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Opulent Omelettes: A story and recipe from the Age of Enlightenment

Rooster tureen, porcelain figurine holding a basket, and knitted omelettes
2 weeks ago

The following is an excerpt from the new book The King’s Peas: Delectable Recipes and Their Stories from the Age of Enlightenment by Curator Emerita Meredith Chilton. A whimsical look at one of the most pivotal moments in culinary history, it’s filled with amusing stories and delectable recipes inspired by a food culture that’s still very much alive today. On November 4, celebrate the book launch and hear Meredith recount some of her favourite stories from both the publication and the exhibition Savour: Food Culture in the Age of Enlightenment. Click here to buy tickets.

Swiss-Style Stuffed Omelettes

Knitted omelettes on a ceramic plate

This recipe for rolled omelettes filled with spinach and Parmesan comes from Le cuisinier gascon (The Gascon cook), a cookbook attributed to Louis-Auguste II de Bourbon, Prince de Dombes (1700–1755), the grandson of Louis XIV and his mistress Francoise-Athenais de Montespan. The prince describes himself in the tongue-in-cheek, extravagantly worded introductory epistle as “one of the best Cooks of France.” Omelettes were extremely fashionable during the 1700s. They appear in most cookbooks, spelled in a wide variety of ways—here, in Le cuisinier gascon, they are called “omeletes.” Most entertaining is the “Hamlet” that appears in Mary Smith’s cookbook The Complete House-keeper, and Professed Cook of 1772.

Omeletes farcies à la Suisse (Swiss-Style Stuffed Omelettes)
Louis-Auguste II de Bourbon, Prince de Dombes (attributed), Le cuisinier gascon, 1747, pages 34–35

“Make half a dozen ‘omeletes’ with six eggs & a little cream, seasoned, a little salt; make them thin and large; once made, make an ordinary stuffing of sorrel, finished, you add to it some grated Parmesan, a few white bread crumbs, several minced hard-boiled egg yolks, and mix them all together. Place your omelettes on a napkin & stuff and roll them; once rolled, take a dish of the size you wish … arrange your omelettes cut into two in the base of the dish, and put more stuffing in the spaces between them, with a little cream; you have an omelette without stuffing that you put on the top as a cover, grate it with Parmesan and sprinkle with a little melted butter, & place in the oven for half an hour: once cooked with a good colour, serve hot.” The prince recommends the dish be served with thin slices of baguette, soaked in a little egg and fried, that can be placed around the stuffed omelettes.

Stuffed Omelettes in the Swiss Style
Inspired by the Prince de Dombes’s recipe
3 servings for lunch or supper

INGREDIENTS

Filling:
12 oz (350 g) fresh baby spinach, or sorrel, rinsed
1 tsp (5 g) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (50 g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 tbsp (12 g) fresh bread crumbs
2 hard-boiled egg yolks, minced
1/4 cup (60 ml) 15 % (single) cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg, optional

Omelettes:
A little unsalted butter, for cooking
6 large fresh eggs
3/4 cup (175 ml) 15 % (single) cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

To finish:
Generous 1/2 cup (50 g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Toasted baguette

METHOD

・ To prepare the filling: rinse the spinach and place the drenched leaves in a saucepan with no other water. Bring to a boil and cook for a few minutes until all the spinach has wilted. Remove to a colander and press with a wooden spoon or a potato masher to remove excess water. Chop the spinach.

・Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the cooked, chopped spinach, the Parmesan, bread crumbs, egg yolks, and cream. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add a little freshly grated nutmeg if desired. Cover and keep warm.

・ To prepare the omelettes: in a small bowl, whisk together 1 of the eggs, 2 tsp (10 ml) of the cream, salt, and freshly ground pepper to taste. Melt a very small knob of butter in an omelette pan with an inner flat surface of approximately 8 in (20 cm). Pour the egg mixture into the pan, swirling to cover the entire bottom surface of the pan. After cooking for 1 or 2 minutes, loosen the edges of the omelette and carefully turn over; cook for another minute and then turn the omelette out onto several sheets of paper towel. Repeat for each omelette and stack the cooked omelettes, one on top of the other, until all 6 omelettes are made.

Burnt to a Crisp

Painting of Louis XV

The Prince de Dombes was not the only noble amateur cook of the time. In 1726, a small “laboratory” containing a patisserie oven and several individual stoves was installed in Louis XV’s private apartments at Versailles. Occasionally, he prepared his own omelettes, something utterly unheard of during the reign of his predecessor, Louis XIV. In her memoirs, Madame du Barry wrote that the king once cooked and served an omelette for a small group of intimate friends: “The guests looked at each other with an air of consternation; nevertheless Louis XV proceeded to help each person to it, and then, taking a part himself, he said, ‘It is rather burnt, to be sure, but still quite eatable.’”

Not a home chef? CLAY restaurant’s Executive Chef Bianca Azupardo has adapted this recipe as part of a Savour-inspired prix fixe menu. Make a reservation today!

Images: [Knitted Omelette] Madame Tricot / Dominique Kaehler Schweizer (Switzerland, b. 1948). Swiss-Style Stuffed Omelette, 2019. Knitted wool. Collection of the artist [Tureen] Hen and chicks tureen, France, Sceaux, c. 1755. Tin-glazed earthenware (faïence). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. Gift of R. Thornton Wilson, in memory of Florence Ellsworth Wilson, 1954 [Figurine] Chicken and egg seller, Germany, Meissen, 1753–1754. Model attributed to Peter Reinicke (1715–1768). Hard-paste porcelain, enamels, and gilding. The Alan Shimmerman Collection


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