I shudder to think that I spent decades of my life cowering in fear from egg salad, skittering past its place on the buffet table. It wasn’t until I was shamed about this disdain—in a job interview, nonetheless—that I started to rethink my preconceived notions.
Egg salad isn’t only that big tub-o’-mush next to never-touched red velvet cream cheese at the bagel shop. It isn’t only the beginning-to-crust bowl in the cafeteria. No! It can be fresh and flavorful and made at home, with identifiable, not-at-all mysterious ingredients. It can skip the mayonnaise altogether. It can cuddle up with a baguette or hold court on a plate, all its own. It can make friends with all of the ingredients in the refrigerator begging for companionship (that is, to be turned into dinner).
I might not jump up and down when faced with the premade grocery store stuff, but I do make egg salad home, on the reg, using eggs as a blank, buttery vehicle for the flavors I’m craving at that particular moment: An 11 p.m. egg salad might imagine itself as patatas bravas, with mayo, smoked paprika, tomato paste, and garlic, whereas an 8 a.m. egg salad is breakfast, with Greek yogurt, lemon juice, capers and a sprinkling of popped quinoa and watercress.
If you don’t already have a classic, ne’er-to-be-changed family rendition—heck, even if you believe you hate egg salad, too—take a look-see through the following guide for a version that you can call your own (along with a million more ideas to add to your to-make-now list).
1. Cooking your eggs:
Egg salad can be the ultimate salvation for your overcooked, slightly gray, busted eggs (who will know when they’re all dressed up?), but it can also be a destination for eggs you’ve boiled (and ice-bathed) with care and consideration.
If you’re cooking eggs anew, you’ll also have the opportunity to decide how soft you’d like them. I’d recommend cooking them for at least 7 minutes (assuming that you’re lowering those eggs into a pot of boiling water) so that the yolk doesn’t gush away from the white entirely. That still leaves a large range between liquid and chalky yolks. Keep in mind that loose egg yolks will mingle with your dressing, making for a gooier, richer sauce, while harder yolks will keep to themselves.
The few ideas I think might not work? Fried egg salad*, or poached egg salad, or scrambled egg salad. In those cases, try olive oil-fried eggs with yogurt and lemon, or eggs benedict, or fancy scrambled eggs for the texture and flavor complexity you're seeking.
* But wait! I’m wrong.
2. Cutting your eggs:
Roll your eyes all you want, but how you slice and dice your eggs will play a large role in your salad’s final character. And how finely you cut them depends, of course, on their final destination: Are you packing the salad on toast, in which case you might want a homogenous mixture that can adhere to the bread? Or are looking for bigger pieces to grab hold of with a fork?
You could go rustic like Nancy Silverton and hand-tear your eggs for the most cobbled texture. Or, for greater consistency without compromising chunkiness, simply halve or quarter the eggs (this is particularly good for softer eggs, which are too messy to dice).
For a pastier salad, pull out your egg slicer (some people swear by using it in two directions, for perfect squares), box grater, or pastry blender. You could even go crazy and do a little bit of everything (some chunked, some diced, some mashed) for a salad that’s comforting yet still intriguing.
One more consideration: You don’t have to use every bit of every egg. Remove some of the yolks for subdued richness or, heck, add a few more in if you’re really l-i-v-i-n-g.
3. Dressing your eggs:
Your turf, your rules. Sure, traditional egg salad is dressed with mayo and mustard, but eggs can handle most of the sauces you throw at them, if not all of them (like, don’t try hot fudge).
To stick with creamy but veer away from mayonnaise, try supplementing or replacing with yogurt (plain or Greek or labneh), sour cream, crème fraîche, cottage cheese, or a combination. For mayo that’s not from the jar, make your own, or go with garlicky aioli or Kewpie mayo, a slightly tangier Japanese version.
To any of those, add flavor with spice: crushed and toasted mustard seeds, smoked paprika, za’atar, curry powder, turmeric, or any of your other favorites. Or add a squirt of fish sauce, a tablespoon of lemon juice or pickle brine, or even a squeeze of tomato paste that you've toasted in a bit of olive oil.
Or turn to an oil-based dressing. For something herby, try pesto, or chimichurri, or gremolata, or any green sauce your refrigerator can give you. For something spicy, think harissa, sambal, gochujang, achaar, or chile oil.
Can’t decide what to do (hello and welcome to my life)? You can mix any of these options with some dairy (pesto plus yogurt, harissa with mayonnaise) for a little bit of both.
4. Accessorizing your eggs:
When it comes to completing your egg salad with all the bells and whistles, know that you want variety that yields balance—so, enough saltiness to compensate for the kinda bland eggs; enough acidity to cut through any fattiness from a creamy sauce; enough crunch for your squish; enough herbs for your yolks.
Pick and choose from the following:
- Punchy: Pickled peppers, cornichons, olives, capers, red onions, pickled onions, mustard (grainy or smooth); chopped sour pickles
- Crunchy: toasted nuts and seeds; chopped vegetables, like celery, radish, and cucumber; sizzled and chopped bacon; toasted buckwheat groats or quinoa; toasted panko; croutons!; potato chips
- Herbs and alliums and other green things: dill, chives, scallions, basil, cilantro, parsley, chervil, sprouts, shoots, tender greens like watercress, chickweed, arugula, and baby kale
- Wildcards: caramelized lemon slices, crumbled feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes
And don’t forget to taste your egg salad and season with salt and pepper.
5. Eating your eggs:
Well, that’s up to you. Even if you choose to scoop out your bagel and spoon your egg salad where the insides should be, we won’t judge you.
Rinky-dinky-pinky egg salad:
- Eggs: 8-minute; pickled with beets and pink peppercorns
- Chop: quartered
- Dressing: a smidge of the brine whisked with olive oil and sour cream
- Accessories: sliced beet (from the pickling), plus sliced shallots, soaked in ice water to stave off some of the bite; celery leaves
- Eggs: 10-minute
- Chop: rough chop
- Dressing: Yogurt loosened with olive oil and lemon juice, seasoned with mustard, fennel, and cumin seeds toasted in olive oil and chaat masala
- Accessories: chopped cilantro, sev (fried chickpea noodles), tamarind chutney
- Eggs: 10-minute
- Chop: egg slicer (diced)
- Dressing: finely chopped garlic and parsley mixed with olive oil and lemon zest (and an optional pounded anchovy)
- Accessories: oil-toasted bread crumbs
Egg salad that fancies itself patatas bravas:
- Eggs: 10-minute
- Chop: rough chop
- Dressing: mayo with pounded garlic, smoked paprika, and toasted tomato paste
- Accessories: charred and chopped scallions, roughly chopped smoked almonds
- Eggs: Momofuku’s soy sauce eggs
- Chop: quartered
- Dressing: Kewpie mayo plus a shake of fish sauce
- Accessories: toasted sesame seeds; a smattering of toasted panko; togarashi
- Eggs: 7-minute
- Chop: halved or quartered
- Dressing: Greek yogurt with lemon juice and olive oil
- Accessories: capers; sprouts or cress; toasted buckwheat groats