After my family’s annual Easter egg hunt, mom often deviled those colorful little ovals that had been hidden in our backyard. She’d peel and cut them in half, mash the yolks with mayonnaise and minced celery, and spoon the mixture back into the whites. While fairly pedestrian, they were a beloved fixture at our family picnics and barbecues, usually sprinkled with paprika to garnish.
When I asked her why they were called deviled, she had no idea. As I began exploring food origins, it seems that ever since Satan seduced Eve into tasting that apple in the Garden of Eden, forbidden foods and an appetite for carnal pleasure have gone hand in hand. Every culture has delicacies that hold sensual promises, with eggs being central to numerous fertility myths, as well.
In 17th century England, it was common for hardboiled egg yolks to be mashed with savory spices like mustard or cayenne pepper and used to fill egg whites, but they did not have a special name. Referring to such foods as deviled because they were spicy, or so rich they were thought to promote reckless behavior, evolved in the 18th century. In America, the first printed recipe for deviled eggs appeared in 1786. In the 1950s, chic hostesses everywhere were serving them at cocktail parties.
This seemingly diabolical association intrigued me and I started spicing up hard cooked eggs, perhaps thinking something exciting would happen when I ate them or shared them with friends. Alas, nothing out of the ordinary occurred.
My first attempt at embellishing eggs was to blend Madras curry powder (later replaced by curry paste) and minced scallions with the mayonnaise and yolk mixture. Over the years, numerous spicy ethnic condiments in my pantry — from Tabasco sauce to Chinese chile oil, gochujang (Korean chili sauce), and Thai green curry paste — found their way into my creations. As much as I like spicy foods, along the way I found while there are many ways to add heat to foods, spicy hotness alone does not make for satisfying deviled eggs. There needs to be a concert of flavors.
Starting with the creamy mayonnaise, I experimented with substituting sour cream, crème fraîche, and at one point puréed cottage cheese with the yolks. Other components I explored were acidic flavors, different textures, accent colors and garnishes. While both recipes below start with mayonnaise, I added acidic liquids, including a variety of vinegars like rice vinegar and white balsamic, for a more zesty note.
Other tangy ingredients, like the liquid from pickled jalapeños and pickled ginger, were useful in the Mexican- and Asian-flavored eggs below. You can also try lemon juice, caper or other brines, a dash of plain yogurt, etc. Experiment and let your own taste dictate your choice. Many work well, but I learned that dark liquids like balsamic vinegar don’t at all flatter the color of the final mixture.
As for color, finely-chopped herbs and minced vegetables add a colorful, fresh accent to the mixture, as will small-size caviar or trout eggs gently mixed in or spooned on top to create an attractive garnish. These days there are many varieties of fish eggs available in different colors that are reasonably priced.
An Enticing Addition
At one point, I created spicy deviled eggs using different cheeses in the mixture. It started when I made a Mexican version for my family with taco seasonings and salsa added to a mayonnaise-sour cream mixture, along with finely-shredded Cheddar cheese and scallions. A few sliced black olives were on top. As the kids got older, the heat index crept up, so I added fresh or pickled jalapeños. More recently, I mashed some avocado into the yolks. It turns out that both versions appeal to all ages.
Soft cheeses like goat cheese and Ricotta work especially well to add a rounder dimension to the tastes and a smoother texture. Creamy Blue cheeses are another good option. In one version, I included some minced bacon. Another time, finely-shredded jerked chicken with hot-sweet tasting of Aleppo pepper flakes and a dash of pineapple juice was successful. At that point, I also did a riff on Buffalo wings with leftover barbecued chicken, minced celery and Frank’s hot sauce.
Cooking A Better Egg
After years of experimenting, I think of deviled eggs as a blank pallet: there are countless directions you can take from adding almost nothing — that old fashioned basic version is still very comforting — to being outright flamboyant. At a recent cocktail party, there were quail eggs crowned with gold leaf and caviar.
While being spontaneous and creative are fine, when buying eggs to devil, think ahead. Purchase them at least a week ahead of time, because older eggs are consistently easier to peel.
I use large eggs, but that’s my personal taste. At Easter, we use medium size ones. My mom cooked eggs at a fairly strong boil. But when we cut them in half, many had a greyish-green line around the yolk. While not bad, it meant they were overcooked.
What works for me is to put the eggs in a pan with about a tablespoon of salt for a dozen. Add enough water to cover by an inch and a half and bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat down to low and gently simmer for 12 minutes.
Have ready a large bowl of ice water. Strain the eggs and transfer them to the ice water to cool for eight to 10 minutes. This helps the shells to lift off more easily. Crack the eggs at both ends and a couple more places and peel. You can either use them right away or place in the refrigerator for up to three days. If they are cut and you can make the filling ahead of time, but you are not filling them until the following day, place the halves cut side down on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Finally, this brings me to a recipe variation, Asian Eggs with Shrimp, Scallions and Pickled Ginger. This was inspired by 1,000- year-old Chinese eggs. In that version, the eggs are cooked until hard, then cracked and left to sit overnight in a strong tea solution. When peeled, the marbleized eggs look extremely old but do not taste of tea. While this is time consuming, it is a unique presentation.
For the shrimp recipe, which is faster to make and delicious, I chose Ricotta for its creaminess and to complement the shrimp, scallions and pickled ginger. Devilish Deviled Eggs with Pickled Jalapeños and Shallots include tangy goat cheese with the mayonnaise.
Like mac and cheese and other homey favorites that have been tweaked recently, deviled eggs are getting more sophisticated thanks to countless exotic additions and creative cooks.
Devilish Deviled Eggs with Goat Cheese and Pickled Jalapeños
This contemporary spin on deviled eggs combines tangy goat cheese, Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, and pickled jalapeños that add a sly, devilish taste. They’re topped with smoked paprika.
Yield: 24 filled halves
12 large eggs
3 oz (6 Tbsp) goat cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup mayonnaise
3 Tbsp minced shallot
1 Tbsp minced pickled jalapeños, or to taste
1½ Tbsp pickled jalapeño juice, or to taste
1½ tsp Dijon mustard
1½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp salt or to taste (optional)
Pimentón de la Vera, or smoked paprika, to sprinkle on top
Arugula leaves and cherry tomatoes, to garnish (optional)
In a saucepan large enough to hold the eggs in a single layer, combine the eggs with enough generously-salted water to cover by at least an inch and a half. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to low, and gently simmer for 12 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice water. Transfer the eggs to the water and cool for 8-10 minutes. Crack the eggs at the broad end and in a few other places and carefully peel. Once peeled, use them right away or refrigerate for up to three days.
Cut the eggs in half lengthwise. Carefully remove the yolks to a bowl. Lay the egg whites cut side up on a platter.
Mash the yolks with the goat cheese, mayonnaise, shallot, jalapeños, pickled juice, Dijon mustard and cumin, and stir until smooth. If desired, season with salt, and add more jalapeños or juice. Using a pastry tube fitted with a wide star tip, or a small spatula, fill the eggs. Serve on a platter sprinkled with Pimentón de la Vera. Garnish with arugula and cherry tomatoes, if desired.
Asian Eggs with Shrimp, Scallions, Ricotta Cheese and Pickled Ginger
These tasty Asian scented eggs with shrimp are creamy thanks to the Ricotta and mayonnaise with a little texture from scallions and pickled ginger.
Yield: 24 filled halves
12 large eggs
2/3 cup Ricotta cheese
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1½ Tbsp minced pickled ginger, plus 1 Tbsp pickled ginger liquid
1 tsp seasoned rice vinegar, or to taste
1/3 cup finely chopped scallions, including green parts, plus a few pieces for garnish
6 oz cooked shrimp, finely chopped, plus 12 medium shrimp, for garnish (optional)
Salt and cayenne pepper
In a saucepan large enough to hold the eggs in a single layer, combine the eggs with enough generously salted water to cover by at least an inch and a half. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to low, and gently simmer for 12 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice water. Transfer the eggs to the water and cool for 8-10 minutes. Crack the eggs at the broad end and in a few other places and carefully peel. Once peeled, use them right away or refrigerate for up to three days.
Mash the yolks with the Ricotta cheese, mayonnaise, ginger, pickled ginger juice and vinegar until well blended. Fold in the shrimp and scallions, and season to taste with salt and cayenne.
Cut the remaining shrimp in half lengthwise. Fill the eggs, add a half sliced shrimp and a small piece of scallion to each, and serve.