Now, brethren, let us turn to Book Four, Chapter Fourteen, Page Ninety-Five of The Work, and construct ourselves a tasty little omelet. Three components need to be prepared in particular: the eggs, the cheese, and the butter. Ah, the wonderful world of dairy gels. We shall go in reverse order.
The omelet needs a delicious brown butter to be brushed upon it before putting it in the oven for finishing. As always, the recipe directs you to the section in the books where the recipe is to prepare that component. For brown butter, they have an appropriately modernist method of putting melted butter into a mason jar, placing it in a pressure cooker for 30 minutes, then straining the butter with cheesecloth. I was reminded, however, of a quote by the 20th century philosopher J. Krishnamurti. A journalist once asked him if anyone else could attain his state of consciousness. He replied, “Christopher Columbus went to America in a sailing ship; we can go by jet.” I decided to go a bit faster with two little tools at my disposal: a microwave and a centrifuge.
Four and a half minutes in the microwave, and brown butter was made. A quick ten minute spin in the centrifuge pushed all the solids to the bottom of the container, and my butter was done. No skimming, no greasy cheesecloth. By jet, I say!
Next up: a constructed cheese. Now, what does that mean? The concept is this: take a delicious aged hard cheese, but give it the gooey texture of fondue or melted American cheese. Yes, it is true: what we are doing here is making homemade processed cheese food. Gourmet Cheese Whiz.
So I needed some special salts to hold the emulsion once the cheese has been melted, specifically to prevent oil from separating from the rest of the mixture. In this case, it would be sodium citrate and sodium phosphate. The former is the salt of citric acid, and the latter the salt of phosphoric acid. Of course, this being Modernist Cuisine, not any sodium phosphate can be used. No, Fibrisol® brand Joha® SDS2 sodium phosphate is exactly what is needed to get this accomplished. It is not sold in stores or online. A tall order. But I am not one to quit easily. An Internet search, a few phone calls, and I managed to get two pounds of the stuff for free. Sweet.
Also in the recipe is some whey protein concentrate, which I found online with the familiar Bob’s Red Mill brand. I’m not sure why it’s needed – the information on the page seems to imply the protein level of the cheese needs to be upped a bit to get the texture we’re looking for. So, with the additives at hand, and a nice chunk of Gruyère, I was ready to go.
After melting all the ingredients together, I had to check the pH level to make sure the emulsion was stable. It just so happens Scott gave me a pH meter for my birthday last week (the ultimate in nerdism, I know). So I stuck it in the hot cheesy goo, hoping to see 5.9. I did not get that.
The book says if the pH is too high, the emulsion won’t hold. It suggests to add more of the salts until the desired pH is reached. I found, however, that the pH went up as I added salts. I finally decided just to give it a rest and hope for the best. It sure looked – and tasted – good coming off the stove.
Finally, the omelet itself. I have been reading On Food And Cooking by Harold McGee, and have gotten pretty good at making omelets on the stove, now that I know the principals behind the cooking of eggs. But of course leave it to Modernist Cuisine to show me another way. And this way is really cool.
Just beat some eggs, cream and salt (with an added yolk for creamy goodness), pour it in a pan, and steam it in a combi oven for 7 minutes. And out came those kind of omelet texture you only seem to see at family dinner joints: uniform, even, and spongy.
I am really digging my combi oven.
Putting It All Together
So, now that I had all my main components, I could make the filling and make the thing. The filling includes a brunoise of French ham, plus chervil, chives and tarragon. OK, so French ham. I live in the Northwest of the US, so I think I can get something local that’s just as tasty. And so I went to my local butcher and did just that. My local grocer had the herbs. I was set.
I cooked the ham in a little brown butter and mixed it in with the chopped herbs and some of the cheese. I then filled up my omelets, brushed them with brown butter, and put them in the combi oven for four minutes.
And how was it? Presentation wise, not so great. My combi oven pan is larger than the recommended size in the recipe, so the egg sheet was thinner coming out, and tore easily. Next time I’ll need to use more eggs. But the flavor? Amazing. Regardless of the technique it’s all about the flavor, and the herbs with the Gruyère and ham and brown butter…ah. So good. And now I have an awesome Gruyère cheese spread to put on, I don’t know, everything. It’s not just for breakfast anymore.