Denver Omelette and the History of Eating Eggs

My first attempt (it tasted better than it looks)

The recipe I followed was from seriouseats. The following recipe is quartered to make one omelette.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 tablespoon canola oil (I used avocado oil)
  • 2 ounces thick cut ham, diced
  • 1/4 green pepper, stemmed, seeded, diced
  • 1/8 white onion, diced
  • 2 ounces button mushrooms, cleaned, stems removed, diced
  • 2 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 large eggs

DIRECTIONS

  1. Pour the oil into a large non-stick skillet. Turn the heat to medium high and add the diced ham. Cook, stirring often, until the ham is lightly browned and crisp, about two minutes.
  2. Add the green pepper, onion, and mushrooms to the skillet. Stir occasionally, and cook until the vegetables are tender but still a little crisp, about two minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer mixture to a bowl.
  3. Clean out the skillet, and then set back on the stove. Crack two eggs into a medium-sized bowl and whisk with a fork until combined. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Add ½ tablespoon of the butter to the skillet and turn the heat to medium-high. When melted, add the whisked eggs. Let the eggs cook for a few seconds. Then, using a spatula, push the cooked eggs towards the center of the pan, tilting the pan down to let the uncooked eggs drip towards the sides. When the middle is still a little runny, pile a quarter of the ham and onion mixture and a quarter of the cheese on half of the omelet. Carefully fold the omelet over. Let cook until the cheese melts, flipping halfway through. Transfer the omelet to a plate.
  4. Serve with salsa, hot sauce, sour cream, or however you’d like.

The Denver omelette is traditionally served with diced ham, bell peppers and onions. It’s often served in the southwestern United States, outlined below. Its namesake is the city of Denver, the capital of Colorado. Probably the most difficult thing about making something academic out of food is that records are scarce. But regardless, I hope to show you with this deceptively American recipe that globalization is nothing new.

First of all, it’s time to pay homage to the egg, as it is the one common element of all omelettes. The most popular source of eggs, chickens, were probably domesticated for its eggs from jungle fowl native to tropical India and Southeast Asia before 7500 B.C.E. Chickens spread to Sumer and Egypt about 1500 B.C.E. Quails were a popular choice in Europe before the chicken egg was diffused there about 800 B.C.E. There’s also evidence of ostrich and pelican eggs being used in Egypt. Due to the ease of domesticating hens, chicken eggs soon became the most popular type of egg over the centuries. As of 2011, there are over 19 billion chickens in the world, many of which (whom?) lay millions of eggs every day.

We’ll cover the origin of the word and the dish omelette when we do a traditional French omelette later on. For now, let me walk you through the origin of the ingredients in this dish.

Canola oil comes from heating and crushing canola, and then extracted and refined with a chemical process. Canola was developed by plant breeding from rapeseed. Before you think the question we’re all thinking, rapeseed and rape come from two different Latin words: rapere “seize, carry off by force, abduct” and Latin rapa, rapum “turnip” (influenced by many other Old languages). Canola was bred from rapeseed at the University of Manitoba in Canada in the early 1970s. In the 1970s, the Rapeseed Association of Canada chose the name “canola” to represent “Can” for Canada, and “ola” for oil. Today, it is one of the most common oils in the industrialized world.

Ham is pork that has been preserved through salting, smoking, or wet curing. (Curing can be used to call any food preservation and flavoring processes by the addition of combinations of salt, nitrates, nitrites, or sugar, with the aim of drawing moisture out of the food by the process of osmosis.) It originally meant just the hind leg of the pig. Cato the Elder, a Roman historian and senator, referred to ham as early as 160 B.C.E. The term “ham” is now protected in many countries, including the United States. From the Code of Federal Regulations: “the word ‘ham’, without any prefix indicating the species of animal from which derived, shall be used in labeling only in connection with the hind legs of swine.” Unfortunately, ham and other processed meats have been connected to cancer.

The domesticated pig itself is theorized to have been tamed from wild boars in the Tigris Basin as early as 13000 B.C.E. The first domesticated pigs in Europe were brought from this region. Pigs were brought to southeast North America in the 15th century by Hernando de Soto and other European explorers.

The Tigris Basin

The bell pepper is native to Mexico, Central and South America. Pepper seeds were exported to Spain in the late 15th century and soon spread to much of Eurasia. Botanically speaking, bell peppers are actually fruit.

Because of little archaeological evidence, there is no conclusive opinion about where onions originated. Many experts believe that they originated in central Asia, but others suggest that onions were first grown in the Middle East. Our ancestors probably discovered and started eating wild onions long before the agricultural revolution. Its cultivation soon became so widespread and rapid that it became very difficult to discern its place of origin. There is evidence of its use from ancient Egypt, India and China. Wild onion already grew in North America even before European contact. Such onions were used by Native Americans for food, medicine, dyes and even toys.

The word mushroom comes from Old French mousseron, in turn derived from Late Latin mussirio. Button mushrooms, which have many other names (its scientific name is Agaricus bisporus) make up more than 40% of mushrooms grown worldwide. Legend has it that a farmer near Paris in the 1600s discovered mushrooms growing on his fertilizer. He decided to cultivate it commercially and to introduce it in exclusive Parisian restaurants. It was at that time that the mushroom came to be associated with French haute cuisine. Later on, the French gardener, Chambry, discovered that caves had just the right environment for cultivating mushrooms. Soon after, large-scale mushroom cultivation developed in the caves around Paris. From there, it spread to England, the rest of Europe, China and then the United States. Eventually, productivity and development in cultivation transformed the mushroom from a delicacy to a common ingredient.

Thanks for reading, have an egg-cellent day.

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