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Recipes and Stories

9 April 2014: Easter I, Classic Deviled Eggs

Classic, Old-Fashioned Deviled Eggs, here garnished with capers and a light dusting of paprika

A recent poll on my social media author’s page confirmed something that any Southerner already knew: it isn’t Easter dinner down South if it doesn’t begin with deviled eggs. But it also gave away something I’ve long suspected: that the affection for these morsels has no geographical limits. They may come in and out of “fashion,” but they’ve never lost their front and center place on Easter’s table all across the country.

No matter how sophisticated your crowd claims to be, their posturing will go out the window the minute they see the egg plate. And if the deviled eggs are well made, the rest of the meal can be lackluster and no one will care.

Thank goodness.

Think of what follows as a base from which to evolve. No two cooks have ever made deviled eggs in exactly the same way, so don’t let yourself get too obsessed with reproducing your mother’s formula. Feel free to let evolution take its natural course: if you find you prefer a softer filling, add more mayonnaise or a splash of cream; if you like it to have more bite, up the mustard or cayenne, or dust the tops with pepper. They’re also lovely with a teaspoon or two of curry powder mixed into them.

If you want to gussy them up, top them with sliced pimiento-stuffed olives, capers, slivers of country ham or lox or even fresh radish, or small cooked shrimp, caviar, or salmon roe. Or fold a quarter-cup of finely chopped ham, smoked salmon, sweet or sour pickles, chopped olives, or capers into the filling—or whatever else (within reason) your imagination fancies.

But remember: they’re still just deviled eggs, not a canvas for your culinary ego or an advertisement of your so-called sophistication. Simpler is easier and always seems to please the crowd the most.

Makes 24 stuffed eggs, serving 8 as a first course, 10 to 12 as an hors d’oeuvres:
12 large eggs at least 2 weeks old
½ cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade
1 tablespoon prepared mustard (your choice)
Salt and ground cayenne
Sweet paprika
About 2 tablespoons minced chives or parsley, or whole sprigs of dill, optional

1. Using a clean pushpin or needle, gently prick each egg at the large end to help prevent the shell from cracking as its contents warms. Put them in a heavy-bottomed pan that will hold them in one layer and add enough cold water to cover them by 1 inch. Bring the water to a full boil over medium-high heat.

2. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and remove it from the heat. Let it stand 10 minutes, drain, and rinse the eggs under cold running water. Lightly tap the eggs on all sides to crack the shells, cover with cold water, and let stand for another minute or two before peeling them. Begin at the large end, where there’s usually an air pocket that will help you get the shell loose.

3. Cut the eggs in half them lengthwise. Scoop the yolks into a ceramic or glass mixing bowl. Set the whites, cut side up, on a deviled egg plate or platter. Roughly mash the yolks with a fork to the texture of coarse meal, then blend in the mayonnaise and mustard. Season it to taste with salt and cayenne and beat until smooth. (You may do this step in the food processor: put the yolks in the work bowl that has been fitted with the metal blade. Pulse until they’re the texture of coarse meal, then add the mayonnaise, mustard, salt and cayenne and process until smooth.) If you’re adding other things, fold them in now.

2. Spoon or pipe the filling (using a pastry bag fitted with an open star tip) into the egg whites, mounding it up a little. (If you want to seal your stature with the Southern Belle crowd, pipe it, using a pastry bag fitted with a star tip.) Lightly dust the top with paprika. You may further garnish them with chives, parsley or dill sprigs. They can be made several hours ahead; cover with something that will not touch the tops of the eggs and refrigerate until you are ready to serve them.

— Adapted from Essentials of Southern Cooking by Damon Lee Fowler, copyright © 2013. All rights reserved.

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