Let’s Talk About Egg Salad. No, really.

Two eggs, ready for boiling!
Two eggs, ready for boiling!

I think there’s a reason why people joke about someone being so incompetent in the kitchen that “they can’t even boil an egg.”  Think you got that down?  You probably do.  You are probably way better and more knowledgeable at this than me.  I didn’t realize there were different techniques to boiling eggs.  I thought it was place eggs in water, boil til done, peel, and serve.  That, of course, was before I had a soft boiled egg.  And if you’ve ever had an egg turn powdery, or green, you have overcooked that egg.  That’s not normal!  And that powdery green is what turns most people off boiled eggs.  Which is a shame, because they can be divine.

There are four minute eggs, six minute eggs, eight, ten, and so on.  Each different cooking time produces a different kind of boiled egg.  For me, the perfect soft boiled egg is a six minute egg.  This produces a liquid golden yolk, and whites that aren’t runny.  This is the perfect egg for ramen.  It makes a lovely breakfast with some buttered toast and jam, or even on its own with just a bit of salt and pepper.  But for something like egg salad, an eight minute egg is better.

Soft boiled egg with goat cheese polenta, and topped with marinated tomatoes and onions and herbs.
Six minute soft boiled egg with goat cheese polenta, and topped with marinated tomatoes and onions and herbs.
Mincing onion and celery for egg salad.
Mincing onion and celery for egg salad.

I honestly think egg salad gets a bad rap, and I’ve had it on the brain lately because it has been unseasonably warm here in Tennessee, and I always make egg salad in the spring.  I honestly love a good, creamy, dilly egg salad.  It isn’t the prettiest dish, it probably lacks wow factor, but it is comforting, and reminds me of childhood.  And its pretty easy to make, except, perhaps, not quite as easy as people think.  I was actually surprised the other day when someone asked me for a recipe for it.  But as I thought about it, I thought, actually, that’s a question worth answering in a post.  I like practical tips, and I like technique, and frankly, we all too often abuse our eggs. Have you listened to this episode of The Splendid Table with John Besh where he talks about how to make a perfect egg?  Subtlety, really, is the key to eggs.

There are endless variations of egg salad – add some cajun seasoning, add some Asian spice, mash in some avocado.  Seriously, mashing in a good ripe avocado means a decadent and delicious though very green egg salad.  It’s really up to you.  What follows is a basic recipe for the egg salad I make most often – with an eight minute egg.  An eight minute egg produces an egg with a just-done but still creamy yolk, and slightly firmer egg white that hold up better to mashing.

Dilly Egg Salad with Eight Minute Eggs

1 dozen large eggs
1/4 of a large onion, preferably a purple or red onion for a more colorful presentation
1-2 stalks of celery (it adds extra crunch, which I like, but if you don’t you can omit)
1 bunch of fresh dill, or 2-3 tablespoon of dried
Mayonnaise to taste (I used about 2-3 tablespoons)
Salt and pepper to taste

First, it helps if you use slightly older eggs when boiling them.  This is because the albumen, or the bit between the white and the shell, is less strong then, and therefore your eggs are easier to peel.  Most recommendations I’ve seen are to use eggs that are about a month old.  Frankly, though, my husband and I go through a lot of eggs.  I don’t have eggs that have been hanging around that long, so when I peel them, they are often hard to peel.  I compensate by boiling two more eggs than I intend to peel, so I don’t lose out on volume.  There may be a better fix that you know for this – if so, tell me!

Second, I place a dozen eggs in the bottom of a pot and cover them with water – top them by about an inch.  Bring them to a boil, then cover, and remove from heat.  Set a timer for eight minutes.  At the eight minute mark, pour out the hot water, and flush with cool water.  Then add ice over the top of the eggs.  Then add more cold water, and let stand for 7-10 minutes, or until the eggs are cool.

Meanwhile, I mince 1/4 of a large onion, and 1-2 stalk of celery.  If I have fresh dill on hand, I mince about a half cup of dill.  You can add more or less to taste.  If you can’t get fresh (and I couldn’t right now because it really isn’t spring, so I had to use dried in the last batch) add 2-3 tablespoons of dried dill.

Peel the eggs, and place in a bowl.  Once all the eggs are peeled, I use a fork to mash my eggs, but you may also use a potato masher, or other device.

Once mashed, add mayonnaise a tablespoon at a time, and mix in until you reach your desired consistency and level of creaminess.  For me, the benefit of the softer boil for the eggs is that it takes less mayonnaise to make the egg salad creamy.

Once you’ve got your egg salad as creamy as you want it, add in the other ingredients – the onion, celery, and dill, and stir to combine.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve it on a bed of spinach, with crackers, or between two pieces of bread.  Have a different recipe or a variation?  Share it with us!


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