A brunch classic that deserves to be better known, much like the early 20th-century novelist it’s named after. Though Bennett himself seems to have enjoyed the dish as a post-theatre supper, this silky, smoky tangle of eggs, cheese and haddock is so ridiculously, deliciously rich that it’s best consumed well before bedtime … though I won’t judge you if you want to go back to bed afterwards.
Prep 5 min
Infuse 30 min
Cook 35 min
130ml double cream
1 bay leaf
½ tsp peppercorns
A grating of nutmeg
200g smoked white fish fillets (eg, sustainable smoked haddock or pollock)
4 eggsplus 2 egg yolks
20g parmesanfinely grated
1 tbsp chopped chivesto finish
1 Make the sauce ahead, if you like
Note that, depending on the size of your frying pan, you can make two individual omelettes or one big one to share. If possible, use an ovenproof one that can go under the grill. If you want to get ahead, make the recipe up to the end of step 5 the night before, and gently reheat the sauce the next day.
2 Infuse the milk
Roughly chop the onion, then put it, the milk and 100ml of the cream in a small pan with the 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, then pour the milk back into the pan.
3 Add the fish
Bring the milk to a simmer, then add the fish, cutting it up as necessary so as much of it as possible is submerged. Traditionally, this dish is made with smoked haddock, but any cold-smoked white fish will work, so use whatever is available and most sustainable locally; I’ve even been known to make it with kippers.
4 Leave to cook off the heat
Take the pan off the heat, cover and leave to sit for about five minutes (longer if the fish is particularly thick), until the fish is cooked enough so it flakes easily. Lift out the fish with a slotted spoon, peel off the skin, if necessary, then flake the flesh into large chunks. Pour the milk into a jug.
5 Finish the sauce
Melt 25g butter in a small pan (use the same one, to save on the washing-up) over a medium-low heat, then whisk in the flour and cook, stirring, for a minute or so. Gradually whisk in the infused milk, then cook, still stirring, until the sauce thickens to the consistency of double cream. Take the pan off the heat.
6 Add the egg yolks
Whisk the egg yolks with the remaining cream, then very gradually whisk this into the sauce. Stir in the flaked fish, then season to taste – you probably won’t need much salt, because smoked fish is quite salty already, but you may wish to add a little more pepper or nutmeg.
7 Start on the omelette
Heat the grill. Whisk the four eggs with a little seasoning, and heat half the remaining butter in a medium omelette pan (or all of it in a big frying pan, if making an omelette to share) over a medium-high flame. When the foam subsides, pour in half the eggs (or all of them, if making a large one) and shake the pan to cover the base.
8 Add the sauce and cheese
Leave the eggs until they begin to set and bubble, then use a fork to draw the sides of the omelette into the centre, at the same time tilting the pan to move any runny egg to the sides.
When the omelette is almost set, but still a little loose in the middle, take the pan off the heat, add half (or all) the fishy sauce and top with the grated cheese.
9 Finish under the grill
Put the omelette under the hot grill until lightly golden and bubbling on top. If you’re making two omelettes, tip the first one on to a heatproof plate and keep it somewhere warm while you make the second one. Top with the chopped chives and serve immediately – I usually just put the pan on the table and tuck in.