Saturday, September 4, 2010

Egg (salad) on your face


Egg (salad) on your face

I’ve created a monster: my partner, Peter, who writes better than I do, and whose culinary acumen continues to bloom. Send him a comment and tell him to start his own blog!


Watching CNN correspondent Elizabeth Cohen in a recent guest commentary on that network about the latest salmonella outbreak, I groaned upon hearing her state that a sure-fire way to kill salmonella in potentially infected eggs is to hard boil them. Of all the wonderful ways to prepare eggs, I fear that hard boiling them is, hands down, my least favorite. While I’ll grudgingly gulp down a deviled egg or mayo-based classic egg salad sandwich, I can’t muster much enthusiasm for either. Always ready to equate certain dishes with musical forms, I’d say that deviled eggs and egg salad are the square dance music of the culinary world: homespun, sincere, probably considered old-fashioned even when relative novelties, comforting, but tragically lacking in sex appeal. Admittedly, this has something to do in my case with bad associative memories with pot luck company picnics, at which humdrum deviled eggs were ubiquitous crepe hangers, invariably unveiled as the “specialty” for which a co-worker was “famous” (“Edna will kill me if she finds I let the cat out of the bag, but her ‘secret ingredient’ is that she adds an eighth of a teaspoon Old Bay for every dozen yolks in the filling for these!”). Then there were the neighborhood block parties: for every participant who slaved over a hot stove in an attempt to wow the crowds, there was always some schlub who would breeze by the supermarket deli counter and pick up a tub each of the waterlogged, anodyne potato and egg salads produced by the trough daily at Sysco (the eggs salad for which undoubtedly began with the same tainted eggs laid by steroid-abusing, hormone-injected eggs that got us into this current mess).

So, I’ve tried over the years to find a recipe that would give egg salad a glam makeover. Time and again, this seemed a fool’s errand tantamount to attempting to morph Andy Williams into a particularly sassy, va-voom drag artiste. At one point, I stumbled across what seemed a promising recipe for Asian tea-infused hard boiled eggs in the “Little Dishes” chapter of the latest incarnation of “The Joy of Cooking.” Containing all kinds of authentic Asian ingredients already in my pantry and fridge, I had high hopes, dashed after only a few forkfuls, as Stephen and I blurted out simultaneously, “These really don’t taste much different from any other hard-boiled egg.”

On an impulse buy a year or so later, when Stephen was in thrall to the regional Chinese cookbooks by Fuchsia Dunlop, he bought a carton of the preserved Chinese delicacies known as “Century Eggs.” While their dark purple, almost black eggshells looked promisingly exotic and evil, I found the texture and flavor of their squishy, gelatinous flesh to be inedible, reminiscent of exotic Gummi worms that had been left to melt outdoors in the July heat, only to then be mistaken by the cat for kitty litter. Determined, I set about camouflaging them by piling on a dressing of mayo, soy sauce, bottled ginger juice, chili paste, Chinese five spice powder, and virtually every Asian ingredient I had on hand at the time. While the final product was undeniably edible, the fact remained that I had come not to praise Century Eggs, but to bury them.

A few years later, while shopping at one of my favorite neighborhood haunts, St. Kilian’s, a gem of a cheese shop on Lowell Blvd. (http://www.stkilianscheeseshop.com/), I happened to be chatting away with Hugh O’Neill, who, with his wife Ionah DeFreitas, is a co-owner and proprietor of the company. He asked if I’d ever made tea-infused eggs, and I told him that, while I’d done so, I’d never had much success. Hugh and Iona are both unfailingly helpful and full of good suggestions, and I always feel as if I’ve learned something new every time I shop there, and this was no exception: Hugh told me about a simple technique for making tea-infused hard boiled eggs that he’d learned from a proprietor at Urbanistic Tea and Bike Shop right next door to St. Kilian’s, another tiny store front that specializes in selling artisanal teas and bicycle paraphernalia and doing bike repairs (only in Colorado). I was so intrigued that, after completing my purchases at St. Kilian’s, I marched right next door to Urbanistic and ordered a bag of Lapsang Souchong tea leaves, walked the few blocks home, and set to work.

A few days later, following Hugh’s suggestions, my tea-infused eggs were ready. They were, just as Hugh said, virtually no effort to make, but wonderfully smoky in flavor and aroma. This is now my go-to method for hard boiling eggs, whether to garnish a gazpacho or potato salad, or to make deviled eggs or egg salad. It does take a few days’ advance planning, but it’s well worth the forethought. The Lapsang Souchong tea permeates the eggshells, resulting in an aesthetically pleasing series of marbled swirls on the white’s surfaces. This translates into a mild but distinctive smokiness, again imparted by the tea. Satisfied, I knew that I at last had hard boiled eggs that were alluring enough to turn heads (and palates) all by themselves, but also sufficient character to stand out in an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink salad recipe.

TEA-INFUSED EGGS

--Enough Lapsang Souchong tea bags or loose leaves to make one quart at triple the strength of a normal pot;
--6 large eggs

1.) The day before you hard boil eggs, make a quart of Lapsang Souchong tea, tripling the amount of tea leaves or bags recommended by manufacturer to make a standard pot for drinking. Allow hot tea to cool completely to room temperature. If using tea bags, remove, squeezing bags to extract all liquid. If using loose leaves, strain into clean bowl with fine mesh sieve, pressing on sieve with back of spoon. Cover bowl of tea, and refrigerate several hours (preferably overnight), until very cold.

2.) Fill small saucepan with cold water; place eggs in pan (be sure water covers them completely), partially cover, and bring to boil. At this point, prepare eggs as you normally would for hard boiling (here in Denver, where liquids boil at a lower temperature, I have to simmer eggs in boiling water for a minute, remove from heat, cover firmly, and let rest off-heat for 15 minutes before proceeding.

3.) Instead of shocking eggs in ice water bath, remove cold tea from refrigerator and, using a slotted spoon, gently drop eggs one by one into cold tea. Re-cover tea and return to refrigerator for two hours.

4.) After two hours, reach into bowl of chilled tea and, one by one, gently tap eggs against side of bowl until the shells are uniformly cracked on all sides. Cover bowl and return to fridge for at least 3 (preferably 5) days. Eggs will keep for up to 10 days. Peel eggs, and use to garnish potato salad, gazpacho, or make deviled eggs or Vaguely Asian Egg Salad (below).

VAGUELY ASIAN EGG SALAD

The beauty of this recipe is that there are so many flavors going on that, if you don’t like a particular ingredient, or simply don’t have it in your pantry or fridge, just leave it out: think of this as a technique rather than a formal recipe, and pretend that (optional) appears after each ingredient. Trust me: if you start with the tea-infused eggs as prepared above, you can’t go terribly wrong.

--6 tea-infused hard-boiled eggs, sliced;
--1 medium celery rib, diced fine )1/2 cup)
--1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded, diced fine (1/2 cup)
--1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
--2 scallions, trimmed, white and green parts, diced fine

Dressing:

--1/2 cup regular or light mayonnaise;
--1 Tbl of cold Lapsang Souchong tea (in which eggs have been infused);
--1/4 tsp liquid smoke
--2 tsp. regular or light soy sauce
--1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
--3 cloves of pickled garlic, minced or pressed;
--2 tsp. bottled ginger juice, and/or 2 tsp pickled ginger, minched;
--1/2 tsp. chili oil (more to taste if you like extra kick);
--1/2 tsp chili sauce (more to taste, again if you like it hot)
--2 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder
--salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1.) In a medium bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients;
2.) Stir sliced hard boiled eggs, celery, cucumber, cilantro, and scallions into dressing. Chill (Makes enough for 4 generous egg salad sandwiches, served on a bed of lettuce leaves on soft rolls).

5 comments:

Jenn said...

I love the story of how this came about!! Once again, Peter, I am in awe of your writing and culinary skills. To take something as simple and "old fashion" as egg salad and make it gourmet...delightful!!!

Pam said...

Woo hoo! Another great use for Old Bay Seasoning! That is a huge pet peeve of mine ~ most people actually cook a dish and then there's always the one who picks up from the deli. Even worse, the cookie exchange at Christmas time at work. Many brought bakery cookies and that was when I stopped participating in them. Your sandwich looks delicious, great photo! I will be trying it your way!

Andrea the Kitchen Witch said...

the next time I'm up in Denver I'm going to go to both this cheese shop and the tea shop. I might even take my bike in for a tune up too :) Nicely done Peter! I'm not an egg salad fan but this intrigues me. I agree with Stephen, get your own blog :) I'll be a follower!

Create. Snap. Eat. said...

Excellent read! And Old Bay in eggs?! I will have to try that. And what an eloquent way to describe an experience with Century Eggs! Love this entry ;-)

Peter said...

Thanks, y'all. Happy to contribute the occasional guest commentary, even though I fell off my own blog many moons ago.

If you're ever in Denver, by all means pop into St. Kilian's Urbanistic, and Denver Bread Company, aka, "The Bermuda Triangle," in that I always end up buying more at each place than I probably should.

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