This light and fluffy omelet is prepared in a skillet and involves little more than eggs, cheese, and a few long minutes than a traditional soufflé.
The answer to the age-old dilemma of whether the chicken or the egg came first is simple: the egg, according to evolutionary biology. However, determining the order of appearance of the soufflé omelet against the more traditional soufflé is a bit more complicated.
According to David Lebovitz, the soufflé omelet was conceived in 1888 by Annette Poulard, the original proprietor of the Norman restaurant La Mère Poulard. Or, at the very least, it claims she devised the unique soufflé omelet dish served there, which, if true, isn’t much of a claim. That would be around a century after Antoine Beauvilliers, who is frequently referred to as the “inventor of soufflé,” and about 50 years after Antonin Carême, one of the founding fathers of classic French cuisine, who created hundreds upon dozens of his soufflé recipes.
Meanwhile, Harold McGee included Vincent La Chapelle’s even-earlier “omelet soufflé” recipe from 1742 in On Food and Cooking, which calls for veal kidneys and sugar. It’s all a little hazy (as are kidneys and sugar—what were they thinking?).
Because that is the easiest explanation, common sense strongly favors the soufflé omelet arriving first. While the traditional soufflé is made by mixing eggs into a foundation such as a béchamel or pastry cream, the soufflé omelet is made entirely with eggs.
Unlike a regular French omelet, made by beating the eggs whole and pouring them into a heated pan, the eggs in a soufflé omelet are first separated. In one bowl, beat the yolks until stiff peaks form, and in another, whip the whites until stiff peaks form. They’re then folded back together to form a frothy mixture, which is cooked in a skillet until browned on the bottom and just barely set on top.
Given the low barrier to entry, the soufflé omelet is the best approach to practice producing any type of soufflé. You can do it if you have some eggs and a few minutes to beat the whites. There’s no need to preheat the oven or prepare a soufflé dish, and there’s no need to make a béchamel or pastry cream base or bake it until puffed and browned.
Even better, once you’ve successfully made a soufflé omelet—which you’ll do on the first try because it’s simple—you’ll be free of any lingering doubts about your ability to make a classic soufflé because the challenge of one is the challenge of the other, and it’s not much of a challenge at all.
While the soufflé omelet can build your confidence while preparing conventional soufflés, it’s also a valid dish, wonderful as a light breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
How to Whip up the Omelette Base
The procedure is as follows: To begin, whisk the yolks with a hefty amount of salt. It’s vital to add the salt early since you don’t want to deflate the mixture later while trying to properly distribute it into the beaten whites. You’ll need a little more salt than the yolks appear to require because you’ll also need enough to season the whites.
Next, whip the whites until stiff peaks form, which means they won’t collapse when lifted with a whisk. As with the classic soufflé, I believe in putting in some elbow grease to beat the whites by hand. It provides you greater control and makes it easier to determine when the eggs have reached the ideal degree of firmness: Soft peaks, as seen in the left image above, will softly bend. Stiff peaks, such as the one shown on the right, will stick straight up. It’s not nearly as difficult as some make it out to be. However, if you want, you can use a hand mixer or a stand mixer.
To loosen the whites, fold half of them into the yolks. Don’t worry about deflating the first addition of whites; the goal is a well-mixed, loose base.
This is when I would add any flavorings, such as herbs or cheese, which I highly recommend—a plain-egg soufflé omelet is not nearly as appetizing as one might think. It’s as if the integrated air imparts a raw-egg fragrance. Cheese manages to mask that flavor.
The Best Method for Cooking
I’ve read recipes for soufflé omelets that call for or against covering the pan. I tried both approaches and was disappointed with the uncovered version, which left too much of the top layer soupy and uncooked. I had much better results when I covered the skillet just long enough for the eggs to barely set on top and any extra cheese to melt.
Then remove it from the pan and place it on a platter, folding the fluffy giant over itself. It’s a marvel to behold and much more enjoyable to eat because it’s soft and light.
Regardless of which type of soufflé was conceived first, this will be top on your list of soufflés to make on a regular basis because it’s so simple.
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