This winning entry for the Salon Kitchen Challenge -- in which we asked readers to come up with their most wonderful egg salad -- comes to us courtesy of Nikki Stern. Check out this week's Challenge here.
I never knew my mother's mother; she died three months before I was born. Within a year, my grandfather had remarried his second cousin -- a 52-year old single New York City working woman we came to know as Aunt Ray. She was a tiny dynamo of 4-foot-6 and she filled my grandfather's life with joy.
Every year, my family visited her and "Grampa Newark," as we called him, in New Jersey. We always ate the same lunch at their apartment: egg salad, sliced rye bread, sliced tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, coffee and angel food cake. I have no idea if Aunt Ray could cook; the angel food cake was store-bought. But the egg salad was homemade and amazing: delicate and perfectly moist. Ray insisted there were only four ingredients: eggs, carrots, celery and mayonnaise, but I always thought there was a secret she wasn't sharing.
After college, my sister and I both ended up in New York and visits to Aunt Ray, by now a widow, continued for another 15 years. Again, we ate the familiar meal at lunch, but now she prepared it in front of us as we sat at the kitchen table and gabbed about our peripatetic lives. Finally we discovered the secret to her egg salad. Follow the recipe to the letter and you should only be so lucky to make egg salad as good as Ray's.
Aunt Ray's Amazing Egg Salad
The best egg salad starts with the best hard-boiled eggs. The size of the pot depends on how much egg salad you wish to make and how big your eggs are. As a main dish, assume you will need 2 eggs per person.
12 large eggs (no cracks in the shells)
6 stalks of celery
6 carrots of equal size (peeled)
Mayonnaise to bind: The amount may vary according to taste; but the egg salad shouldn't be too wet, so add a little at a time. And use real mayo.
Salt and pepper to taste
- Let eggs come to room temperature and place carefully in one layer in a pot. Every egg should touch the bottom and have a little wiggle room from side to side, but not too much. Cover the eggs with tap water. No salt is needed.
- Bring the eggs to a rolling boil, then turn off the heat source and cover. Let sit for 15 minutes. No peeking.
- Run under cold water until cool to the touch. Refrigerate until ready to use, up to 4 days.
- When ready to make the egg salad, peel the eggs.
- Now we separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls, the egg salad aficionados from the "it's all the same to me" crowd: Carefully, slowly and lovingly dice the eggs, cleaned celery, and carrots into impossibly small, nearly invisible but also absolutely equal-size pieces.
- Combine in a non-metal bowl with a little salt and pepper and just enough mayonnaise to bind. The egg salad will be slightly dry, with a consistency that makes it perfect for spreading or as a salad topping but with just enough crunch to keep it interesting.
This kind of preparation requires patience and precision, and the love only a grandmother (biological or otherwise) can bring to the table.