Kentuckians LOVE That Devil in Our Eggs
In more than a year of hosting Monday night Cornbread Suppers, I can say without exaggerating that nothing -- not even homemade desserts -- makes diners' eyes light up like the arrival of a platter of deviled eggs. Why? A few theories:
- Deviled eggs often show up at parties. Actually, deviled eggs often appear at all-ages parties, places where grandparents and toddlers both convene -- potlucks, family gatherings, suppers at church/temple/mosque, neighborhood meetings. So if the eggs show up, fun and some giggly running around may be expected.
- Although deviled eggs require a bit of hand work, they are not difficult to make.
- Our aunts and mothers and grandmothers made them, and so we feel young and loved when we eat them.
- In fact, deviled eggs are home food. Home cooks make them. We rarely see them in restaurants, although a gas station in Frankfort used to sell a credible version.
- We eat them with fingers, usually, and they fit well in hand and mouth.
- The contrast between the white's slick blandness and the filling's grainy, chunky, intense flavors tickles our tastebuds.
- Maybe it's those cute dishes with their little rounded caves for each deviled egg half.
- Deviled eggs taste good.
Perhaps restaurants avoid deviled eggs because chefs fear competing with our family preferences: Sweet or mustardy or both? Mayonnaise or Miracle Whip? Pickle bits, pickle juice, or both? Sweet pickles, dills, or bread and butter? Paprika or not? Actually, I have yet to meet people who prefer paprika-free eggs, but more than once I have observed as newly finished deviled eggs disappear before the frantic cook can locate that final spice.
I have never seen a home cook use a recipe for deviled eggs. Most sit down with a fork and a small bowl of hard-boiled egg yolks, along with some jars out of the refrigerator door, plus some seasonings, and mash/taste mash/taste mash/taste until the golden mix tastes perfect, according to their family's preferences.
Mark Bittman opened my eyes to the ways deviled eggs can leave the sweet pickle/dill pickle debate behind, cross a few cultures, and give us even more reasons to love them. This Serious Eats post -- authorized, we hope -- offers a basic Bittman deviled egg recipe plus a 14-item list of potential add-ins. Crumbled bacon, horseradish or wasabi, pan-grilled corn kernels? Yes, yes, yes.
Two more sources of devilish inspiration: New York Times food writer Melissa Clark's story and accompanying recipe for Smoky Red Devil Eggs and, of course, the Epicurious.com menu page for deviled egg recipes, complete with ratings and many, many cooks' reviews and tweaks. A couple of amusements here: The recipe that nicknames deviled eggs "oblong heaven," and the recipe for "Southern Deviled Eggs" that uses yummy sounding fresh tarragon and scallions, two items I have never identified in traditional Kentucky deviled eggs -- but then we are technically a Border State anyway, not a part of the true South.
Three more tips:
- Buy the best pastured, organic, free range, locally grown eggs you can find -- unless you have your own in the backyard, of course. Properly raised eggs from happy hens taste wonderful.
- Keep your fresh eggs one week before you start deviling. After a week, eggs become much easier to peel after boiling.
- Practice good boiling technique. Our in-house process: Cover eggs in cold water in a saucepan. Cover the pan. Bring just to a boil. Turn off the heat, leave the eggs covered, and set a timer for 10 minutes. When time is up, pour out the hot water and run cool water on the eggs until you can handle them. Crack all over and peel. Or try this new (to me) method for boiling eggs. As you try different approaches, you may also determine how well-done or slightly creamy you like your yolk centers, and adjust your cooking time accordingly.
One LAST-last obvious deviled egg fact: Eggs are cheap. The very finest, most beautifully and sustainably raised semi-expensive local eggs are still a proteinacious bargain. Buy, boil, and bowl people over with old and new versions of this favorite Kentucky summer food.