Omelets and frittatas are standard egg dishes known for their cooking ease and versatility. They are eaten not only for breakfast but also as a main dish for dinner. Both are made from eggs (as well as other similar ingredients), but they are clearly distinct recipes. So what is the difference between the omelet and frittata?
The beauty of an omelet is that it can be as simple as eggs and milk or as elaborate as spinach, tomato and feta cheese; you can add any ingredient you like and have a meal on the table in a matter of minutes.
The basic recipe calls for cooking a lightly whisked mixture of eggs, seasonings and milk (if you choose) in butter in a frying pan. The key here is that you don't stir the eggs once they are in the pan--you let them sit and cook until firm. If you choose, you can sprinkle fillings over the top--from cheese to vegetables to herbs to cooked meat--and then either fold in half or in thirds. What you end up with is somewhat of an egg pancake wrapped around a delicious filling.
We can make a frittata with the exact same ingredients as an omelet, but here the milk--or more preferably cream--is crucial. That's because a frittata is essentially a custard filled with any vegetables, herbs, cheese, meat and even pasta of your choosing, that is then cooked in a frying pan. Whereas an omelet's filling is just sprinkled on top of the egg, the frittata's additions need to be mixed in with the egg and cream before cooking.
The frittata can be cooked either in the oven or on the stovetop, but no matter which method is used it is almost always placed under the broiler at the end of cooking time. (The alternative is to flip over the frittata in the frying pan which can be very tricky.) This is to achieve the frittata's signature top golden crust.
Therefore, it is important to use a pan that is stovetop and oven safe.
In the strictest sense, the difference between the omelet and the frittata boils down to a matter of folding the cooked egg around the filling versus mixing the filling into the raw egg mixture. But there are a few other distinctions as well.
- To make an omelet, the eggs are whisked just until blended before cooking; when making a frittata, the egg mixture is whisked vigorously to help create the custard-like consistency.
- Both sides of the frittata are cooked while just the underside of the omelet touches the pan.
- A frittata is cooked slowly over low heat while an omelet is cooked quickly over a higher heat.
- Whereas omelets are served hot straight from the stove, frittatas are often served at room temperature, making them perfect to make ahead for brunches or larger groups.
Their origins also differ. The omelet is clearly French and has a long history dating back to perhaps as early as the 14th century. There is a legend that after eating an omelet for the first time made by a town's innkeeper, Napoleon Bonaparte ordered the people of the town to gather all of the eggs and make a giant omelet for his army to enjoy.
The frittata is what some people call an "Italian omelet," although the word frittata comes from the word "friggere" and roughly means fried. This egg dish's origin is a bit unclear and may have been influenced by the Spanish tortilla (layered potatoes with an egg base). It does seem, however, that it is not a dish you will find on menus in Italy, but more of a last-minute meal a home cook puts together using leftover ingredients.
Omelet Photo © 2009 Peggy Trowbridge Filippone