I don't remember much about the not-quite-classic-Woody-Allen film What's Up Tiger Lily, other than that secret agent Phil Moskowitz heads out on a mission with his sidekicks Suki and Teri Yaki to secure the recipe for the world's best egg salad. I also remember that he never actually reveals that recipe, which is a shame, because I've been on a quest for the best egg salad ever since I can remember.
Perfect is a word that I throw around a lot, and it's always with the understanding that it's a goal that can be strived for but never achieved. This particular recipe for egg salad is about as close to perfect as I've ever had. It's not fancy, there are no special ingredients, but it's well balanced, with a bright, fresh flavors, and a texture that spans from rich and creamy to crunchy and fresh.
Any good egg salad starts with perfectly boiled eggs with a just-cooked-but-not-chalky yolk and tender whites. Luckily, and not-so-coincidentally, I spent a great deal of time developing a recipe for them, so we're already off on the right foot.
The biggest question when it comes to how to put together an egg salad is how to chop your eggs. I started with four different methods, using a basic recipe that combined mayonnaise, diced red onions, and diced celery.
The first was to press them through the holes of a box grater. It's easy, it leads to even end results, but it also looks and feels...like an egg pushed through a box grater. The thin slivers are just off-putting.
Chopping with a knife works better in terms of finished texture, but it's a bit of a pain—eggs are slippery and don't like to sit still under the blade of a knife. Doing a large batch with this method is a chore.
Lastly, I tried smashing the eggs with a stiff whisk. This was by far the easiest and best method, producing a nice chunky texture with minimal effort. The one thing I wished it did better was break down the yolks into a creamy sauce that binds with the mayonnaise. Whisking harder helped, but then the whites broke down too much.
The solution? Getting dirty.
Crushing those eggs by hand is the way to go. Your hands are gentler than the hard wires of a whisk, allowing you to break down the yolks without over-crushing the whites. You end up with an egg salad that has nice big bites of egg white, all bound together in a rich, creamy mash of yolks and mayonnaise.
Fine Tuning Flavor
Almost there. All we gotta do is season this thing up. I generally choose red onions because I like the way the pretty red cubes intersperse with the yellow eggs, but I'd never really considered whether they were optimal in terms of flavor. I made a few batches of egg salad with a half dozen different types of onion (yellow, white, red, sweet, shallots, and scallions), and was surprised to find that the scallions were almost unanimously voted as the best of the bunch.
Similarly, most folks prefer far fewer celery nubs than I personally include (and nobody seemed to like diced radishes added to the mix). I suppose majority rules here (though of course, you should always feel free to modify the ratios according to your own preferences).
Finally, most egg salads are heavy, leaden affairs. I wanted an egg salad that tasted bright and fresh, despite being rich and creamy. The key? A dash of lemon juice and lemon zest, along with a pinch of parsley.
And you know what? Damn the committee: I like radishes on my egg salad sandwiches, and they're going to stay there.