Frittatas versus omelettes and quiches
I see a frittata as being an egg dish halfway between an omelette and a quiche. An omelette is a thin layer of eggs, cooked in a skillet. The additional ingredients are placed on top of the eggs, which are folded over. A quiche is a thick layer of eggs (and milk, to make a custard) which may or may not be in a crust. The additional ingredients are mixed into the eggs. Because of its thickness, a quiche is baked for a considerable period of time in an oven in order to cook the eggs.
A frittata has the eggs thicker than an omelette but thinner than a quiche. The additional ingredients are usually mixed in with the eggs, like a quiche, but some may also be placed on top, like an omelette.
Given the similarity of frittatas, omelettes, and quiches, almost any idea or recipe for an omelette or quiche can be adapted and will work well for a frittata.
Frittata cooking options
The issue then becomes how do you cook a frittata? It can’t be completely cooked in a skillet on top of the stove like an omelette because the egg mixture is thicker. When the egg on the bottom is completely cooked, the egg on top will not be.
As I was starting my frittata cooking, I noticed that different recipes had very different instructions for cooking the frittata. I did some research on the web and found a variety of approaches.
One solution is to simply put the egg mixture in a pan and bake it in the oven. This is an attractive option when making a frittata for a large number of people, because you can just use a larger pan (or multiple pans). To me, this is too much like a crustless quiche, except the mixture includes just eggs, not the eggs and milk that would make a custard, as with a quiche. Some recipes have you finishing this up under the broiler to brown the top, which does differ from most quiches.
Other approaches start cooking the frittata in a skillet on top of the stove like an omelette. But this will only get you part way. The frittata, especially with the additional ingredients mixed in, is thicker than the eggs of an omelette. Cooking on the stove will get the bottom portion of the frittata cooked nicely, but not the top. You will have to do something else to finish cooking the frittata.
One method I saw suggested was to flip the frittata over and continue cooking on the stove to get what had been the top cooked. My reaction to this was, “Yea, right!” I’m supposed to turn the entire frittata over very neatly so it retains its shape and I will get a an attractive result? No way. I just do not see myself being able to get the frittata flipped over without it breaking apart and becoming a general mess. On to the next option.
After cooking the frittata partway on the stove, put the skillet in the oven and bake until the eggs are cooked through. This is a compromise with the oven-only method, would certainly work, and would be easy to do. I can see this as a very reasonable way to make the frittata and can see how many would choose this approach. But for me, this still seems a little too close to making a quiche.
Finally, the frittata can be finished under a broiler. It only takes a couple of minutes to finish cooking the eggs and to lightly brown the top. It may take experimenting a few times to get the distance from the broiler and the timing down. But doing the frittata this way gives it an attractive, browned top that is more consistent with the bottom having been cooked in a pan.
How I cook frittatas
I am going to describe in some detail how I make my one-person frittatas. But as with any cooking instructions, don’t feel you have to do things exactly this way. You can look at other recipes, find other suggestions, and figure out what works best for you.
For a one-person, 3-egg frittata, you will need a small skillet with sloping sides, often described as an omelette pan. A full-size skillet would allow the egg mixture to spread out too much and be too thin. And I strongly recommend using a pan with a non-stick coating. The handle will have to be something that will stand up to whichever way you are finishing up the frittata, oven or broiler. I use an 8-inch non-stick Calphalon omelette pan with a metal handle. Also, be sure to get a non-metal spatula suitable for use with the non-stick pan.
Getting ready, I have the solid ingredients prepped and in a bowl or on a plate. I have another, good-sized mixing bowl with the eggs and any spices and liquid ingredients added. Mix up the eggs. I use a wire whisk. You do not want to beat the mixture a lot, just enough to break up the eggs and mix in any other ingredients.
Add a small amount of oil to the pan. Most often I use vegetable oil (canola) but for some frittatas I choose olive oil. Just enough oil to barely coat the surface after you swish it around. Obviously you can use whatever oil you choose. Even though the pan has a non-stick surface, the small amount of oil helps further in preventing sticking and enhances the texture and flavor of the bottom of the frittata. Heat the pan over medium-high heat until it is quite hot. It should be hot enough so that if you sprinkle a drop of water in the pan, it sputters.
If the pan is hot and you dump a frittata mixture into the pan, it will almost always not stick because the eggs immediately set as they hit the hot pan. But at least in my experience, it is almost always that it does not stick. Sometimes, I would get still get portions of the bottom sticking a little and would have to try to get the spatula under the frittata to get it out. I think the reason for this is that not all of the solid ingredients have egg sticking to them as you dump the mixture into the pan. And frittatas very often include cheese. And cheese can really stick, even in a non-stick pan.
I’ll describe the way I have devised to start a frittata so it never sticks on the bottom. You can follow my extra step if you’d like or follow the easier and standard method of mixing everything together and dumping it in the pan all at once.
Once the pan is hot, I take a small amount of egg and pour it around in the pan, swirling it around to just coat the bottom. I most often use a quarter-cup measure cup as my ladle, probably about half full of egg. The egg will immediately set. Then, working quickly, I turn down the heat to medium-low, add the solid ingredients to the egg mixture, mix things together, and pour everything into the pan over the thin layer of eggs. I will use a wooden spoon to mix in the solid ingredients, push the mixture out of the bowl into the pan as I am pouring it, and if necessary, spread the mixture and the solid ingredients evenly in the pan.
At this point, I start preheating the broiler. I have the rack set so the frittata will be 6 to 7 inches away.
Cook the frittata on the stove for 5 minutes over medium-low heat. Put any additional ingredients you want on top the frittata before it goes under the broiler. (For some frittatas, I will add some additional shredded cheese on top at this point.)
Place the pan under the broiler. Cook until the top of the frittata is just starting to brown. For me, this is about 1-1/2 to 2 minutes. Here is where you will have to watch closely to get a feel for how it works with your broiler. And do watch closely, because the frittata can get overcooked and too brown very quickly.
Remove the frittata from the broiler. Remember that the handle will be very hot–you will need a good oven mitt. The frittata may need to be loosened up with the spatula around the sides, but then it should slide off nicely onto the serving plate.