Why It Works
- Seasoning the eggs with salt first allows the salt to break down the eggs' protein structure, leading to a more tender omelette.
- Mixing the cheese with the sautéed ham and vegetables gets a jump-start on its melting.
- Adding a pinch of smoked paprika enhances the campfire aroma a Western omelette should have.
In some parts of the United States this omelette is known as a Western omelette; in others it's a Denver omelette. Either way, the names tell us everything we need to know about how to make this diner classic truly sing. It's not enough to just stuff some cooked onions, bell peppers, ham, and cheese into eggs; we need to harness the spirit of this creation. It should taste like you've just woken up on the prairie, the cows are grazing on dewy grass while your horse swats gnats with its tail; you set a cast iron skillet on the campfire and roast those vegetables over the smoky flames, charring them in spots. That's the flavor this omelette should evoke.
How do we do that? For starters, we make sure to cook the onion, bell pepper, and ham hard enough to brown them in spots, so that they start to pick up a smoky flavor all on their own. Then we add just a pinch of smoked paprika, which adds more peppery depth and a real kick of campfire smoke. (Don't have smoked paprika? Try one drop of liquid smoke, or just skip it—the omelette will still be very good.)
To make the omelette itself, we follow Kenji's method for a classic American-style one, with big, fluffy curds and some browning on the outside.
Take note, this recipe makes one whopper of an omelette, and while a hungry cattle driver could probably gobble the whole thing up all on their own, this is something most people (lookin' at you, city slickers!) will want to split in two.
- 5 large eggs
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black or white pepper
- 2 ounces (55g) grated cheddar, pepper Jack, or Swiss cheese
- 2 tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter, divided
- Half of one large green, red, or yellow bell pepper (4 oz; 110g), stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
- One quarter of one medium yellow onion (2 oz; 55g), cut into 1/2-inch dice
- Pinch smoked paprika
- 2 1/2 ounces (70g) ham (about 3 slices), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
In a medium mixing bowl, season eggs with salt and pepper, then whisk until homogeneous and frothy. Set aside.
Meanwhile, add cheese to a medium heatproof mixing bowl. In a 10-inch nonstick skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat, swirling, until lightly browned. Add bell pepper and onion, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Add ham and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables and ham are browned in spots and smell pleasantly smoky, about 5 minutes longer. Stir in smoked paprika and freshly ground black pepper. Scrape vegetables and ham into the cheese and stir to combine.
Wipe out skillet and set over medium heat. Add remaining 1 tablespoon butter and cook until melted and lightly browned. Re-whisk eggs until foamy, then add to skillet and cook, using a silicone spatula to push the edges in toward the center as they set and tilting the pan to spread the uncooked egg underneath. Continue pushing in the edges of the eggs and tilting the skillet, working all around the pan, until omelette is almost set, about 45 seconds.
Sprinkle ham, vegetables, and cheese over half of omelette, remove from heat, cover, and let omelette sit until mostly or fully cooked through on top (depending on your preferred consistency), about 1 minute.
Using silicone spatula, loosen the edges of the omelette from skillet and shake skillet to ensure that it's not stuck. Carefully fold omelette in half to enclose the filling, then slide it onto a serving plate and serve immediately.
10-inch nonstick skillet, silicone spatula
Make-Ahead and Storage
This omelette is best made right before serving.