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Here at Food52, we love recipes—but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.
Today: A tale of two rival egg salads—and how to make both.
Left: California Egg Salad; right: a Tennessee rendition.
"Egg salad, I love you because you never change. You are gloppy, humble, and just indulgent enough. The color of butter."
This was the start of an email from Home and Design Editor Amanda Sims to myself. It sounds like this email thread might become a love note to egg salad between two fans, but things got heated—one might say snarky. It turns out some egg salads can be so disparate, they shouldn't even share the same name, as is the case with mine and Amanda's egg salads. Amanda's has Tennessee roots (her dad made it for her growing up), while mine is "California-inspired."
What follows is a real transcript of our conversation. Read on to find out how to make each version (and to how to add your own twist, too):
Left: The start of California Egg Salad; right: The few components of Tennessee Egg Salad. The eggs, salt, and pepper are in the middle—neither of us can make egg salad without those.
Oh, the places your egg salad have never been. Let me eggsplain: Mine is not indulgent, nor is it gloppy. There is no mayo. In mine you will find cornichons. And other green things. Not so much yolk. Maybe yours is more of an egg thing, and mine is more of a salad. I'll make you mine, if you make me yours.
Who said mayo? Okay, there is some. And a squiggle of yellow mustard, a generous shake of salt. Plus something funky, tangy, sour, splashable. Tiny French pickles in your egg salad? Are you insane?
But what's the point of egg salad, gloppy or fully of weeds, if it won't stick to a slice of bread? Tell me what holds your health salad together, what binds one egg flake to another? Accordingly, how do you chop?
Sent from my iPhone
Left, California Salad: made by using an egg-slicer and only a portion of the yolks; right, Tennessee Salad: nuggets and shards by way of knife.
"Sent from my iPhone" huh? Couldn't wait till you were home to knock my egg salad, which you have not even tried yet. Which you know so little about. Foolish, you.
My egg salad uses Greek yogurt to bind, celery for crunch, cornichon and Dijon for funk, some dill or chives because green things, and loads of s+p.
Despite your quickness to judge (hate), I will concede that your query about chopping is a very wise one. I am a fan of the egg slicer, a highly useful—albeit inessential—tool. I slice one way, rotate the egg 90 degrees, and slice again, so there's a mess of kind of chunky slices. There is likely a better way to go about things, but this is how I do it.
Okay, okay—it sounds delicious, even if it's taken a long frolic through the garden. My egg salad is admittedly a bit of a curmudgeon, wary of change, but perhaps these two are just brothers long estranged. I see you tang with yogurt, though I favor the (maybe more aggressive) hit of apple cider vinegar to bring the mix together.
Still, I admit I am surprised at your use of the egg slicer with such an anything-goes dish, but a "mess of kind of chunky" does intrigue me—especially if the egg bits are teeny tiny as I bet they be. I like to slice with a butter knife while holding the egg in my hand (also pivoting 90 degrees), so the pieces are a tangle of nuggets and shards.
How do you eat yours? Cold? With a spoon? On burnt toast? On soft white bread? (These are my ways.)
I am delighted by your rhyme. And that you have opened up to my salad. Yours sounds comforting, like a hug, like what you want from eggs. Do you slather your bread with mayonnaise?
My egg salad is most at home between a slice of wheat toast and sprouts or some such. It also likes to be scooped up by crackers, and it lays lazily in a bed of greens. It's California Egg Salad, after all.
I just toast the bread (burned works, too) and slather it with egg salad. Eat like it's a tartine, which it would be if it lived with your salad in California.
Having just awoken, I can imagine eating your egg salad for breakfast, being hearty, healthy, and greened. Mine's more of lunch break life saver, or a snack (as mentioned, cold on a spoon).
Sent from my iPhone
How to Make Egg Salad Without a Recipe
2. Cool. A bowl of ice water speeds this up.
3. Chop. The shape doesn't affect the flavor—just chop according to your mood. Feeling type A? Use an egg slicer to make straight-sided pieces. Too tired to deal with sharp tools? A butter knife will break the eggs into jagged edges. If you're really on your game, use a sharp knife and dice your eggs like onions. For a rustic salad, we won't tell anyone if you just tear the eggs up with your hands.
4. Bind. Whether you're more of a mayonnaise or Greek yogurt type, choose a neutrally-flavored binding agent (something with at least a little fat!) to bring the egg salad together. Olive oil would likely do the trick, too.
5. Flavor. A deliciously simple egg salad (Tennessee-style) can be made with a squiggle of yellow mustard and a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar to perk it up. For California egg salad, add celery for crunch, dill and chives for additional oomph, and diced capers and cornichons for a briny bite. The key is to use a similar dice for all ingredients (including the eggs), but anything you'd add to an omelette (bacon! fresh tomatoes!) besides cheese would be welcome here. Taste as you go, adjusting with salt and white pepper for balance.
6. Toast (optional). Toast any slice of bread you fancy, dollop it with egg salad, and then eat for any meal. Nobody will mind if you just go at it with a spoon, alternatively.
How do you like your egg salad—simple or updated? Share your ways in the comments.
Photos by James Ransom