Food for the Soul

Story Jan Swoope | Photographs Matt Garner

Folks in these parts like to say deviled eggs are a Southern thing, no matter that recipes for them date back to ancient Rome. But granted, what covered dish spread, brunch or Easter luncheon below the Mason-Dixon line is complete without them? Where else is an egg plate a perfectly acceptable wedding gift?

I’m not quite sure how it evolved, but some years ago I became the designated maker of deviled eggs for all my family’s gatherings. There was no negotiation, no official pronouncement, but it happened, nevertheless. Frankly, most of my life with stuffed eggs has been spent trying to make the little devils taste like my mother’s. The quest continues.

My eggs are a simple matter of rotating brands of mayonnaise (I’m working on it, Mama), varying amounts of mustard, finely-chopped sweet pickles, salt and pepper. Thrill-seekers, however, are prone to add anything from spinach, shrimp or pimiento to sour cream, chutney and crabmeat.

Technically, to be considered “deviled” (vs. “stuffed”), eggs should have a kick. It might come from something simple, like the vinegar Lillajo Ford of Columbus adds — one teaspoon to one tablespoon per eight yolks. The idea came from Doris Fisackerly’s recipe in Heritage Academy’s “Grand Heritage” cookbook. Or, you could advance straight to perdition, with ammo like cayenne pepper, wasabi or Tabasco sauce.

Epicurean Anne Freeze of Columbus gives a nod to the cookbook “Deviled Eggs: 50 Recipes from Simple to Sassy,” by her Southern Foodways Alliance friend Debbie Moose of Raleigh, N.C. Those recipes range from elegant to fiery, boasting ingredients like hollandaise sauce, orange zest and chipotle.

Freeze included an “Eggcellent” segment in a cooking class she taught this past fall for Mississippi University for Women’s Life Enrichment Program.

“We poached; we scrambled; we made quiche; and we definitely learned the proper way to boil an egg,” she said. (See below.)

One of Freeze’s favorite deviled egg recipes is a “wickedly delicious” version with smoked salmon, topped with fried capers.

When it comes to the critical mayo, the former gourmet food store owner is a fan of Hellmann’s and sometimes borrows a secret from her mother’s kitchen when making “important mayonnaise things.”

“To make her Hellmann’s taste like homemade, she added a little olive oil, lemon juice and a dash of cayenne pepper — no more than a tablespoon of olive oil or lemon juice per cup of mayonnaise,” Freeze explained.

“And this is a brilliant technique from Julia Child: She pushed egg yolks through a fine mesh sieve with the back of a spoon, and that makes it fluffy,” Freeze continued. “Then mix it with softened butter and I mean, it’s lick-the-bowl good — un-be-lievable.”

The world of deviled eggs is bigger than you may think, with all manner of advice circulating: using older eggs for easier peeling, propping the egg carton on its side or upside down in the refrigerator for several hours beforehand to center the yolks, or adding a little salt to the water to seal hairline cracks — minimizing the damage and mess if an egg springs a leak.

Whether the preference is plain-Jane or exotic, stuffing eggs proves that the devil sometimes really is in the details. But it’s worth it, right? As Sweet Potato Queen Jill Conner Browne of Jackson said, if they invented a special plate for it, that says it all right there. 


ANNE FREEZE ON BOILING THE PERFECT EGG: Place eggs in a saucepan in one layer and cover with 1-2 inches of water. Bring water to a full, rolling boil. Turn heat to low and leave on heat, covered, for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and let eggs stand in hot water for 12-15 minutes. Pour off hot water; plunge eggs into iced water and let sit for 15-20 minutes before peeling. (Caution: Overcooking leads to that greenish layer around the yolk.)


SMOKED SALMON DEVILED EGGS

Yields 24 deviled eggs

1 dozen large eggs
⅛ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons soft, unsalted butter
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill, (plus more for garnish)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
4 ounces smoked salmon, minced
½ teaspoon salt (or 1 teaspoon kosher salt)
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 jar capers, for garnish (at least 72 capers)

For the filling:

• Cut eggs in half lengthwise with a sharp knife dipped in cold water. Remove yolks. Press yolks through a fine mesh sieve into a mixing bowl. Add mayonnaise, butter and lemon juice and mix thoroughly.
• Add the dill, chives, salmon, pepper and half of the salt. Taste for seasoning and add the rest of the salt if needed. Also taste for consistency and add more mayonnaise if mixture is too stiff.
• Pipe or spoon filling into eggs. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

For fried capers, as garnish:

• For ¼ cup fried capers, heat ¼ cup olive oil in a small pan. Drain, rinse and dry ¼ cup capers (large ones if you can find them). Sauté in pan for 2-3 minutes, shaking to stir capers so they brown on all sides. When browned, remove capers to a paper towel to drain.
• Use three capers on top of each egg half for an unusual garnish. Do this just before serving. Do not put capers on eggs and refrigerate; capers will get soggy.

(Source: Anne Freeze, with thanks to Julia Child, Ina Garton and Emeril Lagasse)