It’s like that scene in “When Harry Met Sally,” you know, the one in the diner. No, not that one. I am referring to when Meg Ryan’s Sally is very particular about ordering her meal, and requests everything “on the side.”
Unlike Sally, I am not usually the type of person who sends back her food in a restaurant. I may be disappointed in what I’ve ordered, but I usually accept my fate (and plate), and eat it.
One time, though, I sent back my order for a soft-boiled egg three or maybe even four times, because it kept coming back hard-boiled. My husband and I were in London, on a rare trip without the kids, and were splurging on a fancy hotel whose exorbitant rate included breakfast. At that price, I couldn’t bear to accept an overcooked egg. I kept thinking that it was a simple error, and the next one would come soft-boiled, as requested. Perhaps it was a language issue? There were other American English words I’d needed to switch over into British English to be understood more easily: lift for elevator, loo for restroom, queue for a line. Maybe soft-boiled eggs also had a different name? I was polite and sweet as can be, because I certainly didn’t want to try to server’s patience. After the second egg arrived hard-boiled in its elegant egg cup, I delicately gave instructions: “Please, I’d like it soft-boiled. A three-minute egg. Could you ask the kitchen to cook it for only three minutes?” Alas, even that attempt yielded a perfect looking, but hard-boiled egg.
I ate it.
Sometimes, life and eggs don’t turn out the way you want. But you can always make the most out of a hard-boiled situation; in this case, making egg salad. And there is a technique that guarantees perfect hard-boiled eggs. I didn’t learn this until a few years ago, but now it is the method I use every time. It produces firm, but never rubbery, whites and a sunny yellow yolk. You’re less likely to get cracked shells if the eggs are at room temperature, so start with those. Place room temperature eggs in a pan of water with about an inch of water covering the eggs. Bring to a boil, then remove the pan from the stove, cover, and let it stand for ten minutes exactly. After ten minutes, drain the hot water and replace it with cold or ice water to stop the cooking process. Now the eggs are ready to peel, eat and enjoy, or to make a perfect egg salad.
I don’t eat egg salad that often, but when I do, I like it prepared simply. I most often use it to make crustless finger sandwiches on white bread, as they do in England. To prepare the eggs to the correct consistency I use only the tines of a fork, and mash gently. After stirring in just enough mayonnaise to keep the egg salad moist but not pasty, and sprinkling on salt and black pepper to taste, I’ll either leave it as is, to be garnished in a sandwich with watercress, or mix in finely diced raw white onion. The watercress offers a peppery contrast to the richness of the egg salad, and the raw onion adds a bite that cuts through the creaminess. Both additions lend a bit of texture to the otherwise soft sandwich. I assemble the sandwich by first buttering each of two slices of white sandwich bread, ideally with salted Kerrygold butter at room temperature. Next, I spread a thin layer of egg salad on one buttered slice, optionally adding some tender sprigs of watercress, before topping with the second buttered slice. Finally, I cut off the crusts and cut each sandwich into four rectangles, and just like that, perfect tea sandwiches. The humble egg transformed into something elegant and fancy.
For a simple and satisfying afternoon tea, I serve these alongside other tea sandwiches, including perhaps smoked salmon, some cucumber and cream cheese, and some cheddar and chutney (the Ploughman’s lunch). To complete the tea, I’ll add to the table some scones, clotted cream, and strawberry jam, and a proper pot of tea. Lovely!
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There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.
-Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady
© 2010-11 Linda Shiue