Mastering the art of deviled eggs

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 6, 2008

By Pervaiz Shallwani
For The Associated Press
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Recipe Reporter is an occasional series reporting on the techniques, ingredients, science and art used to create the best versions of popular dishes.
There was a time when deviled eggs lived up to their name.
Despite the many impostors that parade about under the name today (whipped tofu, anyone?), 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.
It’s a distinction mostly lost in today’s anything-goes culinary world that too often produces dry, rubbery deviled eggs with goopy, flavorless (or just plain strange) yolk fillings.
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.
While older eggs make peeling easier, they will hinder your chances of perfectly centered yolks, an essential element of an attractive deviled egg. The older an egg, the less likely its yolk is to be centered.
Here’s a workaround. 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 bubble-less simmer, roughly 180 F to 190 F.
Timing is anywhere between 10 to 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, McGee says.
But the American Egg Board takes a simpler approach. They suggest bringing the water and eggs to a boil, then covering and removing the pan from the heat, allowing the eggs to cook via residual heat for 15 minutes.
While the McGee method worked, the boil-and-walk-away method was simpler and reliably produced firm, yet moist hard-boiled eggs.
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.
No one wants pockmarked whites, so 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, 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. A paring knife wiped clean and dunked in cold water before each cut works best.
The yolk should come out easily once the egg is halved, but if not, use a small spoon to gently scoop it. A wet paper towel or cool running water can be used to wipe out any 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 2/3 tablespoons of mayonnaise per whole egg worked best.
For the mayonnaise, go with the real thing. Making your own is wonderful, but jarred is fine. But 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.
Some people swear by mashing the cooked yolks with a fork, but this can be tedious and leave egg salad-like lumps. Better is to push the yolks through a wire mesh strainer, then mix them with the other filling ingredients.
Letting the yolk mixture chill for a bit before filling the egg whites also gives it better body.
As for the mechanics of filling, a decorator’s piping bag (available at kitchen and baking shops) is essential. These bags can be fitted with decorative tips that allow for precise and attractive filling.
Aim for about 2 ounces of filling per egg half รณ or enough to come about 1/2 inch above the white. This amount should easily hold a peaked shape without tipping.
Have a recipe you want investigated? E-mail AP Food Editor J.M. Hirsch at