Egg salad has always been an economical mainstay to make at home or to pick up as a takeaway lunch. With a third of the global population quarantined or self-isolating during the coronavirus pandemic, now is a good time to revisit this simple, highly adaptable, high-in-protein food.
HuffPost asked several chefs and restaurant owners about their best tips for making egg salad.
“Egg salad is some of the best quarantine food, because it is affordable, easy, versatile and, of course, delicious,” said Julia Keister, owner of Lil’s Bagels in Covington, Kentucky. “You can make a lot for just a few dollars and pretty much eat it for any meal.”
Traditionally, egg salad is made from chopped hard-boiled eggs that are combined with mustard, vinegar and/or lemon juice, mayo and ingredients like onion and capers.
First, opinions on eggs vary.
“I think using the best-raised eggs you can find makes any egg dish taste better, especially something like this where eggs are really the highlight,” said Evan Hanczor, chef at the Brooklyn- and Tokyo-based Egg.
Chef Paul Sletten of Rockford, Illinois, restaurants Abreo, Social Urban Bar and Restaurant, and food truck Disco Chicken likes the “super deep orange yolk” of pasture-raised eggs. Sarah Schneider, founder of Egg Shop in New York City, also likes to use pasture-raised.
“That being said, I think everyone is trying to buy sustainable and organic when they can,” Schneider said. “It’s not always the most inexpensive option, so I think people should do what works best for them.”
Keister typically uses local, organic farm eggs, but said the kinds of eggs you use doesn’t make much difference ― “as long as you have a good recipe.”
Next, what kind of mayo should you use? Or do you even use mayo at all?
Egg Shop’s healthy recipe, which can be found in the restaurant’s cookbook, substitutes Greek yogurt for mayo. Schneider said she has “never liked mayo,” but mixing yogurt with olive oil becomes “mayo-light.”
“It’s a bit lighter and brighter,” she said. In the warmer months, Egg Shop serves the egg salad as a condiment on a chicken sandwich. “I love that egg salad is cold, which is why I crave it in the summer,” she said. “I also love that it can be many things to many different people. The openness to different flavour profiles is very on-trend, if you ask me.”
Sletten, however, is all about adding mayo, either Hellmann’s or his homemade version. “As a kid, my mum was a Hellmann’s mayonnaise connoisseur,” he said. “She’d lather that stuff on. When I’m not making my own, I stick with the Hellmann’s.”
At Local Foods in Houston, they mix eggs with house-made aioli, Dijon mustard, fresh chopped parsley, salt and pepper and a dash of truffle oil.
“The aioli is the secret to our egg salad,” said Dylan Murray, Local Foods’ owner and chef-partner. “It’s funny because aioli is an egg-based sauce, but that’s what gives the lush texture. The mustard provides the acid, and the parsley gives that fresh bright flavour. Egg salad is a comfort food but can be decadent at the same time.”
For his “pantry recipe,” Levi Rollins, owner of the Houston-based Urban Eats, likes to mix up eggs with cream cheese, mayo, truffle oil, onion and pesto. “My take is merely based on my love of truffle and fresh herbs,” Rollins said. “I also crave a thicker, creamier salad, hence the cream cheese.”
Another key to making egg salad is deciding whether to chop the eggs.
Keister said she chops them so they’ll have “some structure,” but Schneider smashes the hard-boiled eggs with her hands. “We like to be playful and get messy,” Schneider said. “Crushing the eggs with your hands can bring a sense of childlike wonder, and who doesn’t want to feel like that, especially right now?”
For Hanczor, the chopping decision depends on the kind of bread.
“If I’m serving egg salad on a baguette or bagel, I kind of like it a bit chunkier, so I’ll give the eggs a rough chop with a knife and they’ll break down a bit more in the bowl when mixing in the other ingredients,” he said. “If on a soft sliced bread, I’ll usually go for a smoother mixture.”
Ziggy Gruber, owner of Houston deli Kenny & Ziggy’s, whips his egg salad — similar to making devilled eggs — in a food processor.
“We use local eggs. We use only Hellmann’s mayonnaise and a little salt and a little pepper. Then we whip it,” Gruber said. “That is it. If you use quality eggs and quality mayonnaise, that’s all you need. We sell approximately 175 pounds [of egg salad] a week.”
Toppings And Mix-Ins
Toppings and mix-ins are just as important as the mayo.
Schneider likes to add bacon bits, and Keister enjoys a slice of crispy bacon on top of a sandwich. At home, Sletten will add Cajun seasoning. Schneider recommended sprinkling hot sauce into the base to give egg salad a spicy kick, and Hanczor suggested minced hot pickled peppers.
“I also like a little smoked paprika, which gives it all a more savoury, smoky flavour,” Hanczor said. “If you’ve ever had or seen pickled green coriander berries, those are probably my favourite addition to an egg salad. They offer an amazing salty, tangy pop, kind of like capers but with a bright, cilantro-y flavour.”
“For a creamy Japanese-style egg salad, I’ll toss in a small splash of milk,” Hanczor said. He adds Kewpie mayo to the mixture and serves the salad on Japanese milk bread or a soft pullman loaf.
Keister’s more traditional egg salad ― she adds red onion, dill, mayo and some spices ― was influenced by her time living in Brooklyn and visiting a bagel shop every weekend. She has concocted a Jewish deli-inspired sandwich called The Yenta sandwich: egg salad placed between slices of rye bread (or a bagel, if you prefer), pickled green tomatoes, lettuce and chopped liver.
However, there’s a has a catch: “Lil’s does have a secret ingredient in our egg salad that is not in most egg salads.” She wouldn’t divulge the secret.
Pre-Make Your Sandwich
Letting the egg salad marinate a bit can be an important part of the process.
“What I love about egg salad is, I love making it and then eating it later,” Sletten said. “There’s something about the level of the moisture that soaks into the bread. It kind of makes it this school-bag lunch sensation. You know how the sandwich kind of crumples up little and becomes one? I love that aspect of egg salad. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s a childhood memory thing.”
He suggested making the sandwiches — he prefers store-bought wheat bread — and letting them sit for a couple of days before consuming. “If you make it right away, it can be messy and sloppy and fall off the bread,” he said.
Hanczor also recommended making the mixture at least a day in advance so it can “meld into a consistent texture.”
Whether you keep to the classic style of egg salad or decide to get creative, you really can’t go wrong with a quarantine egg salad.
“There’s nothing that doesn’t go well with eggs,” Sletten said.
Keister added: “I always say, people should experiment and make food however they like it — that’s how new recipes are born and great food is invented. I am not sure if there are ingredients that don’t work, but I would say that less is more when it comes to egg salad. It is already a star on its own.”