Oct 28, 2023 Food
The egg: a smooth spherical vehicle, launchpad for many possibilities, of which every culture, country and person has their favourite. They are a prized ingredient across the globe — practical, beautiful and versatile. I don’t care about the cheesiness of rhapsodising something so mundane, because eggs deserve it. As long as I have one in the pantry, I have a meal. Their existence has sated my hunger in between grocery trips more times than I can count.
Wylie Dufresne, the chef who was a poster-boy for the molecular gastronomy movement of the early 2000s, loves eggs, too — so much so that he once applied his penchant for overcomplication to one of breakfast’s most enduring dishes, the eggs Benedict. He figured out a way to ‘fry’ hollandaise sauce, adding starch and gelatin to the mixture to create soft cubes. He deconstructed the egg, filling a piping-bag-esque plastic sleeve with seasoned yolk, cooking it in a waterbath and smearing it on the plate. The bacon was wisped, a process that took two days. Of the dish, he said, “My hope and belief is when you eat this dish you can be transported, reminded of your personal eggs Benedict moment.”
I remember reading this and thinking: but why? Why do that to one of the simplest pleasures of the culinary world?
However, after a few months of judging cafes, in which eggs emerged as a key factor in how good a place was, I would have welcomed even a wacky Dufresne-style Benedict. I was drawn back to overwrought, passé celebrations of my beloved egg — I was open to it all. I began to understand, intimately, the iron grip that eggs had over our early-morning lives. Even while I agonised over the similarity and repetitiveness of many egg dishes, eggs were still, inevitably, what I craved at 10am in the morning. I ordered them more times than not. Like so many of us fools, I’d been handily conditioned by a lifetime of personal eggs Benedict moments.
Our art director Simon orders poached eggs on toast almost every morning — sometimes with avocado, sometimes with bacon, sometimes with both. He calls it his “control”: a consistent benchmark in which to evaluate the merits of a breakfast place. Are the eggs perfectly poached? Is the bacon under- or overdone? Is there “weird shit” on it that distracts from the beautiful ritual simplicity that anchors the day in familiarity and reinforces the illusion that the world is predictable and regular and under control? Sometimes, of course, there is weird shit. Lots of cafes jazz their eggs on toast up, to varying degrees of effectiveness. Both Seabreeze and Chuffed allot a fistful of chives to the white mounds; Postal Service ’s avocado side is a guacamole-like number, smashed and mixed with spices; and Crave’s eggs come with a “coconut tandoori creme” spread on the toast, which ends up pooling on the plate. Simon’s favourite during judging season? Seabreeze, due to its thick-cut slice of sourdough. It really is the little things.
Other ways to avoid the boredom? I’ve liked eating eggs muddled with truffle oil and in between slices of shokupan at Mizu Bread ; fried on top of a bibimbap at Simon & Lee; in yoghurt and chilli butter at Honey Bones ; served omelette-style with octopus and prawn over fried rice at Pikuniku ; and laid on top of a potato hash spiced up with ’nduja at Duo Eatery .
Perhaps the basic perfection of the egg has been more on my mind of late with the price of a dozen going up and up and up, putting them out of reach as a daily food for many. (My cafe-judging increase in consumption of breakfast food coincided with the great egg shortage/price increase of 2023.) In honour of this becoming-ever-more-precious ingredient, I decided to ask a chef to come up with a few recipes that used eggs — and not just on toast.
I’d first heard of Freya de Beer Smith through her lockdown venture, Pomona Deli, and its line of preserved deli goods that started appearing in the cafe and bakery Florets in Grey Lynn. They were spreads, preserves and other tasty bits and pieces, things that you might spread on top of toast or mix into a salad to impress someone at a dinner party. I especially liked the potato sourdough skordalia, a dip made from potato and bread, spiked heavily with garlic and olive oil — it fulfilled my deep passion for carbs on carbs on carbs.
De Beer Smith had attended pastry school but started losing her love of sweet things after constantly tasting the sweet dishes they made. She left and started working in hospitality, where she slowly learned to cook savoury, starting with salads, sandwiches and cold dishes. Mostly, she taught herself, scouring the library for cookbooks and reading them “like novels”. Then she found a job running the kitchen at The Midnight Baker, a now-closed cafe on Dominion Rd in Mt Eden known for its dense, nutritious, gluten-free bread.
Pomona Deli had been in the works, vaguely, for five or so years: just brainstormed ideas that needed refining. But during lockdown in 2020, when de Beer Smith was unable to work, she found the time and motivation to kickstart Pomona into gear. She originally planned her own online store, and reached out to Maya Handley, the owner of Florets, wanting to stock her beautiful bread there. In the end, the plan was reversed — de Beer Smith began stocking Pomona at Florets instead and working there a couple days a week.
De Beer Smith also throws supper clubs — fun communal dinners that include many courses and much experimentation, alongside more casual Blue Plate dinners, where the food is heartier and more family-style. She likes to do events which force her outside of her comfort zone (“that’s really where you thrive, Frey,” says Zoe Dunster, our photographer on the shoot and also a friend of Freya’s): specifically where art and food meet. One collaboration between de Beer Smith and puppeteer Tom Tuke saw a performance matched with a dine-in menu; she hopes this will become a regular event, a fruitful avenue to explore.
And how, Freya, do you like to eat your eggs? Soft-boiled, she says, with some black bean chilli oil.
2 large eggs
Pinch of salt
½ tsp cornflour
1 Tbsp water
Whisk the eggs with the salt. Mix together the cornflour and water until there are no lumps, and stir into the eggs until thoroughly combined.
Pour the egg mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any egg whites that haven’t broken down.
Heat a pan over medium-low heat and brush with a small amount of oil. Reduce the heat to low and pour in a small amount of the egg mixture. Tilt the pan to spread the mixture until it forms an even layer, the thickness of a crepe.
The egg crepe is ready to be flipped when the edge starts to come away from the pan and the middle is just set. Flip it over for about 10 seconds to set the other side, then transfer to a plate to cool. Repeat with the remaining egg mixture, oiling the pan between crepes. Stack on top of each other.
Once the crepes have cooled, roll them into a tight cylinder and cut into noodles of your desired thickness.
The noodles can now be used in a variety of different dishes. Stir-fry them, add them to soup or simply toss with chilli oil.
3 large eggs
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated, plus more to serve
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
Pinch of nutmeg, freshly ground
1 clove garlic, finely grated
Zest of 4 lemons
2L chicken stock
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
Lemon, to serve
Whisk eggs. Add Parmesan, parsley and nutmeg to the eggs and stir in. Pour into a jug or bowl with a pouring spout.
Add the garlic and lemon zest to the stock and place over a medium-high heat. When it begins to boil, reduce heat to medium-low. Gently stir the stock in a circular motion and slowly pour the egg mixture in, while continuing to stir. Once all the egg mixture has been added, stop stirring and let it simmer for another minute.
Remove from the heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve with Parmesan and freshly squeezed lemon.
2 large eggs
Pinch of salt
Stock or water, double the volume of the whisked eggs
20ml Shaoxing wine
Spring onion or chives, finely chopped (optional)
Light soy sauce, to taste
Sesame oil, to taste
Whisk the eggs with the salt.
Warm the stock or water slightly.
Add the warm stock or water and the Shaoxing wine to the eggs.
Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any whites that haven’t broken down. Pour the mixture into two small serving bowls. Sprinkle with spring onion or chives if using.
Cover each bowl with cling film and pierce a few times with a knife to let the steam escape during cooking.
Place the bowls in a steamer and steam for 10–12 minutes, until the custard is completely set on the outside, with a slight jiggle in the middle. Remove the bowls from the steamer and take off the clingfilm. Set aside for 10 minutes.
Before serving, score the top of the custard with a knife and top with soy sauce and sesame oil.