The Devil Made Me Do It - No. 105
How to make the best deviled eggs
FOR YEARS MY COUSIN MARGARET BROUGHT DEVILED EGGS to our family’s Easter lunch. I recall she volunteered cautiously at first, saying she’d never made them before.
Then she arrives with not one plate, but a three-story masterpiece of deviled eggs. Ruffled lettuce kept the eggs from sliding en route to lunch, and the hot-pink camellia on top added a pop of drama.
For the next few Easters, Margaret brought her tier of coiffed eggs and each time received much adoration…until four years ago when out of left field, she said she’d bring fudge pie instead.
Which was nicely done, but frankly, no match for deviled eggs at Easter.
Growing up in the South, deviled eggs were as much a fixture at Easter lunch as the blessing
And it wasn’t just Easter. It was potlucks, picnics, barbecues, funeral wakes, weddings, everywhere.
In fact, when I was on book tour for my cookbook, What Can I Bring, about 15 years ago, the locals staged a lunch in my honor at the Berea, Kentucky, library. Folks were asked to bring their favorite recipe or make something from my new book. And when I walked into the room where tables had been placed end to end to hold the 100 or more home-cooked recipes, no Gallup poll could have predicted the culinary preferences of this community better than this old-fashioned potluck. It was a sea of deviled eggs!
For those of you not familiar with deviled eggs, you begin by hard-cooking (boiling) an egg, peeling, slicing it in two, and then removing the yolk in the center and mashing it with seasonings. This filling—and it’s always about the filling, isn’t it?—is piled back into the whites. You can decorate with a traditional sprinkle of paprika or chives/parsley or step it up and add crumbled bacon or caviar.
What’s important is that you make enough of them because people will stride by the table, never bothering to grab a plate, and pop a deviled egg into their mouth. And if you make too many, no worries, because leftovers are nice for breakfast. But lately, even down here in the deviled egg belt, I’m seeing fewer deviled eggs made at home.
Do people think they’re too much work? (They’re not.) Or could it be that deviled eggs are yet another polarizing way that we can’t get along? Who really cares if it’s pickle relish or not, butter or mayo, paprika or curly parsley? They’re just deviled eggs!
A deviled egg story and some revelations
For a bit of context I turned to John Mariani and his book, The Dictionary of American Food & Drink. He says the adjective "deviled" was first used in print in 1786, and in the early 1800s it described food made spicy from cayenne and mustard.
The first mention I could find of a "deviled egg" was in the 1877 Alabama newspaper called The Montgomery Advertiser. In August that year, the paper shared how to make them—boil 6 eggs for 10 minutes, rub the yolks with a little melted butter and some vinegar, cayenne and dry mustard, which reminded me that deviled eggs have been around longer than Hellman’s.
Maybe it was their name, or their deliciously, and ever-so-slightly spicy seasoning, but these "deviled" eggs were a hit. And they were a natural for moveable feasts, whether to church suppers or rides in the country to gather with family once cars came along. Cooks were advised to be frugal. Save egg boxes, said Wanda Barton in her newspaper column, "Home-Making Helps," in 1923. "They are fine for carrying boiled or deviled eggs."
Nowadays, you can tote deviled eggs right on plates with indentations to keep them in place. Or, do as Margaret did and place a veritable salad on the bottom of any plate to keep the eggs cushioned and ready to travel.
As much as Margaret earned the right to bake a pie after all those years of deviled eggs service, I’ll admit it was hard to watch her walk in with dessert. Yes, we had typecast her as the deviled egg girl, but she was good at it.
Why is it that if you prepare a recipe really well, no one will replace you at the potluck? It’s the same if you chair a successful fundraiser, coach a winning team, or fold clothes straight out of the dryer. You do it so well, so we don’t need to…
My husband says it was fine for Margaret to move on. People who are good at cooking don’t have to be known for just one thing. We were standing in the kitchen a few months after his mother had passed and I asked him which of her recipes he loved the best.
He continued: “Just like you. Everything you cook is good. I can’t name just one thing.”
I think he wanted to get out the door…
So I called my children and asked them to name the one recipe they like me to cook when they come home to visit.
They mentioned my Christmas toffee, smashed chicken which is like schnitzel, turkey burgers, vegetable soup, and birthday cakes. But they could not name just one recipe.
So am I going to the grave not known for my best?
Put another way, should I have been more like Margaret and focused on something really well, perfected it, and grown camellias just to garnish it?
This Easter, I got ahead of the game
I emailed my cousin Cindy who is hosting lunch and offered to make the deviled eggs.
Usually, before I go to a potluck, my response is...let me know what you need, and I will make it. So if everyone has signed up for dessert, I’ll bring a big salad, that sort of thing.
Cindy’s reply was gleeful: “Deviled eggs, Anne, that is perfect!”
I was stuck.
Are potlucks dying because too many of us don’t have that one great thing to contribute? Or if we can’t have Margaret’s deviled eggs, we’ll just go buy them? Or do without?
I don’t want potlucks to die. I want people to step up and cook. So if Margaret’s baking fudge pies, I sure as heck can make deviled eggs as beautiful as hers. And just wait til she tastes them…
How do you devil eggs?
My Blueprint Deviled Eggs
A small spoon is the perfect tool to scoop the filling into the hollows of the whites. You can grab a pastry bag or turn your filling into a zipper-lock bag, snip a corner, and then squish the filling beautifully into each half. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that you taste the filling as you make it and make sure it’s tasty and not too salty. And keep the eggs chilled until time to serve. You can absolutely double and triple this recipe for a crowd.
Makes 12 deviled eggs
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise, or more as needed
2 tablespoons chopped sweet pickle
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pinch cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Paprika, pickled jalapeño pepper slices, or chopped parsley, for garnish
1. Place the eggs in a large saucepan and pour in enough cold water to cover them by a couple of inches. Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and remove it from the heat. Let the eggs stand in the hot water for 20 minutes.
2. Drain the water from the pan and immediately fill it with cold water. Remove the eggs from the pan and gently tap them to crack them. Peel the eggs under cool running water, starting at the large rounded end. Slice the eggs in half lengthwise; remove the yolks with a teaspoon, and place the yolks in a small bowl. Set aside the whites.
3. Add the mayonnaise, pickles, and mustard to the yolks and mix, mashing the yolks with a fork. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add more mayonnaise or some of the sweet pickle liquid if the yolk mixture is too dry.
4. Spoon the yolk mixture into the hollows of the egg whites and place them on a serving plate. Sprinkle the tops of the eggs with paprika, a slice of pepper, or parsley, chives, or whatever you desire!
Five fast tips:
Buy eggs now if you’re deviling them this weekend. Eggs that are a little old peel more easily than fresh eggs.
Enjoy deviled eggs now because egg prices are rising. Inflation is already driving up the cost of eggs. And the bird flu that has hit U.S. poultry operations will make eggs even more expensive by June.
Mash yolks with seasoning while they are still a little warm. They blend better. I like Duke's or Hellman’s mayonnaise the best.
As for add-ins…Go traditional and add finely chopped sweet pickles as the recipe says. For a less sweet style, omit the pickles and garnish with chopped fresh herbs, crumbled bacon, a slice of green olive, caviar and minced chives, strips of smoked salmon and red onion, a dab of salsa, or a strip of prosciutto and a dab of pepper jelly.
Count on an egg per person, which yields two halves, but that’s pretty conservative, and you know your crowd. Make more just to be safe. Enjoy!
Anne Byrn: Between the Layers is a reader-supported publication. To receive new Tuesday posts, become a free subscriber. To get Tuesday and Thursday posts as well as chime in on lively Open Thread discussions and support my work, for which I will be forever grateful, consider becoming a paid subscriber.
Slava Ukraini (Glory to Ukraine)
I continue to follow the amazing work of World Central Kitchen on social media. Thank you everyone for your support of WCK. These Ukrainian-style Easter eggs are the last three my husband and I bought in Vienna on our honeymoon nearly three decades ago. I am not sure of their origin, whether Polish or Czech or Ukrainian. They do not have multiple layers of colors, but the design and writing is quite elaborate. We bought a dozen, but with moving several times and having small children who wanted to hold the eggs, well, we are down to three! Do you know about them? Please share how you or your community are helping Ukraine in this heartbreaking war. Or share ways you are honoring Ukraine by cooking or creating these beautiful eggs.
Coming Thursday for Subscribers!
I am thrilled to collaborate with New York pastry chef Lindsey Farr and celebrate National Pecan Day. Lindsey has taken one of my favorite cake mix recipes that uses pecans and has created a from-scratch version. Both cakes are amazing for spring get-togethers whether you use a mix or like to bake from scratch.
Have a great week!