Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Miraculous Story of how Sarah's Egg Salad Sandwich got to Brooklyn

Somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon, curves a dusty road, sleepy and protected by the sweeping overhang of strong, centuries-old branches hung thick with the burgeoning green beginnings and fat-blossoms-to-be of the coming summer days. Nearby, creek waters pass deliberately by the faintest lick of sand and narrow grassy shore. This is where the chickens live. Red feathers rustled and lulled to sleep by the salty hum of the early evening breeze, the chickens rest. These are the quiet days, before the balmy nights, the crack of bonfire and summer madness seeps into the soil and turns to frenzy. Hesitant shifts of morning light creep up the hill and slip through the fence posts, nudging each chicken further away from their chicken dreams and into the day. Beneath the soft tuft of russet feathers, if you are lucky and if the air is sweet and salty, you will find an egg. These eggs were a gift. They made their way north after dark, slipping past the clenched jaw of the FDA and into my Brooklyn kitchen.

There are varying schools of thought on how best to prepare an egg. The temptation to whisk, fry, sauté or soufflé is undeniable. Perfect in its simplicity however, I would argue the best preparation is the humble hard boil. Adding nothing and taking away nothing, the hard-boiled egg preserves the ingenuity of nature in its most complete manifestation.

Recently I had an amusing conversation with my friend Sarah about egg salad sandwiches (ESS). She is unapologetic in her admiration for egg salad; especially NYC deli egg salad (yes, there is a difference). For the record, I have always been a fan of the ESS. Somewhere along the line, I had a damn fine ESS and I was sold. However, I realize that some may turn their nose, ruined by elementary memories of grayish egg salad, barely held together by a single flaccid sliver of iceberg lettuce and two nutritionally-bereft thin and soggier-by-the-nanosecond pieces of white bread. This is hospital fare, cafeteria fodder and airport food.
This is not a sandwich!

Having been presented with a carton of lovely farm eggs, my path was clear. I would create the perfect Egg Salad Sandwich.

All sandwiches begin with the bread. So I went to the grocery store and stood in the bread aisle for longer than most people should stand in the bread aisle, contemplating my options. I was unmoved. I couldn't create the perfect ESS and then stuff it between two pre-packaged, pre-sliced pieces of bread (even the HFCS-free variety). It occurred to me that I really only had one option so I tossed a few packages of active dry yeast into my basket... I would bake my own.

It didn't matter to me that it was nearly 70 degrees outside and I was preparing to crank my oven up to 400 and sweat it out at 2pm in anticipation of dinner. Spiritual quests demand a higher level of concentration.

My loaf pans were also a gift. They belonged to the Sous Chef's family and were passed down to us this winter. They have the well-loved patina of a simpler day and a healthier table. I used a basic home-style white recipe. Slighty sweet and fluffy on the inside, crusty and light brown on the outside, this would make a noble destiny for the egg salad.

While I let the bread cool I went to work on the egg salad. I decided to make a lemon tarragon egg salad with lots of cracked black pepper. There is something about the fresh tarragon and the sweet yeastiness of the crust that transcends all preconceived notions of ESS. Since I created this dinner out of the kindness of others, I thought it apt to bring Sarah a gift as well: the perfect Egg Salad Sandwich.

Lemon Tarragon Egg Salad Sandwich

8 farm-fresh hard boiled eggs
1/2 c. mayonnaise
Juice of one lemon
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp dijon mustard
one bunch of fresh tarragon, finely chopped
1 T. red onion, minced
Salt & Cracked Pepper
lettuce, tomato, thinly-sliced cucumber
hand-sliced, home-style white bread

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