France is filled with pilgrimage sites, from places whose claim to fame is a bone from some obscure saint to Gothic cathedrals so grand that it’s easy to imagine the devout of the Middle Ages staring in awe at the rose Windows. Mont-Saint-Michel is in the latter category. It is a fortified rock, and depending on the tides, at times it is an island and at times not. At the summit is an ancient abbey, now visited by tourists instead of pilgrims. But lower down is a restaurant that once became the goal of my own pilgrimage, Le Restaurant de la Mère Poulard. La Mère Poulard and her descendants have long been famous for the almost mythical omelets of Mont-Saint-Michel. So one March weekend, determined to discover the secret, I set out to this demi-isle, just off the coast between Normandy and Brittany. Mont-Saint-Michel was beautiful, but the restaurant was clearly a tourist trap. The price of a plain omelet was about the same as for a T-bone for two in a top New York steak house. But I ventured in anyway and ordered the omelet, which arrived on an enormous platter, surrounded with what looked like some kind of sauce. When I asked the waiter whether this liquid was indeed a sauce he stiffened and, almost trembling with indignation, informed me, “Monsieur, c’est du beurre!”—roughly translatable as “It’s butter, you idiot.” Well, he was right and the omelet was a triumph. Later in the evening I was invited into the kitchen to watch the omelets being prepared. I’ve since figured out how to reproduce them at home.
Contrary to most recipes I’ve read for the famous omelets, the eggs are not separated (as though making a soufflé omelet) but are whisked up, by hand, until frothy in a copper bowl. (Fortunately you can also whisk them up in a noncopper bowl or in an electric mixer.) For this to work, the eggs must be slightly warm and you shouldn’t try whisking more than 4 or 5 eggs at once. In Mont-Saint-Michel, a fist-size chunk of butter is heated over a small fire in the hearth, until frothy, in a big copper omelet pan with a 5-foot [1.5 m] handle. The eggs are poured in, allowed to set for a minute or so, and another fist-size chunk of butter is set in the middle. The omelet sits there for another minute, is gently folded over in half, and is slid onto a platter. Here’s how I do it at home. If you don’t have a
Warm the eggs to body temperature by putting them (uncracked) in a bowl, covering them with warm water, and letting them sit for 10 minutes. Cut half of the butter into four equal slices. Crack the eggs into a large stainless Steel or copper bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat by hand for 10 minutes or in an electric mixer for 5 minutes, until the eggs triple in volume, and hold medium peaks.
Heat the butter you didn’t slice until it froths, over medium heat, in a
Slide a rubber spatula under the side of the omelet nearest the handle, and while lifting the pan up with your left hand, gently fold the omelet in half and slide it onto a warm platter. Serve immediately, cutting the omelet in half at the table and using a large spoon and spatula to serve it onto hot plates.
In Mont-Saint-Michel, the famous omelet is served with every imaginable flavor, both sweet and savory. I like the plain omelets best because they show off the flavor of the eggs and butter, but a sprinkling of Grand Marnier, a little cocoa powder and sugar, or fruit preserves turn the omelet into a lovely dessert. If you’re making an omelet for 1 serving, use 3 eggs and a 9-inch or 10-inch [23 or 25.5 cm] nonstick pan. If you’re making 2 omelets, beat the eggs in 2 batches, beating the second batch as soon as you pour the first batch into the pan. Instead of sliding the omelets into a 350°F[175°C/ gas mark 4] oven, keep the first omelet warm in a 250°F[120°C/gas mark ½] oven while you’re making the second one.
© 2002 James Peterson. All rights reserved.