Mouths to Feed: Devil in the Details

Tri-Color Deviled Eggs

Tri-Color Deviled Eggs

In our early 20s, my younger sister, Maida, and I had a running joke about deviled eggs. 

Actually, it wasn’t so much a joke as one of those back-and-forth riffs you sometimes get going with a person who shares your particular sense of humor. 

And, actually, it wasn’t very funny either, though you wouldn’t have been able to convince us of that as we laughed until we peed.

It sprang from the truism that deviled eggs are always a delight at parties but take an awfully long time to make prettily, and it featured a young hostess who remains in her kitchen piping egg-yolk filling into platters of egg whites as the doorbell rings and her guests arrive and settle in — “just a few eggs to go!” — and the party gets rolling — “almost done!” — and the merriment peaks and the guests start to leave while she’s still in her apron, piping bag in hand.

I would say you had to be there, but I’m glad you weren’t because you would have just looked askance at Maida and me as we gasped for breath. 

I think of her every time I make deviled eggs, and I’ve made them often and variously in the last decade or so, especially now that we have our own small flock of prolific and charming chickens. I say “I’ve made them,” but that’s not true; our son Henry has become the family’s deviled egg pro — he loves them enough to bother putting in the care they require, and he’s quite handy with a DIY piping bag (a resealable plastic bag with one corner cut off). 

Some people act like the most curious thing about deviled eggs is how they got their name. It’s not. Their name comes from the silly idea that spice = heat = hell = the devil. 

More intriguing is how easy they are to make but how hard they are to make just right. They are one of those utterly straightforward, classic dishes whose preparation is rife with myths and pitfalls. As cooking-science genius Harold McGee writes in On Food and Cooking: “A properly prepared hard-cooked egg is solid but tender, not rubbery; its shell intact and easy to peel; its yolk well-centered and not discolored; its flavor delicate, not sulfurous.” 

And yet the very things that make a deviled egg pretty are not necessarily the same things that make it delicious.

For example, very fresh eggs make for awful-looking deviled eggs. That’s because the white of a very fresh egg adheres to the inner-shell membrane, making it a mess to peel. Try as you might, it comes out looking as ragged and pock-marked as an ancient sea wall. For clean-peeling shells, you need eggs that are a couple of weeks old — but not too old, because the air bubble inside the shell expands with age, resulting in a flat-bottomed oval. 

Likewise, deviled eggs require thoroughly cooked, crumbly yolks, but the longer you boil an egg, the more you risk having your yolk turn greenish-gray (a harmless but unsightly reaction), and your white rubbery. As for centered yolks, if you want to try rotating your eggs in their carton every few days before boiling them, be my guest. 

I like to think that we live in a post-perfection era, at least when it comes to photogenic party foods. But I’m not sure that’s true. Nonetheless, even a platter of half-perfect deviled eggs is as pretty as a field of daisies. And if it falls to the cook (aka Henry) to clean up (aka devour) the mistakes, he might just think the joke’s on you. 

Tri-Color Deviled Eggs

Makes 12 halves

  • 6 hard-boiled eggs (see note below)
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon butter, softened but not melted
  • ¼ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

For the Dijon eggs: 

  • ¾ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Dill, for garnish

 For the wasabi eggs:

  • ½ teaspoon wasabi powder
  • ¼ teaspoon rice vinegar (not seasoned)
  • Pinch sugar
  • Pickled ginger, for garnish

For the harissa eggs:

  • ¾ teaspoon harissa paste
  • Cilantro, for garnish

Cut each hard-boiled egg in half lengthwise, wiping off knife between cuts to avoid smearing yolk onto the surface of the whites. Gently scoop or pop the yolks into a small bowl or the mini-bowl of a food processor. Add the mayonnaise, butter and salt, and blend well. If not using a food processor, use an electric mixer or immersion blender for a smooth filling.

Divide the filling into three small bowls. Add the Dijon to one bowl of filling; the wasabi, vinegar and sugar to the second; and the harissa to the third. Blend each well. Taste and correct for salt and flavorings. If the filling feels soft, refrigerate for 20 minutes. 

Arrange the egg white halves on a platter. Spoon each filling into a piping bag if using, or into a small resealable plastic bag with one corner cut off, and squeeze the filling into the whites, or simply use two small teaspoons to dollop it. Garnish each deviled egg flavor with its appropriate garnish. 

Note: For nicely cooked hard-boiled eggs, first prepare an ice bath and set aside. Place eggs in a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid that is large enough that they don’t overlap. Fill pan with enough water to cover eggs by an inch. Bring to a boil over high heat, then immediately turn off the heat and cover the pot with the lid. Allow to sit in the hot water 12 to 15 minutes, depending on the eggs’ size. Use tongs to transfer each egg to the ice bath. Cool 3 to 5 minutes, then peel and proceed with the recipe. 

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