Throwback Thursday: Michael Olivier’s famous curried eggs

Throwback Thursday: Michael Olivier’s famous curried eggs
Michael Olivier called this favourite recipe ‘simple curried eggs’. (Photography in the book by Mike Robinson and Athabile Mpofu)

Fans of the late, beloved Michael Olivier have been asking for his recipes, but the most requested of them all is his take on a classic of Cape cuisine: Curried eggs.

Michael Olivier adored food, wine and people, and the title of his final book, Friends. Food. Flavour. Great South African Recipes (Penguin Books) underscores what mattered most to him.

Michael left us recently, and I paid tribute to him here. He had fine insights into many things regarding food and cooking. One of them is related to his curried eggs. It’s a famous recipe for “essence of curry, a perfect base sauce”, which he wrote about on his website here.

The recipe is for the essence that was added to the mayonnaise that went into the preparation of what became Coronation Chicken when Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953. Rosemary Hume, who was co-creator of the recipe, had been his lecturer.

He wrote on his website: “When Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in June 1953, my Cookery Teacher in London at the Cordon Bleu Cookery School was invited to prepare a celebratory luncheon dish for Her Majesty on the great day. She made a curry ‘essence’ which was added to Mayonnaise and served it with Chicken, the legendary Coronation Chicken aka Poulet Reine Elizabeth.”

“A huge favourite in our house,” wrote Michael in Friends. Food. Flavour, “especially as a vegetarian option when our non-meat-eating friends come to lunch. Usually served simply with steamed basmati rice, Mrs Ball’s Peach Chutney (a real South African staple!), sliced banana and desiccated coconut. Some of us like it with a sambal of finely chopped ripe tomato and onion too.”

Michael Olivier’s curried egg sauce napped on hard boiled eggs, from his website. (Photo: Michael Olivier)

He attributed the essence to the Constance Spry Cookery Book (1956) which was written by Spry in association with Hume. They were among the leading food writers in London at the time.

Near the end of his life, Michael included the recipe for his curried eggs in Friends. Food. Flavour. We publish it with the permission of Penguin Random House.

Simple Curried Eggs

(Serves 4)


8 extra-large free-range eggs

3 onions, thinly sliced (reserve one for garnishing)

2 fat cloves of garlic, chopped

120 ml extra virgin olive oil

30 ml medium curry powder or garam masala (see p. 171)

1 tin (400 ml) coconut milk

½ tin (200 g) chopped peeled tomatoes (preferably Italian)

15 ml chutney

15 ml soft brown sugar

Juice of ½ lemon

Sea salt and freshly milled black pepper

50 g whole almonds, halved

50 g sultanas

Sprigs of fresh flat-leaf parsley

Steamed basmati rice for serving


Place the eggs in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour off the hot water and immediately put the saucepan under cold running water (add a few blocks of ice) while cracking the shells. Leave the water dribbling through the saucepan until the eggs are quite cold. This will prevent the eggs from getting a blue edge to the yolks. Remove the shells and place the eggs in a bowl. Cover with cold water and set aside.

Fry the slices of two of the onions and the garlic very slowly in 60 ml of the olive oil until soft and golden in colour. Add the curry powder and fry for about 2 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk and tomatoes and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10-12 minutes.

Add the chutney, brown sugar and lemon juice and season with sea salt and freshly milled black pepper.

In the meantime, fry the remaining onion in the remaining 60 ml olive oil until well browned and almost crisp. Remove carefully from the oil and drain on kitchen paper.

Fry the almonds in the same oil until light brown, and then follow with the sultanas (which will puff up), and briefly the parsley. Drain the almonds, sultanas and parsley on kitchen paper.

When ready to serve, heat the eggs in the sauce. Place the rice on a platter and spoon the eggs in the sauce down the centre. Garnish with the fried onions, almonds, sultanas and parsley. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Glenda Caine says:

    What a legend. I make the late great Mr Olivier’s Brown Sugar Meringues whenever the opportunity arises.

  • Jeremy Sampson says:

    What a great idea, and what a great distraction. Well done Tony and Michael would have loved it. But what to drink would be my next question. As Michael is no longer able to advise what say you Tony? And can we do this every week please?

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