Ingredients come in many kinds, dear reader. Some are so exotic and exclusive that they are barely ever used. Take truffles. Forsooth a most wonderful mushroom, but its taste is so dominant and particular that the recipes calling for truffles can be counted on one hand. Then there are staples that are frequently used, but just as often get replaced by their peers. Think lettuce, or white beans, or flour, and all kinds of meat. Finally there are those that you can barely ever do without, that occupy a place on pretty much every cookbook page ever printed, that you always keep stored in the cupboards, the fridge or the pantry, particularly if you don’t get along too well with your noisy nerdy neighbours. Salt, eggs, water and/or oil, onions and peppers for most of us, sugar for many, Mayonnaise for me.
There is, however, one ingredient which is essential to countless gourmet dishes, but rarely gets recognized as such. Time. And no, I’m not thinking here of the ‘flat’ time it takes to prepare the fare, but of the ‘irreplaceable’ time necessary to enrich and ripen a dish once produced, the period that must pass to bring out the deeper aromas, the dormant flavours, the soul of your culinary creation. Surely you all know what I mean. Think grand cru wine. Think old Dutch cheese.
That this ‘maturing time’ is so rarely remembered is a little odd, since it does not allow for any short-cuts. Where ‘flat time’ may be reduced by the furious use of kitchen appliances that cut and mix and pressure-cook, by prefab cans and satchels, or supermarket bags of ‘mixed soup vegetables’ and the like, ripening time cannot be bought, cannot be replaced and cannot be done without if you want things to come out the right way. There is no choice here. We are its slaves, our wrists mercilessly shackled to its hands. The length of time must be heeded, accepted, humbly bowed to. The only saving grace is patience. Yes: old Chronos is an excellent chef and a famous glutton, but also a god deadly jealous of his prerogatives.
So, just as there are dishes that the passage of time will destroy – the famous green salad once tossed with the vinaigrette, or the open bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau foolishly left in the door of the fridge – there are others that only come into their own after a 24-hour maturing period. One of those is my favourite egg salad, whose secret I will share with you today. Of course, you may eat this fine mixture immediately after stirring it together. But that is like looking at black & white reproductions of Picasso’s Blue Period: an absurdity, a shame and an insult to your own intelligence. What you should do is make it a day in advance, and postpone your yearning for instant satisfaction. Both your egg salad and your life will be so much the richer!
But enough said! To work. Here is what you need to gather and need to do:
3 hard-boiled eggs for every two diners
¼ medium sized onion, chopped small or even pounded in a mortar
2 slices of luncheon meat or – preferably – mortadella
Mayonnaise, as much as you like (but at least two hefty spoonfuls)
Black pepper, freshly ground
Curry, a teaspoon
Mustard, a spoonful
Sesame oil, a dash
Parley, preferably fresh, chopped
Dill, preferably fresh, chopped
A teaspoonful of capers, chopped
Now, I am aware that this looks like a whole lengthy lot and therefore goes horridly against the grain of my cookblog’s ironclad motto: ‘Impress Through Simplicity and Please Through Ease’. The sin is, however, modest, dear reader, since I gladly grant all of you the privilege to leave out whatever you wish or do not have readily at hand. It speaks for itself that egg salad can not possibly do without egg or mayo. But whether or not you include the other ingredients – and in what proportion – is completely up to you. In fact, as always, I summon you to experiment and find your own way to bliss, particularly when it comes to the amount of mustard, salt, curry etc that you appreciate.
Lastly, there are a few ingredients which you may wish to throw in - or not - according to your personal taste. These are:
Olive oil, a dash, for that vaunted ‘Mediterranean’ flavour and diet…
Lemon, a dash
Yoghurt, to replace the Mayo
A leaf of lettuce, chopped up, for a ‘green’ taste and look
Half a boiled potato, for volume
Once you have decided what to use, toss everything into a bowl. Mix with love. Put the ready mixture into any sort of jar and close the lid. Put the jar in the fridge for at least 22 hours. Take it out two hours before dinner, remove the egg salad to a more presentable bowl, and let it reach room temperature. Sprinkle with a little dill and some paprika powder, and serve with buttered bread or toast.