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TODAY

Friday, August 23

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For a few of my childhood years, I lived on a farm. We had a huge garden, my mother canned a lot, we had cherry trees, apple trees, persimmon trees, and we had chickens. We started with about two dozen chickens. The thought was that we would be able to sell the eggs, we'd always have a supply of our own, and when they got old? Chicken soup.

It wasn't uncommon for us to end up with 15-18 dozen eggs a week. We did end up selling many of them, but some weeks we sold only a few dozen. And with a mother who would mutter "Waste not, want not," it meant that she found a lot of ways to prepare eggs, some better than others.

I began to despise them. I would literally break down in tears at the sight of another egg dish. Thankfully my younger brother, who I still occasionally call egghead, loved them and couldn't get enough of them, in any format.

From the age of 12 until the age of 25 I had a personal ban on eggs. My family would have eggs on Sunday, and I'd have a bowl of cereal. When I went to college, I would only buy eggs if I knew I was going to be baking so I could use them all before they went bad, because even as a poor college student I'd rather throw them away than eat scrambled, fried, boiled or over-easy eggs.

But when I moved to Chicago, something changed. Maybe it was all the wonderful diners, maybe it was a hangover, maybe it was the thought of hollandaise sauce that made me think an egg would be OK. But for the past nine or so years, I've slowly begun to enjoy eggs again. I often get them for breakfast in a variety of ways.

Imagine my surprise, though, when on a super-hot day, a day when the cats were both laying on their backs grumbling under their tuna-tinged breath about the heat, I got a craving for egg salad. I've tried a few of the standard recipes for egg salad, but they never satisfy me. So I decided to take what I like about the traditional egg salad (mayo, celery, a little raw onion) and add a few things that I like (olives, capers, mustard) to get something basic but not bland.

Before you can make egg salad, you have to have hard-boiled eggs. Should be the simplest thing on the earth to make, right? You boil some eggs, peel 'em and there you go. Ha! You'd think so. If you overcook the eggs, the yolk gets a greenish tinge around the outside. If you undercook the eggs, you get a yolk that's just runny enough to ruin any dish you put it in. They crack and leak. The shells pull off more of the white than you're left with for your recipe. It's just not as easy as it looks.

I've tried using Julia Child's 20-step process. It works, but I barely had the patience for it once, and I was too hungry to have the patience for it on a hot and grumpy day. So I turn to the experts at Cook's Illustrated. Surely they'd have a way to make hard-boiled eggs. They do, and it is so simple. The New Best Recipe from the editors of Cook's Illustrated has kept me happy for several months now. I've only read through the first 80 or so pages (yes, I read cookbooks from cover to cover) and I'm delighted that I have another 900 pages to go.

Anyway, place six eggs in the bottom of a saucepan. Make sure they're in a single-layer with a little bit of room to move. Cover them with water by one inch. Place the saucepan over a burner on high heat and leave the cover off. Once the pan boils, turn off the heat, cover it with a lid, and let it sit for 10 minutes. Get a large bowl and pour 1 quart of cold water into it. (That's two pint glasses, or a total of 16 cups.) Add one tray of ice cubes, or 18-20 ice cubes. Once the ten minutes is up, use a slotted spoon to transfer the eggs into the bowl of icewater. Let it sit for exactly five minutes. Take out one egg and tap it on the counter to crack the shell in several places. Place it between your hands and roll it back and forth a few times. Start at the wide end (where there is an air pocket) and peel off a bit of shell. Make sure you get the membrane and you should be able to peel off the shell in a long spiral or at least a few strips. Rinse it lightly to remove any shell bits and you now have a perfect hard-boiled egg.

Now that you've got eggs, you're ready to make them into a salad. Six eggs will be enough to get you about four sandwiches, so feel free to cut the recipe in half or double it as you see fit. And if you're really trying to cut back on fat and cholesterol, use two of the egg yolks for flavor and get rid of the other four. You'll have to let up on the salt a bit and add more of the other flavorings, but you'll still like the salad and feel better about eating it.

Classic Egg Salad (based on Cook's Illustrated, but not completely)
6 hard-boiled eggs
1/4 cup of mayonnaise
2 tablespoons of finely minced yellow onion
1 teaspoon of dried parsley flakes, or 1 tablespoon of fresh parsley minced
1 rib of celery, chopped fine
1 heaping teaspoon of hearty stone-ground mustard
1 tablespoon of capers, drained and chopped
2 tablespoons of olives, chopped
juice from 1/2 of a lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Mix everything together in a bowl. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper. Spread on bread and eat.

Derivation #1
Bacon, Horesradish, and Shallot
4 strips of bacon cooked until crisp and then crumbled
2 tablespoons of creamy horseradish
2 shallots, chopped fine

Prepare as above, but omit the yellow onion, use slightly less than 1/4 cup of mayonnaise, and taste before adding salt. You're eating eggs and mayo, what's a coupla strips of bacon gonna hurt?

Derivation #2
Anchovy and Sun-Dried Tomato
1 anchovy fillet, chopped fine
2 tablespoons of sun dried tomatoes, chopped fine

Stir the sun-dried tomatoes and the lemon juice into the mayonnaise and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Combine the rest of the ingredients. Taste before adding salt. (I know, I know. Anchovies, ew! But as an ingredient mixed with other flavorful ingredients, it mostly adds a smoky brininess, not an overly fishy flavor.)

Derivation #3
Yogurt, dill, and garlic
1/4 cup of plain yogurt (look for Greek yogurt if you can find it)
2-3 tablespoons of fresh, chopped dill
1 clove of garlic, minced or 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder

Prepare as above but omit the mayo, olives, capers and parsley. You may want to add extra lemon juice if you don't get Greek yogurt.

Derivation #4
2-3 tablespoons of cilantro
1 jalapeno, chopped fine (remove the seeds if you don't like spice, and remember to wash your hands carefully)
juice from 1 lime

Prepare as above but omit the parsley, the lemon juice, the capers and the olives. (I like to spread this on a tostada shell or eat in a corn tortilla instead of on bread. Or you can leave out the salt and eat it with tortilla chips.)

The good thing about eggs is how well they mix with just about any flavoring. You can add curry powder, watercress, sausage, cheese, or just about anything else that you like. Add flavorings lightly and taste between additions. Think about what you'd eat in an omelet, chop it finely and add it to your salad.

Have a favorite egg salad recipe, or derivation, you want to share? Add it in the comments.

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Comments

Paula / July 10, 2006 3:34 PM

Thanks Cinnamon! I have an egg share though my CSA and was struggling to use my dozen eggs every other week. I've previously sucked at making hard boiled eggs but your tips make it sound fool-proof. Now I'll be able to use up the eggs and save some $$ by brown bagging it for a couple of days each week without having to use the same varient of egg salad twice!

Hayley / July 12, 2006 9:45 AM

I, too, grew up on a farm, and after years of daily breakfast fryups, I couldn't look an egg in the face for many, many years. Now, though, a little egg salad sound pretty good. I think the trick is to not mash up the egg too much - keep it nice & chunky, or else the salad goes pasty/runny. And an extra few tablespoons of fresh parsley...

 

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