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Deviled eggs make a comeback with a twist in Baltimore kitchens

While the deviled egg is a staple this time of year at picnics and summer holiday celebrations, it has become a year-round menu item at many area restaurants, from a "cheeseburger" variety at Bookmakers Cocktail Club in Federal Hill to a blue crab preparation at Wit & Wisdom in Harbor East.

Deviled eggs never go out of fashion, but they do get dressed up for many occasions.

Kimchi, pork belly, salmon — you name it, and chances are someone has added it to the creamy yellow swirl that adorns a hard-cooked egg half.

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While the deviled egg is a staple this time of year at picnics and summer holiday celebrations, it has become a year-round menu item at many area restaurants, from a "cheeseburger" variety at Bookmakers Cocktail Club in Federal Hill to a blue crab preparation at Wit & Wisdom in Harbor East.

Zachary Mills, executive chef of Wit and Wisdom at the Four Seasons Hotel, uses a piping bag to fill his blue crab deviled eggs.
Zachary Mills, executive chef of Wit and Wisdom at the Four Seasons Hotel, uses a piping bag to fill his blue crab deviled eggs. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

It's also one of several retro foods making a menu comeback around the country, according to Nation's Restaurant News, which covers the food-service industry.

"For baby boomers, there's an element of nostalgia in retro styles and products, while millennials' attraction is more about discovery," Nancy Kruse, a menu trends analyst, wrote in the report.

"They're very popular," said Zack Mills, Wit & Wisdom's executive chef. "We sell a couple hundred a day."

His recipe is mostly traditional — egg yolks mixed with Dijon mustard, chopped cornichons, Old Bay and backfin crab. The blend is garnished with jumbo lump crab, fried shallots, minced chives and Old Bay.

"Deviled eggs are one of my favorite foods," Mills said. "Adding blue crab and Old Bay seemed like a good idea."

Wit and Wisdom's blue crab deviled eggs.
Wit and Wisdom's blue crab deviled eggs. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

At Bookmakers, the cheeseburger deviled egg is a top seller, said general manager Ben Circelli.

"It's the one cuisine that is really American comfort food," he said. "A cheeseburger deviled egg made sense."

Bookmakers' chef, Nelson Morton, came up with the idea for the dish, which started as a special at the bar before becoming a regular menu offering.

Cheeseburger deviled eggs at Bookmakers Cocktail Club.
Cheeseburger deviled eggs at Bookmakers Cocktail Club. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

"I wanted to do deviled eggs and was trying to think out of the box," he said.

Morton whips up yolks with a special sauce he created and then adorns the deviled egg with seasoned, cooked ground beef, finely diced tomatoes, onions, julienned lettuce and more sauce.

"When you bite into it, it tastes just like a cheeseburger," Circelli said.

Chef Morton Nelson assembles two plates of cheeseburger deviled eggs at Bookmakers Cocktail Club.
Chef Morton Nelson assembles two plates of cheeseburger deviled eggs at Bookmakers Cocktail Club. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Ten Ten, an American-style bistro in Harbor East, plays on the egg as breakfast food for its own version.

The restaurant, part of the Bagby group, relies on bacon made from pigs raised on the owner's Cunningham Farms in Baltimore County.

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Ten Ten's chef, John Hufnagel, folds house dill pickles, sweet relish, Dijon mustard, minced shallots, paprika, hot sauce, fresh chives and parsley into yolks he has run through a sieve to create a fluffy mix.

He garnishes his deviled eggs with bacon and smoked paprika.

"Deviled eggs make you think of a Southern kind of picnic," Hufnagel said. "People love them."

While we may think of deviled eggs as American, their roots can be traced to ancient Rome, according to the History Channel's history.com. By the 15th century, stuffed eggs had spread across Europe.

The "devil" part of the name is attributed to adding spices, like dry mustard or cayenne, to the yolks, according to the American Egg Board, a trade group for farmers.

The spicy eggs began showing up in the U.S. by the mid-19th century, and in the 1940s, mayonnaise became a commonly used binder, mixed with mustard and paprika.

Deviled eggs have a lot going for them, said Andrea Geary, a senior editor at Cook's Illustrated magazine. They remind us of our childhoods, can be updated with trendy ingredients and pass many dietary restrictions.

"Gluten-free people can eat them. Vegetarians can eat them, and paleo [dieting] people can eat them," she said.

In a recent Cook's Illustrated article, Geary addressed the reason many home cooks have an aversion to making deviled eggs: the peeling process.

It can be difficult to achieve a smooth hard-cooked egg white to showcase your deviled-egg masterpiece. Preparation is the key.

The terms hard-cooked and hard-boiled eggs are often used interchangeably. But technically, hard-boiled eggs refer to eggs that have been cooked in boiling water.

Geary offers another way that results in eggs with shells that slip off like a dream.

She tested more than 200 eggs for her article and discovered a cooking technique (see recipe) that gets the job done. "The best bet is to get fresh eggs and use the hot-start method," she said. "They'll be a lot easier to peel."

After achieving divot-free whites, cooks can add whatever they'd like to individualize their deviled eggs. But not everyone wants to veer from tradition.

Local author and occasional Baltimore Sun contributor Rafael Alvarez dedicated an essay to deviled eggs in his book "Crabtown, USA," sharing Baltimore folklore about the beloved food. He has strong feelings about the dish's preparation.

"The deviled egg is not a platform on which to pile anything you can think of on top of it," he said. "If you get too carried away, it's no longer a deviled egg."

And don't even think about using a piping nozzle for the yolk mixture.

"I don't like when they're uniform," he said. "Use a spoon and dollop it out one by one."

He echoes the sentiments of many area cooks, including his mother, Gloria Alvarez, "a Polish girl from St. Casimir's parish."

"She makes them for me," he said. "She knows I like them."

Alvarez is also the beneficiary of deviled eggs at numerous family gatherings and buffets, where they disappear long before the potato salad.

"Not all deviled eggs are created equal," he said. "The deviled egg is both standard and special."

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