I wish I had a dollar for every time someone prefaced a recipe request with: “It’s probably a secret, but is there any way you would give me your (fill-in-the-blank) recipe?”
Because I have a Facebook group dedicated to this very purpose, I’m always baffled by the disclaimer. While growing up, I often heard my aunts in Israel joke about certain “friends” who shared recipes that had a few crucial ingredients omitted. They threw shade at these women, between sips of coffee and nibbles of cake. “We don’t do that in our family,” they alleged, which to their credit was mostly true.
But it’s not just old-school homemakers who don’t want to let the secret of their best meringue out of the bag. Wars have been fought in the food industry over fried chicken and proprietary ingredient lists, as if you can keep a great dish a secret.
I’ve spent some time reflecting on why we get proprietary about recipes. Maybe it’s because we feel threatened that someone will steal our big ideas. I’ve got news for you: There is no recipe on earth that cannot be Googled in three seconds flat.
With recipes, and in life, it always pays to be as generous as possible and with as much as gusto as you can muster. Generosity always comes back to you in abundance.
Sometimes, even chefs fall under the misguided impression that a secret recipe can make them a success. There is a whole lot more to running a successful restaurant than the food, and you would think people who make their living by cooking would know that better than anyone. Yet surprisingly, this isn’t always the case.
I once watched a chef from a competing cafe grill our waiters about a dip we served as a complimentary snack with our bagel chips. I was cooking in our open kitchen, but he couldn’t see me behind the reflective glass of the restaurant window. The poor guy was taking photos of the dip, tasting and retasting, and I could see the staff was having a hard time answering his questions. I finally went out and talked to him.
“I can see you like our red sauce, and I’d be glad to tell you how to make it if you like,” I said.
He stared at me with disbelieving eyes.
“Would you really tell me?” he asked.
“Why wouldn’t I?” I responded, and proceeded to describe the recipe for the sauce.
Maybe he thought figuring out the secret to this sauce was so important that he couldn’t believe I was not leaving out some mystery ingredient. He was so mistrustful of my rendition of the recipe that it became a running joke in our restaurant. For the next few months, my staff often would call me and say, “That dip guy called for a delivery and ordered bagel chips with extra sauce again. He must still not believe you.”
Of course, none of us is immune to irrational fears, and in the ultracompetitive world of cooking, it’s tempting to want to make any grab for an edge. Still, since we all have been taught by someone, and usually by many, it’s counterproductive to keep that knowledge to yourself. With recipes, and in life, it always pays to be as generous as possible and with as much as gusto as you can muster. Generosity always comes back to you in abundance.
On that note, I’d like to share my highly requested egg salad recipe. It’s actually more of a technique than a recipe. I prefer it unadulterated, free from all the extras people tend to put in egg salad.
When someone asks you how you made this, remember that when you pass along a great recipe you are giving someone a reminder of yourself that will last forever. They will think of you fondly each and every time they make it.
That part can be our little secret.
4 free-range, yellow-yolk eggs
1/2 cup Homemade 30-Second Mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Paprika as garnish (optional)
If using farm-fresh eggs, put on a pot of boiling water. Gently place the eggs in boiling water with a spoon and bring back to a boil. Let them boil gently for 10 minutes. Drain and plunge eggs into an ice-water bath, cracking the top and bottom of the eggs on the counter on their way in. After 15 minutes, the eggs should peel very easily. If your eggs are pasteurized and refrigerated, place in cold water and bring to a boil. Then turn off heat and cover pan, leaving eggs in hot water for 15 minutes before plunging into an ice bath.
Slice peeled eggs in half. Remove yolks from the eggs and put them in a bowl. Add Homemade 30-Second Mayonnaise and lemon juice and stir to create an egg yolk emulsion. Think of this as creating a dressing for the whites. Rather than cutting the whites, crumble them with your fingers so they become fluffy and break into irregular sizes. This way, those frayed edges can absorb more of the dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste, stirring gently, and decorate with a bit of paprika if you wish. Cover bowl with cling wrap and let sit in the fridge for a few hours before enjoying.
Makes 2 servings.
1 cup olive oil or avocado oil (not extra
virgin; pick one that is not
1 free-range, pasteurized egg yolk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon vinegar of your choice
(or lemon juice)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Put oil in a container that fits your immersion blender head (a glass measuring cup is ideal); add the whole egg yolk, as well as all remaining ingredients. Try not to break the yolk in the process. Push an immersion blender to the bottom of the container and turn it on, moving the stick up from the bottom and down again until your mayo turns thick. This takes 30 seconds or less. If there is some oil that has not incorporated at the top, don’t worry about it, just stir it in. This mayo will be fresh for about five days in the fridge, but it tastes so fantastic, good luck keeping it around for that long.
Makes 1 cup.
Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.