Oeuf mayo, or egg mayo, seldom seen in the United States, is revered in France, where there’s even a society to “safeguard” the dish: the Association de sauvegarde de l’oeuf mayonnaise. At Bistrot Paul Bert, a favorite of mine, oeuf mayo was the first starter out of the kitchen when the restaurant reopened after closing during the pandemic, and the tony Le Voltaire keeps oeuf mayo on the menu at 0.9 euros, or about $1.07. A supermarket baguette can cost more.
With only two elements, the dish is striking in its simplicity. But like so many simple dishes, there are decisions to be made along the way. For the eggs, Priscilla starts the cooking by covering them with water. She brings the water to a boil, reduces the heat so that it maintains a strong simmer and cooks the eggs for seven minutes, finishing with firmish yolks that are just a little jammy at the center. You might want to cook your eggs a little less or a little more, but no matter how you cook them, treat yourself to a little fun: Crack the shells à la Priscilla. After draining the cooked eggs, she puts them back in the pan and slips, slides and shakes the pan around to crackle the shells. You can tap your eggs against the counter to get the peeling going, but it’s not nearly as amusing.
And then there’s the mayonnaise. Could you take your favorite store-bought brand, season it highly and thin it just a bit for this dish? Of course you could, but I hope that at least once, you won’t, that you’ll set the blender on the counter, give yourself five minutes and make Priscilla’s mayo. Mayonnaise, essentially egg and oil, has always seemed like a miracle of science to me, but it’s really an exercise in restraint. To get a velvety mayonnaise, you whir an egg — Priscilla uses a whole egg rather than just a yolk (more typical) — with something acidic (here lemon juice and white-wine vinegar), season it with salt and Dijon mustard and then steadily pour in the oil, going slowly (the restraint part), peeking and scraping midway and stopping as soon as the oil is incorporated. No matter how many times I make mayonnaise, I always feel like a wizard.
When you’re ready to assemble this classic, halve the eggs and arrange them domes up, which is classic, or down, which is pretty, too, then check the mayo, first for seasoning and then for consistency. In order for it to slide off the spoon in a steady ribbon, and cover the egg smoothly and generously, you’ll probably need to thin it a bit. Just add drops of hot water (or lemon juice). Pour the mayonnaise over the eggs, and serve them pristinely plain or choose a few go-alongs: maybe fillets of anchovy or strips of roasted red pepper; maybe a sprinkle of snipped chives; maybe some fried capers.
Put the eggs next to a salad, so that they make a starter on their own, or add them to your tray of hors d’oeuvres variées. If you end up loving oeuf mayo — Priscilla counts it among her desert-island dishes — then maybe we can start our own society.