Despite the many impostors that parade about under the name today, deviled eggs once were a simple mash of egg yolk and a fiery ingredient (such as cayenne or Dijon) dolloped into a cooked egg white.
"Originally, it was supposed to mean something spicy," says Debbie Moose, the author of Deviled Eggs: 50 Recipes from Simple to Sassy. "But now it's just a generic term for a stuffed egg."
In fact, for many years America's go-to cookbook, Joy of Cooking , distinguished between deviled and stuffed eggs.
If you find yourself hankering for a great deviled egg, a real deviled egg, here's what you need to know.
Farm-fresh eggs are fine for an omelet, but give them a pass for hard-boiling. Fresh eggs have strong membranes between the shell and the white. This makes it difficult to remove the shell without damaging the white. Eggs from the grocer should be fine, but when in doubt, age them a week.
Although older eggs make peeling easier, they will hinder your chances of perfectly centered yolks, an essential element of an attractive deviled egg.
Here's a work-around. Put a rubber band or tape around the egg carton to keep it closed, then set the carton on its side in the refrigerator for 24 hours. The yolks will drift back to the center.
Just about everyone agrees to start with cool water. Plunging an egg into boiling water can cause it to crack.
Most chefs then follow the method suggested by food science expert Harold McGee. In his book, On Food and Cooking , he says eggs should not be boiled, but rather cooked at a bubbleless simmer, roughly 180 to 190 degrees.
Timing is anywhere between 10 and 15 minutes, depending on how well-cooked you want the yolk. Less time produces a dark, moist yolk; longer produces light yellow and dry yolks, Mr. McGee says.
The American Egg Board takes a simpler approach, though. It suggests bringing the water and eggs to a boil, then covering and removing the pan from the heat, allowing the eggs to cook by residual heat for 15 minutes.
Although the McGee method worked, the boil-and-walk-away method was simpler and reliably produced firm, yet moist, hard-boiled eggs.
COOLING, PEELING AND CUTTING
If not cooled correctly, yolks can develop an unsightly and slightly bitter gray color. To avoid this, plunge the just-cooked eggs into a bowl of ice water. The rapid temperature change also weakens the shell, making peeling easier.
To avoid pockmarked whites, the peeling method is key. Start by cracking the shell by gently rolling and pressing the cooled eggs over the counter. You also can lightly tap the shell with the back of a spoon.
To peel, Ms. Moose suggests starting at the larger end of the egg, which should have an air pocket under the shell. If the shell still sticks, hold it under cold running water while peeling.
Cutting the eggs is a delicate task. The goal is a smooth, clean cut that will not damage the white. This requires a sharp knife with a thin blade, such as a paring knife, wiped clean and dunked in cold water before each cut.
The yolk should come out when the egg is halved, but if not, use a small spoon to gently scoop it. A wet paper towel or cool running water can helpwipe out crumbs.
The trick with the filling is to ensure that the combination is thick enough to hold its shape, moist enough not to taste chalky and smooth enough not to resemble egg salad.
Tradition calls for a simple blend of mayonnaise and a bit of heat. The key, according to Cook's Illustrated magazine, is to find a balance free of egg overtones. Our testing found that about 2 w tablespoons of mayonnaise per whole egg worked best.
Be sure to use real mayonnaise. Salad dressing spreads tend to be too sweet.
For the "deviling," a blend of cayenne pepper and Dijon mustard worked best. A splash of lemon juice heightened everything.
Letting the yolk mixture chill for a bit before filling the egg whites gives it body.
CLASSIC DEVILED EGGS
Start to finish: 1 hour (30 minutes active)
Yield: 12 deviled egg halves
6 large eggs
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (or several splashes of hot sauce)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Paprika, to garnish
Put eggs into a large saucepan, then add enough cold water to cover them by at least 1 inch. Set over high heat until water just comes to a rolling boil. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, cover and let sit 15 minutes.
While the eggs rest, fill a large bowl with cold water and ice. When the eggs are ready, use a slotted spoon to carefully transfer the eggs to the ice water and let stand 5 minutes.
One at a time, gently roll the eggs across the table, applying light pressure to evenly crack the shells. Alternatively, the eggs can be lightly tapped with the underside of a spoon.
Starting at the larger end, peel each egg. If the shell sticks, hold the egg under cold running water while peeling. Wipe off remaining shell using a wet paper towel.
Dip a paring knife with a sharp, thin blade in cool water. Cut one egg in half lengthwise. Wipe the knife clean, then dip the blade in water and again cut the next egg. Repeat this procedure with remaining eggs.
Carefully remove the yolks from each egg half and place them in a wire mesh strainer set over a medium bowl. As needed, use a wet paper towel to wipe clean the egg whites. They also can be gently rinsed under cool water. Set aside the egg whites.
Using the underside of a spoon, press yolks through the strainer. Add mayonnaise, mustard, cayenne and lemon juice to the yolks and mix until smooth and thick. Season with salt, pepper and additional cayenne, if desired.
Use a rubber spatula to transfer the mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch star-shape tip. Refrigerate the bag for about 20 to 30 minutes, or until chilled.
When ready to serve, pipe the yolk mixture into each egg white, mounding it about 1/2 inch above the top of the egg. Sprinkle lightly with paprika.