of course, by someone else. Quelle surprise, ma cherie.

To alleviate matters in this respect, some bright spark then thought to promote the "flat omelette" or, to those who are so enormously familiar with such recent developments of continental ingenuity, the Spanish tortilla and - "oh, where shall we venture now?" - the Italian frittata.

"Well, hey! This is all right then, isn't it? None of that folding and turning nonsense and lots of difficult stuff then - cool! All flat and fuss-free, mate. And it's Italian? No worries! I always preferred Milan to Mont St Michel anyway. I'm convinced that Poulard woman was a fake. Created by tourists. I mean, what made the dame decide to flip it over in the first place? Is she still there? I mean, I've never seen her on Ready Steady Cook. Jamie never creases his omelettes and, let's face it, the lad should know."

The last omelette I saw cooked as televisual feasting was one made by Delia Smith. Some say that they actually prefer their omelettes all brown and crusty on the outside (for me, there is nothing worse than the taste and smell of scorched egg). Well, it seems that Delia is one of them too. But this is not surprising, as she also likes the whites of her fried eggs all crispy and frazzled at the edges. However, I don't think this is how the perfect omelette was ever meant to be. There is "opinion" and then there is "benchmark". The palest yellow exterior, all lightly molten within, should, I believe, be looked upon as the benchmark omelette, all others being viewed as personal aberrations. I think great care needs to be taken when one's powers of communication are understood to be gospel.

The reasoning behind all this mild ranting on my part is, of course, that whether it be the traditional omelette à la Française, the Italian frittata or the Spanish tortilla, each preparation should be looked upon as particular in its own right; original, for whatever reason, to the whim of local cooks. Possibly the most exciting example of such localised belief over how an omelette should be made is the deftly rolled cylindrical version fashioned by the Japanese egg cook. Apart from a little sugar being added to the mixture and the resultant finished product only ever served cold, the pan used to make it also happens to be a square one. Just to watch the thing being made - with a great deal of tipping, folding, layering and neatening going on - causes one to ponder that the simply folded Poulard number was never anything more than un morceau de gâteau.

Hopefully, the following three recipes illustrate how very easy it is to transform simple beaten eggs into elegant suppers of great distinction. Having said that, no harm will be done by having a go with the plain version to begin with.

Flat omelette with spring onion and anchovy

Serves 1

2 large free-range eggs

salt and pepper

a sprinkle of chopped parsley

1 spring onion, finely sliced

3tbsp of cream

a generous knob of butter 2 salt anchovy fillets, sliced into 2 lengthways using a sharp knife (woe betide you if you choose to use those silvery pickled anchovies; nice as they are, they are not welcome here)

Heat an overhead grill. Mix together the eggs, seasoning, parsley, spring onion and 1tbsp of the given amount of cream in a bowl. Then remove 3tbsp of this mixture to a small bowl and stir in the remaining 2tbsp of cream, adding a tiny amount of extra seasoning.

Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan or your favourite omelette pan. Once the butter froths, pour in the egg mixture. Using a spatula, lift up the liquid parts to mingle with the set parts while cooking over a gentle heat until semi-liquid and semi-set. Lay over the strips of anchovy and then spoon over the contents of the small bowl, spreading it over the anchovy fillets to cover completely.

Flash under the grill for a minute or two until lightly gilded and just set. Slide on to a warm plate and eat at once.

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