~ My Kinda Cowboy Breakfast: A Denver Omelette ~
My phone conversation yesterday. "I'd like to order a Denver omelette with home fries and an order of French toast with a side of bacon." "Sorry m'am, we don't make Denver omelettes." Short pause. "Ok, do you make an omelette full of ham, bell peppers, onions and cheddar?" "Yes m'am, that's our Western omelette." Longer pause (where I'm calling from, as the crow flies, my gateway to the West is through Ohio to Chicago, which has zero to do with a Denver omelette). I wanted to say, "I think you mean Southwestern omelette", and further prove my point by explaining "our early trail blazers only had access to green peppers if and when they were in the American Southwest." Instead, I politely said, "That's great, I'll take one of those."
I know my omelettes, and, I'm not not here to say anything negative about Happy Valley's premier breakfast joint and beloved institution since 1966, The Waffle Shop. They will serve you a breakfast that will rival anyone's, anywhere. Their food is second to none, and, if you call ahead, you can pick it up to take home. This friendly AM word joust was my fault -- I should have gone on-line to peruse the menu before dialing. I just assumed everyone knows what a Denver omelette is -- a Southwestern omelette. Sigh.
How did a Southwestern omelette get made famous in Denver?
To make a long story short, call it Manifest Destiny: The 19th-century doctrine that the United States had the right and duty to expand throughout the North American continent. Denver, back in the manifest destiny days of the latter 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries in America was the hub where the East met the Southwest. We can thank the cowboys and their cattle drives through Mexico and Texas to the wide-open grazing spaces of Colorado for bringing the taste of the Texican Southwest to Denver, where Easterners bound for the Southwest got their first taste of their final destination. Fresh and dried peppers native to Mexico, wild onions which were picked along the way, and, cured ham, bacon and dried meats, which traveled well over the long haul -- all were staples of a well-stocked chuck wagon. As for eggs, live chickens were brought along on the journey by the cook. Cheddar? It didn't get added until decades later.
Back in 1978 I had the pleasure of watching what I believe to be one of the best mini-series ever aired on television: Centennial. This huge-budget, twelve-episode, 26-hour show, based upon James Michener's book, Centennial, though fiction, carefully documents the history of Colorado. One sub plot devotes quite a bit of time to a long and dangerous longhorn cattle drive from Texas to Colorado and the range wars that developed between the cattle ranchers in the area. Amongst a star-studded cast, the creative and entertaining Mexican cook, Nacho Gomez (played by Rafael Campos) was one of my favorite characters.
Think BIG breakfast: 3 eggs, lots of ham, vegetables & cheese!
If you were a cowboy on a cattle drive, whatever you ate for breakfast had to be substantial and the Denver omelette is a protein-packed meal in itself. It's said that this omelette started off as a melange of scrambled eggs, green peppers and onions that was placed on bread and eaten as a sandwich, which, makes sense to me, since it could be wrapped and taken to eat on-the-job. As far as modern-day omelettes go, this one defines "overstuffed", and, wherever you order it, expect it to come with home fries or hash browns and toast too -- and don't forget the hot sauce.
Save the thinly-sliced deli-meat for a girly sandwich. The manly ham in this omelette is supposed to be diced. If you have leftover holiday ham, use it -- it's perfect -- which is why I find myself making Denver omelettes around the Christmas or Easter holidays. If you don't, buy a ham steak. It cooks up in about 6 minutes, lends a nice smokey taste to the finished dish and yields enough meat to make six omelettes.
1 1-pound, center-cut, 1/2" thick, bone-in, fully-cooked ham steak, at room temperature
3 tablespoons salted butter
Place the ham in the pan, increase the heat to medium-high and saute until ham is beginning to brown around the edges and on the bottom, about 3 minutes per side, turning only once. Turn heat off.
Note: When making a Denver omelette, unless you want severely overcooked eggs, it's necessary to cook the veggies before adding them to the eggs. If you're cooking for a crowd and want to saute all of the vegetables at once don't discard the drippings in the skillet -- use them to saute the veggies as they are full of smoky flavor. If you're prepping ingredients to make 1-2 omelettes a day over the course a couple of days (which is how I normally do it for Joe and I), discard the drippings and saute a small batch in a bit of butter each day.
Section the ham into 5-6 pieces. The ham steak will show you where to make the cuts between the lines of fat. Next, trim each section of all visible fat and dice the ham into small 1/4" pieces. You will have about 3 cups, which is enough for six omelettes.
I add red bell peppers as well as the mandatory green ones because I like their sweet taste and color. Also, I like a lot of veggies in my omelette so I add the full 1 1/2 cups of each.
1-1 1/2 cups each: small diced green and red bell peppers
1-1 1/2 cups small diced scallions or sweet onion
~Step 1. To saute veggies for 1 omelette, melt 1 tablespoon salted butter in an 8" nonstick skillet. Add 1/4 cup each: diced green peppers, red peppers and onion. Lightly season with freshly-ground sea salt and black pepper. Saute until crunch tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in 1/3 cup diced ham and cook until ham is just heated through, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and set aside. Immediately prepare omelette according to the following directions:
For each omelette:
3 extra-large eggs
1/4 cup heavy or whipping cream
freshly-ground sea salt & peppercorn blend
1 tablespoon salted butter
1/3 cup grated white and yellow cheddar cheese blend
~Step 1. In a 1-cup measuring container, using a fork, vigorously whisk together the eggs, cream, salt and pepper. I use 4 coarse grinds of salt and 8 coarse grinds of pepper. Melt butter in skillet over low heat. Adjust heat to medium and add all of the egg mixture to skillet -- when making a Denver omelette, I error on the side of moderate heat to prevent over-browning. Lift pan from heat and tilt it to roll the egg mixture around the sides of the pan. Repeat lifting and rolling 2-3 more times until the bottom of omelette is beginning to set and the sides are firming up. Using a thin spatula, push the soft edges of the omelette back towards the center while gently lifting and tilting the pan to allow uncooked egg mixture to flow into the bottom.
~Step 2. The surface of the omelette should be moist, not wet. Lower the heat to medium-low. Add the cheese to half of the omelette and when it has partially melted, about 45-60 seconds, top the cheese with all of the warm filling mixture. Turn the heat off. Using a wide spatula lift the unfilled side of the omelette up and over the filled side and allow omelette to sit in pan on the warm stovetop a minute, to allow the cheese to finish melting.
~ Step 3. Hold the skillet over a 9" serving plate, tilt it downwards, and, using the aid of the wide spatula placed at the folded side of the omelette, gently push and slide it, don't lift the omelette, down onto the plate. Once you transfer the omelette to the plate, serve with buttered toast and hash browns or home fries.
Pretty as a picture, perfectly cooked & festive too...
Special Equipment List: 12" nonstick skillet; fork; spatula; cutting board; chef's knife; 8" omelette pan, preferably nonstick and 8" nonstick skillet or 2, 8" nonstick skillets; 1-cup measuring container; fork; thin spatula and/or wide spatula
Cook's Note: If it's a breakfast casserole with a Southwestern theme you're looking for, I have just the thing. My version of my Denver girlfriend, Robin Mullen's recipe, ~ Chilly-Day Comfort: Robin's Chile Rellenos Bake ~ can be found in Categories 3, 9, 13, 19 or 20. This one has received rave reviews from our Penn State tailgate group on more than one occasion!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)