It’s fair to say the British eat their share of sandwiches and then some. Finger sandwiches at afternoon tea; roast ham with nostril-searing English mustard; fat wedges cut from a steak-stuffed shooter’s loaf; chip butties, fish finger hangover-busters and mouth scorching Breville toasties. We’ve certainly nailed down some classics. I do feel however, that a few fillings get an undeservedly rough ride, and first on the list is the egg mayo. Why don’t people realise that egg mayo, properly made, is one of the greatest sandwich fillings of all time? No, this isn’t a joke.
The first key to the success of the egg mayo is its versatility. Think about it: is there really a bad time to eat this Queen amongst sandwiches? Hungover? Yes to egg mayo. Lunch? Yes to egg mayo. Afternoon tea? Dinner? Late-night munchies? You get the picture.
Just as crucial is the comfort factor. Soft white bread meets still warm egg; it’s stupendously easy to eat. While a bolshy steak sandwich or a crusty cheese baguette scratch and barge their way into your bread-hole, the egg mayo nurses as it glides down the gullet. Hell, you barely even need teeth to eat it. It’s the mashed potato of the sandwich world.
The beauty of course lies in the simplicity, which means that it’s incredibly easy to balls up. Firstly there’s the bread, which must be white, incredibly fresh and importantly, not particularly sturdy; there aren’t many places where sourdough is inappropriate but this is one of them. A plain white sandwich loaf is best. The eggs are, obviously, crucial, and should be of the finest quality you can find; free-range surely goes without saying? Try to get a named breed if you can, like the Cotswold Legbars or Burford Browns from Clarence Court, which are widely available now. Mayonnaise should be homemade; rich and glossy. And so to the question of additions, which is a topic that can make people – at least the people I hang around with – extremely animated.
The answer to this problem, I think, lies in the distinction between the British egg mayo, and the American egg salad sandwich. The Americans like all kinds of different stuff in there with their egg, bringing all manner of flavours and textures. Fine. It’s an egg salad though. An egg mayo by contrast is much simpler, and for that reason I eschew capers, gherkins etc. and go with a generous helping of snipped chives; all the allium twang necessary without the squeak of onion. To season, a trick I nicked from St.John restaurant – malt vinegar. Works perfectly, and what could be more British? The same goes for white pepper rather than black.
I know it can be hard to hold back with the extras, but I speak from years of bitter experience when I say that the knack to making the perfect egg mayo, as with many recipes, really is in knowing when to stop.