When Ilan Hall, winner of Bravo's Top Chef 2, was challenged to come up with an amuse bouche in half an hour, he made a deviled egg. But not just any deviled egg. Instead of the standard mayonnaise and mustard, its center held a mixture of fig paste, egg yolks, chili-lime corn nuts and pear nectar, topped with fried salami.
That's inspiration for those less-than-top-chefs among us who soon will be staring at lots of lovingly decorated Easter eggs - and wondering how to consume them. Fortunately, plenty of recipes make use of humdrum hard-boiled eggs. They can be deviled with a twist, used in salads and sandwiches or made into a filling, hearty breakfast dish.
In Betty Crocker's traditional deviled-egg recipe, a shelled, hard-boiled egg is cut in half lengthwise and the yolk taken out. The yolk is mixed with mustard, mayonnaise, salt and pepper, and mounded decoratively in the egg white.
Although this recipe is simple, as Hall proved it is also quite versatile. Forced to create a dish in 30 minutes using ingredients from a vending machine, Hall chose a pack of hard-boiled eggs as his main ingredient.
"The hard-boiled egg was perfect to use for an amuse bouche," Hall said in a recent interview. "It is tiny, easy to just pop in your mouth and it can be packed with flavor."
Chef Warren McClain of Carrol's Creek Waterfront Restaurant in Annapolis shares that view. "With a deviled egg, the possibilities are endless," said McClain, who suggested topping a deviled egg with seafood. "Shrimp, crab or lobster can spruce up the traditional deviled-egg recipe."
In The Big Book of Appetizers, co-author Meredith Deeds - inspired by the Easter problem - incorporated seafood into an innovative recipe that skips the mayo and mustard in favor of tuna, capers, olives and lemon juice .
Making egg-salad sandwiches or spinach salads are two other great ways to use a lot of leftover hard-boiled eggs quickly.
McClain recommends adding diced and cooked potatoes and fresh dillweed to an egg salad. "The potato gives the salad a bit more substance and the dillweed makes a huge difference in the flavor," he said.
The Web site inmamaskit chen.com has recipes that go beyond deviled eggs. In Ham Hash With Eggs in a Mustard-Cream Sauce, hearty ham and potatoes are sauteed with minced onion and topped with a rich mustard-and-hard-boiled-egg-cream sauce.
The hard-boiled egg also can stand on its own.
Patrick Russel, co-owner and chef of Kooper's Tavern and Slainte's Irish Pub in Fells Point, likes to keep things simple. He suggests a traditional Irish egg sandwich. The eggs are sliced, placed on white or wheat bread and topped with lettuce, tomato, mayo and onion.
"It's actually a popular dish on our menu, and our customers seem to enjoy it," Russel said. He also likes to use sliced hard-boiled eggs on top of a spinach salad with crumbles of creamy gorgonzola cheese, sauteed button mushrooms and a smooth bacon vinaigrette.
If you're planning to use your decorated eggs as the chefs do, pay close attention to properly cooking and storing them.
To make hard-boiled eggs, Hilary Shallo Thesmar, a registered dietitian with the Egg Safety Center, advises submerging fresh eggs in a pan with cold water and bringing the water to a boil.
"Using cold water will create the perfect hard-boiled egg," said Thesmar. She says it will also ensure that the eggs are at least 160 degrees.
After the water is boiling, turn off the heat and allow the eggs to cool for 15 minutes. An important note for eggs used in Easter egg hunts: Cooked eggs should not be eaten if they've been sitting out for more than two hours. Keep them refrigerated and uncracked, and they should stay fresh for a week.
Ham Hash With Eggs in Mustard-Cream Sauce
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 large peeled, cooked and cubed potatoes
1/2 pound chopped ham
1 tablespoon finely minced onion
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and sliced
In a large skillet, heat butter and oil until butter is melted. Add potatoes, ham and onion. Cook over medium heat, stirring and turning mixture over until crispy brown.
While hash is cooking, make mustard-cream sauce. In a small saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Stir in flour to make a roux. Add milk and stir over low heat until sauce begins to thicken. Stir in mustard. Continue cooking until sauce is thick.
Add sliced eggs to sauce, but do not stir. When hash is finished cooking, place in serving bowl. Pour eggs with sauce over the middle of the hash. Serve at once.
From Diane Nemitz, a contributor to inmamaskitchen.com
Per serving: 570 calories, 23 grams protein, 31 grams fat, 12 grams saturated fat, 51 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber, 270 milligrams cholesterol, 754 milligrams sodium
Nicoise Deviled Eggs
Makes 16 eggs
8 large eggs
3 ounces of canned tuna packed in olive oil
3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons rinsed and drained capers
salt and pepper to taste
8 pitted and halved kalamata olives
Cover the eggs with cold water by 1 1/2 inches in a heavy, 3-quart saucepan and bring to a rolling boil, partially covering the pan. Reduce the heat to low and cook the eggs with the pan completely covered for 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and let it stand covered for 15 minutes. Then transfer the eggs to a bowl of ice and cold water and let them cool for 5 minutes.
Peel the eggs and halve them lengthwise. Carefully remove the yolks and place them in the bowl of a food processor. Set the egg whites, cut side up, on a serving platter.
Add the tuna to the food processor. Pulse several times until the yolks and tuna are well mixed. Add the olive oil and lemon juice and pulse again until the mixture is smooth. Add the capers and pulse until the capers are chopped and dispersed throughout the yolk-tuna mixture. Remove the mixture from the bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Spoon the mixture into the egg whites and decorate each of the filled eggs with an olive half.
Cover the eggs with plastic wrap and refrigerate until they are ready to be served.
From "The Big Book of Appetizers," by Meredith Deeds and Carla Snyder
Per serving: 69 calories, 4 grams protein, 6 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 1 gram carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber, 107 milligrams cholesterol, 108 milligrams sodium