May is National Egg Month.
Story by Cheré Coen
What’s an American picnic, holiday gathering or family reunion without deviled eggs? The dish of boiled eggs sliced in half and stuffed with a yolk/mayonnaise filling has been an American staple for decades.
But our love affair with deviled eggs wasn’t born in the New World. The dish’s origin dates back centuries to ancient Rome, Spain and other parts of Europe. Around the first century A.D., Romans enjoyed boiled eggs enhanced with spices, oil and wine. Spain began stuffing its eggs in the 13th century, adding flavors such as cilantro, pepper and a fermented fish sauce. Over the next few centuries stuffed egg fever spread across Europe, and what filled the boiled eggs ran the gamut from raisins to herbs.
The devilish title began in Great Britain in the 1700s because in England a “devil” dish denoted foods that were well-seasoned, broiled or fried. “Deviled” as a verb began part of the culinary lexicon meaning cooking something spicy.
By the 1800s, deviled eggs made their way to America. But it wasn’t until the end of the century that America’s Fannie Farmer suggested mayonnaise as a stuffing in her 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cookbook. By World War II, deviled eggs had become as American as apple pie.
The dish people love to bring to funerals, church socials, and family get-togethers usually involves boiled eggs that have been cut in half with the yolk removed. The yolk is then added to mayonnaise and/or mustard and stuffed back into the egg cavity, then topped with paprika or other herbs.
Today, restaurant chefs and home cooks alike love to experiment with deviled eggs, adding different spices and ingredients to the mix, though mayonnaise and mustard remain staple additives. Some deviled eggs come topped with food products like olives, hot peppers and bacon bits.
The list of restaurants currently offering the ubiquitous picnic dish as a snack or starter is staggering, from New York City’s Pegu Club to San Francico’s Park Tavern and countless menus between and beyond those two points. At Perch in Gulf Shores, Alabama, Chef James Balster mixes up pimento cheese, chicharrón (fried pork belly), and cornichon pickles for “Country Deviled Eggs.” Chef Isaac Toups of New Orleans includes a recipe for horseradish deviled eggs topped with jalapeños in his recent cookbook, Chasing the Gator: Isaac Toups and the New Cajun Cooking. At Holeman & Finch Public House in Atlanta, Georgia, James Beard Award-winning Chef Linton Hopkins serves deviled eggs three ways. At The Stave in Frankfort, Kentucky, deviled eggs are available as a snack and featured on the snack board alongside an assortment of cheese, country ham and other goodies.
To begin a devilish dish, “start with the freshest eggs possible,” says Lisa Steele, a fifth-generation chicken keeper who’s an author of several books on chickens and eggs and the founder of FreshEggsDaily.com. “Fresh eggs from local farmers and farmer’s markets make all the difference,” she says, “because they taste better, are healthier, and it’s likely the hens are more humanely treated.”
Steele says there’s a misconception that the fresher the eggs, the harder they are to peel. She suggests steaming eggs for 20 minutes over boiling water in a colander or bamboo steamer, then placing them immediately into ice water. “You want to make sure the yolk is fully cooked,” she says.
Start by boiling and peeling eight fresh eggs. Steele says the extra two eggs providing “a nice yolk ratio” for the stuffing for a dozen deviled eggs.
Steele creates her own mayonnaise which she insists is “super easy and delicious.” She combines egg yolks with a little lemon and oil (she prefers avocado oil) with an immersion blender inside a mason jar.
“It’s literally quicker than getting in your car and going to the store to buy some,” she says. She then adds various flavors to the mayonnaise, including utilizing three different herbs for variety. “When I’m finished, I like placing a whole leaf of the herb on top so people know what flavor it is.”
Here are Steele’s recipes for herbed deviled eggs, which yields a dozen eggs served three different ways, along with her recipe for mason jar mayonnaise.
Easy Mason Jar Mayonnaise
3 chicken egg yolks (or 2 duck egg yolks)
1/2 teaspoon coarse stone ground mustard
juice from half a lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup oil (olive, canola, corn, grapeseed, or a blend, whatever you prefer)
pint-sized wide-mouth mason jar
Add the egg yolks, mustard, lemon juice, and salt into the mason jar. Pulse a few times with an immersion blender to combine. Once combined, start adding your oil, a tablespoon at a time, pulsing until the oil incorporates into the egg yolks. Once you’ve added about half the oil, start a slow drizzle into the mason jar, continuing to pulse and emulsify the mixture. The mayonnaise should start to thicken and lighten to a lemon-yellow color. Continue to pulse until the mayonnaise is a nice, spreadable consistency. (If it becomes too thick you can add a bit of water to thin it out.)
Use the mayonnaise immediately or transfer it to a half pint jar, screw on the lid and leave it out on the counter at room temperature for up to 12 hours, then chill in the refrigerator. It should last for a week refrigerated. You want to leave it at room temperature first, though, to allow the acidity in the lemon juice to help kill any bacteria. Refrigeration doesn’t allow the acid to work as well.
Note: This recipe uses raw eggs. Anyone pregnant, nursing, or with a compromised immune system is advised to avoid eating raw eggs due to the risk of salmonella.
Herbed Deviled Eggs
First, steam 8 fresh eggs for 20 minutes over boiling water in a colander or bamboo steamer, then plunge them immediately into ice water. Once cooled, peel the eggs, then cut each egg neatly in half, pop out the yolks, and arrange 12 of the white halves on an egg platter (eat or save the remaining two egg whites). Mash all the yolks in a small bowl with a pastry cutter.
Add the following ingredients:
1/3 cup mayonnaise (your brand of choice or homemade)
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar (or champagne wine vinegar is a nice touch as well)
pinch of sugar
salt and white pepper to taste
To that mixture, add 2 Tablespoons of fresh finely chopped herbs of your choice—three suggestions follow. Then carefully scoop the mixture into the halved egg whites with a small ice cream scoop or teaspoon.
Dilled Deviled Eggs with Optional Shrimp Garnish
To the basic recipe add 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh dill. Garnish with a sprig of dill and a cooked shrimp, if desired.
Deviled Eggs with Parsley
To the basic recipe, add 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley and a bit of black pepper. Garnish each egg with a sprig of parsley.
Deviled Eggs with Basil
To the basic recipe, add 2 Tablespoons fresh minced or julienned basil and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Garnish each egg with a parsley leaf.
Recipes by Lisa Steele, FreshEggsDaily.com.