Egg Salad Angst

Some dishes simply scream of ladies’ luncheons and soda fountain sandwiches, and egg salad is one. Pimento and cheese once simpered under a similar association, but now, thanks to the same Southern machismo ethic that has established eating a white bread Vidalia onion sandwich dribbling Duke’s mayo over the kitchen sink virtually a rite of passage, P&C has transcended effete associations and is even found served in micro-breweries with an unassuming yet authoritative amber larger and parsnip chips.

Still and all, the South is nothing if not traditional, and while egg salad might certainly be served on pumpernickel at some happy hour buffet in a west Florida leather bar, by far for the most part it endures as a staple at occasions with a heavy distaff attendance such as christenings, weddings and of course those endless, inevitable funerals.

Basic egg salad is just chopped, cooked—usually boiled—eggs blended with a sauce or emulsion to make a spread, but as with most simple recipes, variations abound and additions are discussed, debated and occasionally disputed. For instance, olives seem to be a traditional addition throughout the nation, but most recipes from the South tend to include black olives whereas above the Mason-Dixon Line green olives with pim(i)ento stuffing is the general rule. Woody Allen trivialized egg salad in his 1966 feature film debut as the object of Phil Moskowitz’s search for the stolen recipe of the Grand Exalted High Majah of Raspur, giving heft to my argument that when it comes to egg salad people can work themselves into a steaming froth over seemingly the most insignificant details, which puts egg salad right up there with art, law and religion, right where it should be.

Though I’m certain some misguided, unbalanced individuals actually do make egg salad with scrambled eggs, or–horror of horrors–compounded mangled omelets, or worst case scenario God help us please not mashed quiche. Use whole boiled eggs. Peeled. I mash then with a wide-tined fork (swear to God I knew a gal who used a baby food jar) and add mayonnaise to bind. Adjust the amount to your own tastes; me, I like it a little on the dry/chunky side as opposed to the creamy/smooth. I use canned, pitted jumbo black olives; a little olive oil is a nice touch. Finely-chopped celery and green onion give egg salad a better texture; a dash of vinegar gives it bite. I like mine peppery, served on rye toast. With a light Pilsner, not lager, you knuckle-dragging Philistines.

Cobb Salad

Hollywood’s Brown Derby on North Vine, which opened Valentine’s Day 1929, became more known as a schmoozing spot for studio moguls and screen stars than for its food, but one dish is always mentioned. Cobb salad was named after a founder of the Brown Derby chain, and it enjoyed a brief resurgence of popularity in the late 1970s. The “original” recipe–bear in mind this is Hollywood–was published in the first edition of their cookbook (Doubleday; 1952). In one restaurant where I worked, we used a blue cheese dressing similar to Roquefort and not the French at all. Unless you had time on your hands, which was unlikely during a busy hour, it was a real chore to make; the ingredients had to be arranged just so in alternating bands over a bed of lettuce, usually shredded iceberg or chopped romaine. The original recipe used both of these with chicory and watercress topped with tomatoes, roast chicken, crumbled bacon, chopped boiled eggs, chives and crumbled Roquefort, tossed with simple French dressing.

Simple French Dressing

This recipe is easily made with ingredients you likely have on hand. Put a cup of vegetable oil, ½ cup (tomato) ketchup, ¼ cup apple cider vinegar (white will work and pickle juice will do in a pinch) and a teaspoon sugar in a jar and shake until mixed well. Salt to taste before tossing with salad.