Pile it on
Let’s get it out of the way right now: this egg salad, the one we’re going to talk about today, is not a beautiful egg salad. There will be no sexy pictures of this egg salad. There will not even be vaguely winsome pictures of this egg salad. There will be no pictures at all of this egg salad. But it has other things going for it, like the way it tastes, and if push comes to shove, you can always eat it in the dark.
A couple of weeks ago, I got an e-mail from a new friend, telling me about this egg salad. She’d found the recipe in the April issue of Saveur, the sandwich issue, where it was featured in a spread about salad sandwiches. (Photograph included! Avert your eyes!) I had already read the magazine and put it away without noticing the recipe, and to be honest, even if I had noticed it, I don’t know that I would have given it a second thought: Russian egg and mushroom salad, it was called, with dill and caramelized onions. Apparently, I am prone to provincialism in my egg saladry, because I had never heard of an egg salad like that. I grew up under the roof of a man who loved egg salad and made it nearly every Saturday, but the farthest he ever ventured from the home territory of egg, mayo, mustard, and salt was an occasional visit to the curry powder jar. I couldn’t grasp the idea of egg salad with mushrooms and caramelized onions. That mental trick that a lot of us cooks do, the one where we read a list of ingredients and then conjure up, in our mind’s mouth, what the resulting flavor might be – well, the trick didn’t work on this salad. But Sarah had called the recipe a keeper, and she even used double exclamation points(!!), and so, without really understanding what I was making, I was excited to make it. I put some eggs on to boil.
This is not a recipe with a long, involved origin story. The story of this recipe is, in short: I made it. I ate it. I made it again. I ate it again. And when I started thinking about making it a third time, I wrote to Sarah to ask if I could tell you about it – if for no other reason than to believe that we might not be the only two people in the world wanting to eat this much egg salad.
The recipe is as simple as you might guess. You cook some roughly chopped mushrooms in a skillet until they smell good enough that you’re forced to make a piece of toast to tide you over while you stand there, stirring. Then you scrape them into a bowl, put the skillet back on the heat, and lightly caramelize some roughly chopped onions in it. (Don’t worry if you lose track of time while you’re eating your toast and the onions brown too quickly; mine did, and still, the salad rose above.) Then you add the onions to the bowl, along with some chopped egg and fresh dill, and you dress it with a bright, quickly whisked-up sauce of mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, and lemon juice – a sauce that, should you have extra, makes a bang-up dip for asparagus. Then you pile it on a(nother) piece of toast while the whole mixture is still a little warm, and you put a napkin in your lap, because what’s about to happen deserves some ceremony. And then you have lunch.
Russian Egg and Mushroom Salad
Adapted from Saveur, and from Anya von Bremzen’s Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook
The original recipe called for white button mushrooms, but because I like crimini mushrooms more, that’s what I chose. And for the mayonnaise, I used Best Foods (also sold as Hellmann’s). Homemade would be terrific, but there’s nothing wrong with Best Foods.
Also: the flavor of this salad really deepens with time, so consider making it a day (or even two) before you want to eat it.
Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a 10” or 12” skillet over medium-high heat, and add the mushrooms. (If they don’t all fit in the pan at once, let the first panful wilt down a bit, and then add the rest. It’ll work out fine.) Cook, stirring often, until lighly browned, 14-16 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl, and set aside. Wipe out the skillet.
Heat the remaining oil in the skillet over medium-high heat, and add the onion. Cook, stirring often, until the onions begin to soften; then reduce the heat to low and continue to cook until lightly caramelized, 10-15 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the mushrooms. Add the dill and eggs, and stir to mix.
In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, and lemon juice. Add a couple of spoonfuls to the mushroom mixture, and toss until evenly combined. Taste, and add more dressing as needed. (All in all, I used only about two-thirds of the dressing.) Season with salt and pepper. Depending on how deeply browned the onions are, you might also want an extra squeeze of lemon.
Pile on lightly toasted bread – preferably sourdough rye, if you’ve got some – and serve open-faced.
Yield: about 2 cups