Food, for a writer, is an extremely useful tool. Put your heroine to bed with a couple of creampuffs, and people instantly begin to make assumptions. Have her pop a pizza into the microwave for her kid’s dinner, and we know exactly who she is. Most foods telegraph class and caste so effectively that they can save you whole paragraphs of descriptive explanation. Deviled eggs, on the other hand, are useless to a writer; knowing that a character serves them tells you very little, and knowing that they eat them tells you even less.
This is because deviled eggs have been delighting people in all corners of the world for at least two thousand years. One of life’s most affordable luxuries, a good deviled egg dazzles you with its tender softness and luxurious flavor. Known as “stuffed eggs” or “mimosa eggs,” they did not become “deviled” until the eighteenth century, when the culinary use of the term was appropriated for everything containing hot spices or condiments. (Interesting aside: Deviled ham is the oldest existing American food trademark. Patent number 82 was awarded to the William Underwood Company in 1870.)
But although deviled eggs may be delicious, they are not always easy. The availability of new-laid organic farm eggs is something of a mixed blessing. Farm eggs are infinitely tastier than industrial ones, but a fresh egg is almost impossible to peel. If you want to make a better deviled egg, there are a few things you should know.
1. Begin with fresh, organic, small-farm eggs, but put them in the refrigerator for a week. When eggs are new, the membrane beneath the shell sticks tightly to its shell, making peeling them a serious challenge. As eggs age, the protective coating on the shell becomes porous and begins to absorb air making the whites less acetic. (This is why the whites of freshly laid eggs are cloudy; as they absorb air they lose some of the carbon dioxide in the albumen, the ph rises, and the whites become clearer.)
2. But while the egg whites are losing their acidity, they are also getting thinner, meaning that the yolk is moving farther from the center. (If you’re intent on perfectly centered deviled eggs, store them on their sides.
3. Bring the eggs to room temperature before cooking. This will prevent cracking.
4. Put your eggs in a pot that will hold them in a single layer, so that they cook evenly. Cover them with cold water and raise it quickly just to a boil. Cover the pot, turn off the heat and let the eggs sit for 12 minutes.
5. Chill the eggs, immediately, in a bowl of ice water. This will prevent the dread green circle around the outside of the yolk, which occurs because the iron in the yolk reacts with the sulfur in the white when the temperature of the egg reaches 158° F. Although perfectly harmless, it lends your deviled eggs a slightly ghoulish air.
6. Shell your eggs, then put them in the refrigerator for half an hour. This will make them cut more cleanly.
7. Cut the eggs in half lengthwise, then slice a bit off the bottom of the white of each half so they won’t wobble on the plate. It also makes them considerably easier to fill.
8. Whip the yolks in a food processor; it will make them smoother, and give you the ethereal tenderness that you want in a deviled egg.
9. Use a pastry bag to fill your eggs; it is so much easier than trying to do it with a spoon.
10. Use homemade mayonnaise in the filling. Most of the flavor is going to come from the mayonnaise, and wouldn’t you rather be in charge here instead of relying on an industrial ingredient? If you like the bite of olives, use olive oil. If you prefer to let the flavor of the eggs come singing forward, use a more neutral oil.
There are two questions you must ask yourself before you start. The first is whether you prefer your filling to be thick or creamy. The second is what you plan to put on top. Everything else is elementary.
Makes 24 halves
12 eggs, room temperature
½ to ¾ cups homemade mayonnaise, to taste
1 teaspoon mustard
Splash of vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cayenne, capers, crumbled potato chips, caviar, or…
Boil eggs: Put your eggs in a pot that will hold them in a single layer. Cover them with cold water and raise it quickly just to a boil. Cover the pot, turn off the heat and let the eggs sit for 12 minutes. Chill the eggs, immediately, in a bowl of ice water.
Shell, chill and cut: Shell eggs, and chill them in the refrigerator for a half hour or more. Cut each one in half. Cut a small slice off the bottom of each half so it sits flat on a plate.
Make filling: Remove the egg yolks to a food processor. Add a half cup of mayonnaise, the mustard and vinegar, and process until it is very smooth. If you like a looser filling, add the rest of the mayonnaise. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and spoon the filling into a pastry bag.
Fill eggs and top: Pipe the yolk mixture into the egg whites. For the world’s best deviled eggs, top with caviar or salmon roe. You can also sprinkle some cayenne on top, add a jaunty little bit of beet, a small triangle of pickle, a bit of crumbled potato chip, some chives, caperberries or.... the possibilities are almost endless.
This is more than you need. But it keeps for at least a week, and there’s something wonderful about knowing you have homemade mayonnaise on hand for sandwiches, tartar sauce and dressings.
Makes 2 cups
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard
Pinch of salt
About 2 cups oil, at room temperature (not cold)
Crank the food processor: Put everything but the oil into a food processor and process until creamy, about 15 seconds. With the machine still running, slowly pour the oil into the machine until your mayonnaise is the consistency that you want.