I was reading an article the other day about the world's top hotels and was intrigued to see a reference to a dish one rarely hears about today, but which is still served every day at London's magnificent Savoy Hotel.
The classic Omelette Arnold Bennett, is a rich, smoky breakfast dish named after celebrated English novelist and playwright Arnold Bennett (1867 – 1931).
The story goes that the dish was created for Bennett in 1929 by Jean Baptiste Virlogeux, a chef at the Savoy, during his stay while writing an entire novel, Imperial Palace, set in the hotel. It's been on the Savoy's menu ever since.
While Bennett was busy scribbling away, Virlogeux perfected the omelette to such a degree that the author demanded it be made for him wherever he traveled anywhere in the world and hence its name.
It is a wonderful creation, a flat but fluffy open-faced omelette made with smoked fish. It's also one of those dishes that chefs like to experiment with so there are numinous iterations, but here's a simple version with ingredients readily available locally.
½ onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
½ tsp peppercorns
Grating of nutmeg
200g smoked tanigue
4 eggs, plus 2 yolks
20g parmesan/cheddar, finely grated
1 Tbsp chopped chives (optional)
Put the milk and 100ml of the cream in a small pan with the onion, bay leaf, peppercorns and a grating of nutmeg. Bring to a simmer, then take off the heat and leave to infuse for 30 minutes.
Strain the infused milk, discarding the solids, and return to the pan. Bring to a simmer, then add the fish, cutting it up if necessary to fit as much of it beneath the surface as possible. Take off the heat and leave to cook, removing it with a slotted spoon once it flakes easily (about five minutes, but may be longer depending on the thickness of the fish). Remove the skin, if necessary, and flake into large chunks.
Melt 25g butter in a small pan (you can use the same one) over a medium-low heat, then whisk in the flour. Cook for a couple of minutes, then gradually whisk in the fish poaching liquid and cook until it thickens. Take off the heat.
Whisk the egg yolks with the remaining cream, then very gradually whisk into the sauce. Stir in the fish and season to taste.
Heat the grill. Whisk the remaining eggs with a little seasoning (bearing in mind the fish will probably be quite salty), and heat half the remaining butter in a small omelette pan (or all of it in a larger pan if you want to make one to share) over a medium-high flame. When the foam subsides, pour in half the eggs (or all of them, as before) and shake the pan to cover the base, then leave until they start to bubble. Use a fork to draw the sides into the centre, at the same time tilting the pan to move any runny egg to the sides. When it is still a little loose in the middle, take off the heat and add half the sauce. Top with the cheese.
Repeat with the second omelette (if making two small ones), tipping the first on to a heatproof plate, then grill both until lightly golden. Top with chives and serve.
Omelette Arnold Bennett: a worthy tribute to a great writer.*