When Irene Smith took over Baltimore's Woman's Industrial Kitchen last fall, she was determined to return it to its rightful place as a lunchroom where American home cooking is celebrated. What better way to do that, she thought, than to restore the classic deviled egg to the menu?
"Deviled eggs," she said, "are so integrated into American iconography that every maker of fine china also makes a deviled egg plate.
"Even the hot dog doesn't have its own plate."
The deviled egg, a staple on the Easter menu — what else are you going to do with all those hard-boiled eggs? — has migrated to restaurant dining. And it is holding its own.
It not only has its own plate (and its own plastic carrier), it has its own website, The Deviled Egg Gourmet (thedeviledegggourmet.webs.com), and an impressive entry in Wikipedia, where it is also called egg mimosa, Russian egg, dressed egg and picnic egg.
And there are as many recipe variations for grandma's deviled eggs as there are for, well, grandma's meatloaf, including lobster meat and bread soaked in milk. Deviled eggs are supposed to be a simple, homespun side dish or appetizer, but they can be dressed up with black truffles, caviar or salmon.
Baltimore's Spike Gjerde, who wanted to evoke the farmhouse kitchen at his restaurant, Woodberry Kitchen, put his mother-in-law's version of deviled eggs on the menu.
"They are the greatest deviled eggs I ever tasted," said Gjerde, who has served them as appetizers at Woodberry Kitchen since it opened in 2007 and has resisted any suggestion that they be replaced with something new. Even his most worldly customers have come to crave them.
"I have friends who are these sophisticated wine guys," said Gjerde, "and they come to the restaurant and all they can talk about is having their deviled eggs. Even before they sit down."
Smith serves them with chicken salad and tomato aspic at the Woman's Industrial Kitchen, or as a side order with house-made pickles. They are an appetizer at Woodberry Kitchen, where guests often order enough for the table to share.
Both restaurateurs use a version of the classic combination of yolk, mustard and mayonnaise, returned to center of the egg and lightly garnished with paprika or ham. But this recipe isn't sacred.
Deviled eggs are supposed to be creamy, but you can top them with fried onions or bacon or sauteed diced apples and they will be crunchy.
They are supposed to be a cold appetizer, but you can roll them in flour and panko crumbs and deep-fry them in peanut oil.
The "devil" in the deviled egg is supposed to be the mustard, but it can also be chipotle in adobo sauce, horseradish, jalapenos, hot sauce or barbecue sauce.
Traditionally, they are dusted with paprika, but they can also be topped with a tarragon leaf, scallions, chives, slivered red cabbage, parsley or Old Bay.
While it is easiest to simply spoon the filling into the egg white, Gjerde uses a pastry bag with a special tip to pipe it into the center.
Gjerde understands the restless creativity of chefs and their need to tweak recipes — or turn them on their heads. But he has changed his mother-in-law's recipe very little.
He garnishes his deviled eggs with little threads of house-baked ham. "Otherwise, it is just the classic mayonnaise, Gulden's mustard, salt and pepper," he said. "And a tiny bit of fish pepper powder that we make here."
It is the mayonnaise that makes them creamy, but you can also use creme fraiche, sour cream, ranch dressing or cream cheese. And while some cooks add lemon juice or vinegar for tartness, others add pickles, relish or olives.
Deviled eggs first appear in cooking journals in ancient Rome, where they were stuffed with raisins and several good cheeses. As they moved across Europe, deviled eggs took on regional affectations. The French added pepper and parsley. Russians filled them with caviar. Hungarians often use white bread soaked in milk. Germans might add anchovy and capers.
"In some families," said Smith of the Woman's Industrial Kitchen, "there would be mutiny if you changed grandma's recipe."
Tina Perry, the chef at the Woman's Industrial Kitchen, uses her mother's recipe — twice as much mustard as mayonnaise — but she has also stuffed them with shrimp and crab meat.
"They are labor-intensive, but they are worth it," she said. "The classic deviled egg needs to be kept alive."
The deviled egg is elegantly simple, but it is deceptively hard to get it right. The trick is to separate the egg from its shell without leaving pock marks in the egg whites. Here are some tips from "The Art of Deviled Eggs," an entry in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe website (h2g2.com).
•Begin by placing fresh, uncooked eggs on their sides in the refrigerator for seven to 10 days, turning them every day or two to keep the yolk centered. The time period will help the egg separate more easily from the shell membrane.
•Bring the eggs to room temperature to prevent cracking when they are immersed in the boiling water.
•Place the eggs in a strainer in a stock pot to avoid having the eggs sit against hot spots on the bottom of the pot.
•Fill the pot with enough water to cover the eggs, plus an inch. Add a teaspoon of salt for every half-gallon of water. That will also help break the membrane.
•Bring the water to a boil, then add the eggs, bring the water to a boil again, cover and remove from the heat. Let cook for five minutes.
•Remove the eggs, crack the shells thoroughly and return the eggs to the water for another eight minutes. This method helps keep the yolks from overcooking and turning green.
•Prepare an ice bath and submerge the eggs. This should cause the whites to shrink and pull away from the shell. The cold water will seep in through the cracked shell, also making it easier to peel the eggs.
•Chill the peeled eggs for an hour or so to let the yolks cool further.
•Cut a yolk-sized stencil out of a piece of paper to use when dusting the eggs with paprika.
•To get the deviled eggs to sit on a plate, shave a sliver of egg white off of the bottom.
Classic deviled eggs
Courtesy of Mary Nolan at foodnetwork.com
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
1/8 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Smoked Spanish paprika, for garnish
Place eggs in a single layer in a saucepan and add enough water to stand 11/2 inches above the eggs. Heat on high until water begins to boil, then cover, turn the heat to low, and cook for one minute. Remove from heat and leave covered for 14 minutes, then rinse under cold water continuously for one minute.
Crack egg shells and carefully peel under cool running water. Gently dry with paper towels. Slice the eggs in half lengthwise, removing yolks to a medium bowl and placing the whites on a serving platter. Mash the yolks into a fine crumble using a fork. Add mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper, and mix well.
Evenly disperse heaping teaspoons of the yolk mixture into the egg whites. Sprinkle with paprika and serve.
Lobster deviled eggs
Courtesy of chef and cookbook author Tyler Florence
6 hard-boiled egg yolks
4 ounces chopped lobster meat
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chopped shallot
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon capers
1 tablespoon chopped chives plus more for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
Mash ingredients together and spoon into the egg whites; top with more chives.
BLT deviled eggs
Courtesy of cookbook author Paula Deen and Food Network magazine.
6 large eggs, hard-boiled and peeled
1/4 cup mayonnaise
3 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled, plus more for garnish if desired
2 cherry tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Halve the eggs lengthwise. Remove the yolks and add them to a medium bowl. Mash the yolks with a fork and stir in the mayonnaise, bacon, tomatoes, and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste, and blend well.
Fill the egg whites evenly with the yolk mixture and garnish with bacon, if desired. Arrange them in a container and store, covered, in the refrigerator until ready to serve.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun