Terry Durack on his decades-long affair with eggs

Memorable: Cafe Paci's spicy, buttery, devilled egg with sparkles of trout roe.
Memorable: Cafe Paci's spicy, buttery, devilled egg with sparkles of trout roe. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Ah, the eggs I have known. 

In the hundred years or so that I have been a restaurant critic, eggs have delivered some of the definitive dishes of my time. From Cafe Paci's spicy, buttery, devilled egg with sparkles of trout roe to Hubert's oeuf en gelée – a soft-cooked egg yolk encased in a shimmering dashi jelly – and O Tama Carey's fried egg hoppers at Lankan Filling Station, there have been dozens of brilliant, enterprising, imaginative benchmarks.

You can't talk eggs in this town without a doff of the cap to Bill Granger's scrambled eggs.
You can't talk eggs in this town without a doff of the cap to Bill Granger's scrambled eggs. Photo: Christopher Pearce

Cracking the fine-dining code

In the early days, eggs were confined to cafe breakfast menus and take-away burgers. Then along came Neil Perry's Asian omelette at Rockpool in The Rocks in 1989, with its velvety, fluffy texture; rich and generous crab meat strewn inside; and wham-bam, one-two, hits of fish sauce and oyster sauce. Neither eastern nor western, and certainly not fusion, it seemed emblematic of a proud new modern Australian cuisine. A sort of we-can-do-this dish.

Ten years later, it was Mark Best's chaud-froid (hot-cold) homage to French chef Alain Passard at Marque in Surry Hills that lifted the egg further into the realm of fine dining. You sent your little spoon down into the perfectly trimmed shell, through a cold cloud of whipped cream spiked with sherry vinegar, and into the warm, coddled egg yolk at the base; bringing it back up with chives and a touch of maple syrup. The effect was sweet, sour, hot and cold all at once, and quite shocking in its simplicity. Best learned the technique while working at Passard's Arpege in Paris in the 1990s, calling it his "culinary epiphany". It was one of ours, too. 

Celebrity eggs

The darling of all egg dishes is, of course, Peter Gilmore's masterpiece, the snow egg. Inspired by the French bistro classic oeuf a la neige, this charmingly light and lovely alchemy of toffee-crusted poached meringue with a rich ice-cream centre on a bed of granita and cream pulled an audience of 3.9 million during its 2010 final challenge appearance on MasterChef.

I realised that as beautiful as eggs are when you're dining out, they're even better when you cook them at home.

But you can't talk eggs in this town without a doff of the cap to Bill Granger's scrambled eggs, born at the original Bills cafe in Darlinghurst in 1990. Curdy, light and luscious, they have sustained me ever since.

When I moved to London for a few years, I took with me the same frypan they use at Bills cafes, the same flat-edged wooden paddle, and the same technique, so that I didn't have to live without them. And that's when I realised that as beautiful as eggs are when you're dining out, they're even better when you cook them at home.

Half a dozen ways with eggs

Tell me what you are cooking this weekend, and I will tell you to put an egg on top. Special fried rice? Egg on top. Avocado on toast? Egg on top. Chilli con carne, steak and chips, baked beans, kedgeree with smoked trout, any sort of noodle? All better with an egg on top.

Advertisement

I'm already hunting up inspiration for my Easter eggs on the cookbook shelf; trying to decide between Kepos Street Kitchen chef Michael Rantissi's baked shakshuka from Falafel for Breakfast, warm with paprika, cumin and coriander; or Martin Boetz's lovely Thai egg nets with pork, prawns and cucumber relish from Longrain, Modern Thai Food.

I have a slab of gruyere in the fridge, though, so maybe I should elevate my Easter cooking with the masterly twice-baked Souffle a la Suissesse from Damien Pignolet's French, or his surreally ethereal passionfruit souffle.

No, bugger it, I think I'll just do spaghetti carbonara again, and sizzle up some guanciale fat and egg yolks with pecorino and loads of pepper and pretend I'm back at Ristorante Roscioli in Rome. Eggs can be transporting that way, just as much as they can be stay-at-home comforting.

The darling of all egg dishes is Peter Gilmore's snow egg.
The darling of all egg dishes is Peter Gilmore's snow egg. Photo: Nikki To

Eggs are my safety zone

Knowing I have a dozen good eggs in the fridge makes me feel safe. Realising I don't have a dozen eggs in the fridge makes me go very quietly to pieces.  

My local cafe, Gypsy Espresso in Potts Point, used to have Vegemite toast soldiers with soft-boiled eggs on the menu. I never ordered it, because it felt one step too close to being a kid again, and I'm not sure I was that happy, as a kid. Now I long for them.

This weekend, of course, there are other eggs; foil-wrapped chocolate eggs; caramel-filled eggs; eggs filled with miniature eggs. They're all good – what's not good about officially sanctioned chocolate eating? – but for me, eggs aren't just for Easter. They're for all time.