What was I thinking , promising to post on the night of my return travel? Blame it on my hopeless optimism. It took me a day to get back in the swing of cooking and writing, but I’m happy to report that I found inspiration with a dish you have all the ingredients for as I write: deviled eggs.
I like to think of deviled eggs as more than party fare; the can also be a starting point for dinner. That’s exactly how they functioned last night. Still weary from travel and several days of eating out, I was short on ideas for the main dish. Then I saw the eggs in the refrigerator, and I knew precisely what I was craving.
I shook off my self-imposed rules for making the main dish first, and instead made the deviled eggs, letting the rest follow: a loaf of crusty bread, sliced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and a handful of slivered fresh basil, and some yogurt with honey and fruit for dessert. The simplicity of preparation left me plenty of time for some devilish dawdling, just what I needed to refresh and renew.
Deviled eggs are my opening ode to summer. They have no place at a table set for a winter repast, and are equally awkward in the fall and spring. Rather, deviled eggs are quintessential summer. Easy to make, easy to eat, and easy to share, they have their proper niche at languid lunches, sultry socials, backyard barbecues, and impromptu picnics.
I’ve always favored deviled eggs, but I nevertheless understand feelings of loathing. But it’s not the eggs, it’s the preparation. With proper technique, deviled eggs are ambrosial: tender whites cradling a velvety, golden yolk filling, spiked with just enough pepper and spice to earn their devilish eponym. But when the technique is off, tough and stinky is the hapless consequence, lending a new connotation to the diabolical name.
To keep a good egg from going bad, arm yourself with a push pin, a timer, and a large bowl of ice. Use the pin to make a small hole in the egg. Make the hole on the rounded (not pointed) end of the egg. There is an air chamber at the rounded end. Making a hole in the egg allows air to escape, eliminating the possibility of air pressure cracks in the shell and, subsequently, rubbery egg whites.
I should add that, while the freshest eggs are best for baking and scrambling, the best hard-boiled eggs are a few days old. The reason is the peeling. If you’ve boiled eggs more than once, you’ve likely peeled a few specimens whose whites adhered to the shells with barnacle-like tenacity. Blame it on too-fresh eggs (I, for one, am always happy to pass the blame for my culinary gaffes).
Use the timer to prevent overcooking. Preparing a hard boiled egg is like applying perfume: an easy enough process, but if overdone, the whole house stinks. The malodorous culprit in eggs is sulfur. When the eggs cook in boiling water, the sulfur in the egg moves away from the heat toward the yolk. If cooked too long, the sulfur in the white will react with the iron in the yolk, producing a strong smell, pale yolk, and an unattractive gray-green yolk coating.
Eliminate all of these problems as follows. Place the eggs in a single layer in a large saucepan and cover with 1 inch of water. Some people like to add a splash of white vinegar and a pinch of salt to aid the peeling once cooked. I’ve done it with and without, and cannot discern a difference. But if you would like to be on the safe side (and why not?), try the briny option.
Bring the water to a boil, then immediately move the pan to a cold burner and let sit, covered, for 11 minutes. At the 11-minute mark, drain the water from the pan, and shake the pan, vigorously, to crack the shells (this is one of Julia Childs’ great tricks; I love the old clips of her doing this). Plunge the eggs into the bowl of ice water and keep them there for at least 20 minutes. The ice water bath further prevents the sulfur in the whites from reacting with the yolks.
When ready to devil, remove the eggs from the ice water bath, peel, and slice lengthwise. (You can also refrigerate the eggs for 3 to 4 days until you are ready to use them). The yolk will be everything you hoped for: golden and creamy (bye bye dry and chalky), ideal for incorporating all varieties of ingredients. I’m all for letting the relaxed rules of summer cooking—imagination, creativity, spontaneity—take over.
Enlightened Deviled Eggs with Lemon and Smoked Paprika
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons plain fat-free yogurt
2 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon smoked hot paprika (pimenton)
Prepare hard boiled eggs as I describe above. Slice eggs in half lengthwise, and remove yolks. Discard 1 yolk.
Combine the yogurt, mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice, lemon zest and salt in a medium bowl. Add remaining yolks. Beat with an electric mixer at high speed until smooth. Spoon about 1 tablespoon yolk mixture into each egg white half. Cover and chill 1 hour. Sprinkle with smoked paprika.
Nutrition per serving (1 egg half):Calories 39; Fat 2.1g (poly 0.3g, mono 0.7g, sat 0.6g); Protein 3.2g; Cholesterol 80mg; Carbohydrate 1.3g; Sodium 83mg)
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)