There’s a nostalgic contentment that looking at a tray of uniform devilled eggs brings, all bright and perky. It’s easy to dismiss them as something you’d be more likely to find in an Abigail’s Party scenario, but there’s something irresistible about them: the contrast between the brilliant white and the golden yolk, sitting proud. And their appeal isn’t simply nostalgia: devilled eggs really are a pretty gorgeous canapé or appetiser, with their soft spiced yolks enriched with mayonnaise and butter, sitting in nature’s serving spoon – its own egg white.
Devilling is an old term, and an old technique: it basically means a foodstuff which is highly seasoned or spicy, and it dates back to the eighteenth century – the term supposedly originates from a connection between the devil and the heat of hell. Although the idea of spicing hard boiled eggs is far older, found in the Roman cookbook of Apicus. Stuffed eggs – removing the mixture, adding to it, and returning to the egg white – were written about in the fifteenth century, although those featured the less appetising addition of raisins and mint.
To make devilled eggs as we now know them, the yolks and whites of hard boiled eggs are separated; the yolk is then mashed up with mayonnaise, mustard and all manner of different flavourings and accoutrements, before being spooned or piped back into the whites. Some cooks add capers, cornichons, even bacon or shellfish to their yolk mix, but I like mine smooth, so forgo the coarser elements, instead leaning heavily on the side of spice: if you’re going to devil something, you should make sure it packs a punch. I like a couple of generous dashes of Tabasco to give the mix a slightly sour heat, and a shake of cayenne pepper to decorate the finished eggs. My only real addition is one borrowed from Simon Hopkinson: using celery salt as seasoning, which has a spicier flavour that the vegetable. Using eggs which are a couple of days old make them easier to peel, as there’s more air inside the shell, so you end up with a neater end product.
If you’re looking for ease, you can just spoon the spiced yolk mixture back into the whites: it will look lovely and of course taste exactly the same. But I am The Vintage Chef, and I have a soft spot for the kitsch. The devilled egg is kitsch to its very core, and it will remain so for as long as you’re spooning egg yolk to sit proud atop little egg white boats. So you might as well go the whole hog, and pipe it in little swirls: embrace the retro, I say.
Takes: 15 minutes
Bakes: No time at all
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon softened butter
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pinch of celery salt
2 dashes Tabasco
Cayenne pepper, for dusting
1. Bring a medium-sized pan of water to a gentle boil. Add the eggs (gently, to stop them cracking) and boil for ten minutes, before setting aside to cool.
2. Once cool, peel the eggs, cut in half and put the yolks in a separate bowl while leaving the whites in tact.
3. Mash the egg yolks with the mayonnaise, dijon mustard, softened butter, tabasco and celery salt until smooth.
4. Spoon or pipe the yolks into the whites, and dust with cayenne pepper. Serve immediately.