Salvador Dalí had a thing for eggs. The roof of his seaside house in Cadaques, Spain was crowned with sculptures of huge white eggs, as were the turrets of his museum in Figueres. Eggs are, famously, a motif in Dalí's paintings: An egg balances on the back of “The Great Masturbator,” and a flower sprouts from an egg in “Metamorphosis of Narcissus.” In “Eggs on a Plate without the Plate,” a drippy fried egg, tied to a string, dangles against a yellow sky. In the 1970 film A Soft Self-Portrait of Salvador Dalí, the artist and his wife, Gala, hatch from a human-sized egg on a beach. For the famous surrealist, who died in 1989, the egg was an inexhaustible symbol, suggesting birth, sexuality, hope, and the intrauterine world.
It was also one of his favorite breakfast foods, as evidenced by the many egg dishes in Les Diners de Gala, the cookbook that Dalí illustrated and compiled in 1973. Only around 400 copies of the original edition survive, but now, it’s being reprinted for the first time in 40 years by Taschen.
You won’t find typical breakfast scrambles here: Surrealism permeated every aspect of Dalí's life, and the way he ate was no exception. Many of the 136 recipes featured were inspired by the Dalí and Gala’s theatrical dinner parties, at which guests were required to wear wacky costumes and monkeys and a lion roamed around the dining room.
At age six, Dalí aspired to become a chef, and though he became an artist instead, he maintained that “the Jaw is our best tool to grasp philosophical knowledge.” In addition to magnificent illustrations, Les Diners de Gala is peppered with Dalí's musings on “gastro-esthetics,’ one of which illuminates his obsession with eggs:
“I only like to eat what has a clear and intelligible form. If I hate that detestable degrading vegetable called spinach it is because it is shapeless, like Liberty. I attribute capital esthetic and moral values to food in general, and to spinach in particular. The opposite of shapeless spinach, is armor. I love eating suits of arms, in fact I love all shell fish… food that only a battle to peel makes it vulnerable to the conquest of our palate."
Eggshells, too, are a version of “suits of arms.” And so, by Dalinian logic, seafood and egg-based recipes are lumped into the same chapter, titled “Les Cannibalismes de L’Automne” (Autumn Cannibalism). Many of these dishes are bizarre and elaborate enough to double as surrealist art pieces in themselves. They showcase the sculptural qualities of the ovoid shell—“a clear and intelligible form”—and the shape-shifting properties of the yolk and the white.
There’s “Eggs on a Spit,” for example, a kind of magic trick that lets you fill intact eggshells with sausage scramble. It requires the chef to poke holes in the ends of eggshells with needles, blow out their contents into a bowl, scramble them up with ground sausage, then carefully pour the scramble back into the shells through the little holes, slide the filled-up egg shells onto a spit, like an egg-kebab, and cook them over a fire. (“It is fun to present this dish, which is also good to eat,” Dali writes.) “Thousand Year Old Eggs,” “one of the crowns of Chinese cuisine,” are a version of pickled eggs, refrigerated for weeks in cloves, sugar, lemon, and thyme.
The simplest of the breakfast recipes in Les Diners de Gala is for “Goose Eggs,” which, “of course… are nothing but hen’s eggs,” Dalí explains. “We are simply going to transform them.”
On Sunday morning, I cooked a bastardized version of Goose Eggs. The recipe, a strange spinoff of Scotch Eggs and Deviled Eggs, called for goose “rillettes,” a type of prepared meat similar to pâté. Being stingy and not European, I used bacon instead. Dalí was a fan of bacon—it features in the recipe for “Conger of the Rising Sun,” which combines conger eel with bacon, and in “Calf’s brains with bacon,” which is just that. He also scoffed at health freaks: “If you are a disciple of one of those calorie-counters who turn the joys of eating into a form of punishment, close this book at once; it is too lively, too aggressive and far too impertinent for you,” reads the foreword of Les Diners de Gala.
A Goose Egg is a little like a Kinder Surprise Egg for carnivores: Instead of a toy, it contains secret meat.
Salvador Dalí's Goose Eggs
Of course, these are nothing but hen’s eggs. We are simply going to transform them.
Prepare hard boiled eggs by cooking them for 10 minutes in salted boiling water. Rinse well in cold water before shelling.
Cut the eggs in half, lengthwise, and being careful not to break the whites, take out the yolks with a teaspoon.
Mix the yolks with a container of “rillettes” and taste for seasoning.
Using the teaspoon, fill half the egg whites with the stuffing and cover them with the other half of the egg whites. Roll them in egg yolk, then in oil and in breadcrumbs.
Before serving, throw the eggs into boiling hot shortening for 3 minutes, just long enough to give them a nice color. Brown on all sides.
Making Goose Eggs immediately called up an image from Dalí's work: Cutting the hard boiled eggs in half, lengthwise, echoed the grotesque eyeball-slicing scene in the 1928 short film “Un Chien Andalou.” The rest of the process was kind of gross, too: Reassembling the sliced-in-half hard boiled egg whites after filling their yolk-holes with bacon felt like some sort of surgical procedure, like trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again after giving him bacon implants. Rolling the reassembled boiled eggs around in raw yolk before breading them also felt creepy, like coating Humpty Dumpty in his own guts.
These images killed my appetite for a minute. As Dalí put it in his musings on “gastro-esthetics,” “Disgust is the ever present watchman of my table, sternly overseeing my meals obliging me to choose my food with caution.” A brave friend tried the Goose Eggs first, and declared them safe to eat: “Greasy, but good.” With our jaws, we grasped the philosophical knowledge within the egg transformed.