This week my article about deviled eggs ran in Citypaper! The edited version can be found at CP online here – please leave a comment if you’re so inclined. The recipe can be found following the article. Below is the full version, after a couple of bonus pics:
The yolks, after having been pressed through a sieve:
The homemade mayonnaise and spiced butter/milk mixture, with some very finely grated lemon zest (use a Microplane) and finely chopped chives:
The full text of my article:
The Sunday before Memorial Day we inaugurated cookout season ‘08 with the customary orgy of fire, meat, and booze. But this year, a friend brilliantly suggested a deviled egg competition, and I was ready to battle. Mostly because her eggs were reputed to be â€œthe bestâ€, but partly because it would address a common cookout flaw: deviled egg deficiency. With five eventual contestants, I figured there’d be 144 deviled eggs â€“ surely enough to squelch any deviled egg guilt. You know the feeling – on an overflowing table, there’s that one tray of deviled eggs, which works out to like 1.3 eggs/person, and you want five but dare not take more than two, lest ye be judged a greedy bastard.
The amount of labor involved in making them no doubt contributes to their scarcity at get-togethers, and relegates them to the class of foods that are usually better homemade. I’ve never been able to find a store-bought deviled egg that didn’t suck â€“ cold, rubbery egg white, that no matter how long you chew just divides into ever smaller yet distinct – fractal, if you wil – chunklets, until you finally concede defeat and swallow the bland, gravelly mass. And the filling has too much mustard, but still smells faintly of fart. This is what happens when the most important ingredient is omitted â€“ love. Or in my case, love’s slutty cousin, ambition.
Some claim deviled eggs originate in Ancient Rome, but Apicius(the ur-cookbook of the western world) mentions nothing about stuffing halved eggs. We know for sure that such preparations appear in the 13th century Spain. As a kid I assumed deviling (two l’s in England) something meant mashing or pulverizing the hell out of it, mostly because of my dad’s post-divorce reliance on canned meats for sustenance. Along with the ubiquitous Spam and Vienna Sausages were little white cans with a red devil on them, that contained pink meat ground into a coarse paste â€“ deviled, or so I thought. In fact, deviling indicates spiciness, because in 18th century England, spice=heat=hell â€“ duh! Today it seems the spice aspect is secondary to the later association of the term with ground-up mixtures. I think the implication of evil inherent in the destruction of meat is much more badass.
To keep the field level, I imposed a no-lobster-and such rule, and after all isn’t a better test of skill to work within constraints? Besides, we want the eggs themselves to star, not act as mere vehicles for some other food. traditionally I think what most people expect in a good deviled egg are a tender white, creamy filling with acid and complexity, but still mostly eggy. You’re basically building-in a sauce to prevent the caulk-like consistency a standard hard boiled egg takes on after some mastication.
A properly cooked egg is critical – in order to achieve a resilient but not rubbery white, and a fully set but not discolored and not sulfury yolk, the egg can’t be overcooked. I use a method that is a bit time consuming, but is really easy and conserves energy to boot, developed by the great Julia Child. Simply cover eggs in cold water, bring to a rolling boil, boil for two minutes, then turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for 20 minutes. Yet as straightforward as this method is, on this occasion I still ended up with the what’s really the only potential kibosh in deviled egg making â€“ hard to peel eggs. Anyone else who has sheared this calamity can attest to how much it sucks â€“ the shell, instead of slipping off the albumen with the membrane attached, remains stuck fast, taking bits of egg off with it, at best resulting in a pockmarked egg, at worst an egg rent asunder.
The problem: too fresh eggs, which when boiled are harder to peel. In my zeal to stack my entry with uber-ingredients, I done played myself. One way to mitigate freshness (how’s that for a rare sequence of words) is to add a little baking soda or salt to the water, which favorably changes the alkalinity.
The stuffing, however, is really where the battle is won or lost. Recipes vary wildly of course, but the standard complement of ingredients seems to include mayonnaise (for creaminess), lemon juice and/or prepared mustard(for acid), and spices – cayenne pepper, dry mustard, and/or paprika (the â€œdevilâ€, as it were). Notably, there exists a splinter group of relish fans (the repugnant “sweet” or “bread and butter” variety to be precise), who seem to think it’s a required ingredient in authentic deviled eggs. This clearly misguided belief did however prove to be the reason I ended up winning, as most tasters preferred a smooth texture. In any case, the ingredients are simply mashed together with the cooked yolks until smooth, and re-deposited onto halved whites.
I use a variant of the French ouefs durs farcis, wherein the yolks are made creamy with bechamel sauce. I don’t go that far, but I do start with a pan of butter over low heat, which offers a window of cooking absent in the usual method. When the butter is melted, I add cayenne pepper and sweet paprika. The hot fat becomes imbued with the pepper flavor, enabling more even distribution in the stuffing, while also cooking out much of the cayenne’s heat, leaving behind the smoke and fruit components. I also add some very finely grated lemon zest, which adds a clean high note, and finely chopped chives, which add onion flavor with minimal crunchiness.
After about thirty seconds, the heat goes off and a bit of milk or cream goes in. By using this mixture, the yolks can be moistened with less mayonnaise, and I think this makes for a more â€œpureâ€ tasting final product. Re-deposit the yolks into the whites and you have my competition-winning recipe.
Tip: To stabilize the white halves, you can either slice a thin strip from the bottom of each one, or for the lazier among us, just set them atop some greens or parsley sprigs.
Back to the cookout â€“ when all the contestants finally arrived, my eggs were obviously the odd man out. I prefer mine completely unadorned, stealth if you will, while the others had the ubiquitous sprinkling of paprika (or â€“ gasp -chili powder, in one case). One set even had each egg meticulously garnished with a perfectly trimmed parsley sprig. Curse you Alvina. Also, turns out I’m the only person in Baltimore that doesn’t own a deviled egg platter.
We picked the six most sober people and sequestered them away for judging. After much deliberation, and even a recount, yours truly emerged as the winner! Woot! In fact, although the overall margin was slim, it was texture and appearance that won it for me. Alvina came in second mostly due to tricking out her eggs with chopped bacon â€“ in a rare case of backfiring use of bacon, the crunchy texture turned judges off. Other entries had non-traditional seasonings like curry powder and horseradish, which hurt their scores. Like I’ve always said, sometimes less is more.
My high appearance scores were baffling, but I was told later that it was because my yolks â€œlooked all piped-in and swirlyâ€. A Zip-Loc bag with a corner cut off is my filling tool of choice. Heh heh, filling tool. I gotta give credit to my nemesis for having the strength to ask me for my recipe afterwards. I would have been way more bitter.
I must admit however, I prevailed by one mere point, and I gotta give love to my nemesis for having the strength to ask me for my recipe afterwards. And keep the Febreeze handy, because as they say, â€œHuevo duro, pedo seguro.â€
Henry’s Deviled Eggs Recipe:
1 dozen eggs, not too fresh
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (homemade if possible)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons milk or cream
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 teaspoon very finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon finely chopped chives
Â½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Â½ teaspoon sweet paprika
salt, white pepper, and lemon juice to taste
Place eggs in a large pot and cover with cold water, adding Â½ teaspoon of salt or baking soda if the eggs are very fresh
Bring to a rolling boil
Boil for 2 minutes
Cover pot and turn off heat; after 20 minutes, carefully drain and allow eggs to cool(submerge in icy water if time is a factor)
While eggs are cooling, melt butter in a small pan
Heat cayenne and paprika in butter for 30 seconds
Add milk, zest and chives, and heat for 30 seconds, allow to cool
While butter/milk mixture is cooling, peel and carefully halve eggs, reserving yolks in a mixing bowl
Press yolks through a sieve using a wooden spoon or spatula, producing very fine particles; if you don’t have a sieve, mash yolks thoroughly with a fork or stiff whisk
Add butter/milk mixture, mayonnaise and mustard to yolks, and combine until smooth
Adjust yolk mixture for seasoning, adding salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste
If desired, slice a thin strip off the bottom of each egg half so it will stand straight; otherwise arrange egg halves on a bed of greens or parsley for stability
Spoon yolk mixture into a pastry bag or ziplock bag with the corner cut off (1/4â€)
Gently fill egg halves, squeezing from the top of the bag, as you would toothpaste
Garnish with additional chives and paprika if desired (I like mine nude)