Editors' Picks

Virginia Willis' Deviled Eggs

March 30, 2012

Every week, FOOD52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: A deviled egg to convince the doubters -- perfect for Easter brunch, dinner, and the unending glut of dyed eggs.

deviled egg

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- Kristen

Given our all-but-universal love for eggs, the deviled kind turn out to be strangely polarizing. Lukewarm feelings are not possible, only love or distrust.

That's not to say that it's an even split. The few (like me, before I met this recipe) are suspicious of the whole sneaky feedback system of yolk-impersonating-yolk; the cold jiggly white. We're not about to pick one up at a party, because we know there's no turning back; no "just a taste"; no hiding a tooth-marked egg in shame. A deviled egg is a commitment.


But for the many -- the ones who see no problem with owning trays shaped like this, the only questions are 1) how many can one sensibly eat in a sitting and 2) whether to attack each egg in one bite or two. (The FOOD52 staff is equally divided between one-biters and two-biters.)

Until recently, I stayed away, a no-biter. It was Virginia Willis -- a French-trained chef with strong Southern roots -- who would convert me.

virginia willis  basic to brilliant y'all

You may remember her lilting voice and sparkly smile from this Warm Summer Shrimp Salad video. Willis is a talented chef and recipe writer, having worked with icons like Martha Stewart, Anne Willan, and Nathalie Dupree for years before publishing her own cookbooks, most recently Bon Appetit, Y'all and Basic to Brilliant, Y'all.

By combining her Southern sensibilities with the restraint of her French training, her deviled eggs just do everything right.

hard-cooked eggshard-cooking eggs

The whites are supple and smooth, more than just a caddy for the golden middles. This is because, technically, the eggs aren't hard-boiled, but hard-cooked -- i.e. left alone for 12 minutes in just-boiled water. As you peel, the eggshells fall away -- if you listen to Willis and use week-old eggs instead of fresh ones.

peeling eggs

The yolks too are just cooked enough to be firm, but not chalky or sulphurous. Hard-boiled yolks of my childhood were green-tinged and rubbery, like the gutted remains of a chew toy. Not these. They're just yolks, good and yellow.

hard-cooked eggssieved yolks

Willis has you nudge them out and push them through a sieve (if you feel committed and listen to her French side) or just plunk them straight into a food processor. Then they're dolled up with only enough condiments to make the yolks go silken and loose, no more. There is no overdosing on sweet, vinegary mayonnaise; no chunky pickle relish to mar the texture.

chopping herbsdeviled egg filling

But there is a secret ingredient here, one that Willis picked up in culinary school: butter, just a tad. Mixed in while it's soft, it rounds and smooths over the more acidic ingredients and renders the filling creamy without overtaking it.

A few classic players -- mayonnaise, dijon and cayenne -- hover at the edges, so the richness of the yolk still shines. A speckling of fresh herbs stirred in at the end lifts everything up. A doubter doubts no more. 

piping bagpiping deviled eggs

So when you fish those painted eggs out of the planters and sprinkler holes they were hiding in, make deviled eggs. Lots of them. You can expect a few new customers this year. And watch out for those one-biters.

deviled eggs

Virginia Willis' Deviled Eggs

Adapted very slightly from Bon Appetit, Y'all (Ten Speed Press, 2008)

Makes 2 dozen

12 large eggs
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon, chives, or chervil, plus leaves for garnish

See a slideshow and the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].


Photos by James Ransom

virginia willis' deviled eggs


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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Gayle1942
  • Kim Kanoy
    Kim Kanoy
  • hip pressure cooking
    hip pressure cooking
  • FrancesE
  • CharlieR
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Gayle1942 October 12, 2012
I use a pressure cooker to cook the eggs -- the are so much easier to peel. I also find the consistancy of the cook time in my digital PC to make it easier to get them done exactly the way I want them. As for the recipe, it is very similar to the way I make mine except that I add a little vinegar. I like the little extra tang and it sort of helps cut the fat in the mayo. I use just plain white vinegar but I expect you could change the type for different flavors.
Kim K. May 1, 2012
This recipe is so close to deviled eggs that I make … only I add finely diced shallot! Yum!
hip P. April 3, 2012
This is great, I shared it with my readers, now that everyone is pressure cooking their eggs to a hard-boil (it makes FRESH eggs easy to peel) they need something to do with all of those eggs.

BTW, here is my Pressure Cooker hard boiled egg recipe, if interested...


Ciao and again.. fantastic and easy deviled egg recipe!

Kristen M. April 4, 2012
Thanks for sharing -- what an amazing post. Eggs are a surefire way to make pressure cookers hip. Good work!
FrancesE April 2, 2012
Clarify please- do you put the eggs in cold water, bring to a boil, remove from heat and wait 10-12 mins before putting in ice water/ice? I know this is a stupid question.
Kristen M. April 4, 2012
Not a stupid question at all -- and you've pretty much got it. You can find the full recipe here, which details the process: http://food52.com/recipes/16850_virginia_willis_deviled_eggs
CharlieR April 2, 2012
I have been making devilled eggs like this since I was a child.
I wouldn't make them any other way!
I do eat inferior ones so as not to hurt my host, but long for these each time.

I'm at the least a 3 biter.
I don't like to stuff my mouth, but to savour each small bite.

Kristen M. April 4, 2012
Interesting -- have you always added softened butter to your deviled eggs? I'm probably more of a 3-biter myself.
nratt April 1, 2012
One-biter, here. Deviled eggs are one of my favorites. I've long been familiar with the cooking method recommended here. I used it up until I got a Krups egg cooker, which works quite well. Not sure if Krups still makes 'em. I will definitely try this recipe. Sounds like a winner. And the butter? Genius. Yep, and I agree, no chunks of anything in deviled eggs for me. Oh, you can get a pretty smooth cut by using a slender fillet knife; place it on the the full length of the egg and make one quick downward stroke to the cutting surface. Works for me anyway.
Trillinchick April 1, 2012
P.S. I prefer fresh deviled eggs - before any refrigeration. Make them (with assistance if needed) and serve them. The same applies with my adapted Mom' s homemade potato salad - spool yummy when it's fresh, okay after it's been refrigerated. ;-)
Trillinchick April 1, 2012
The chokey-dry, green edged yolk and rubbery whites of childhood was very likely overbooking so when a (hungry) child found a decorated hunt egg and wanted an immediate nosh, there was hopefully less chance of food poisoning, etc. (remember the mayonnaise!). I like Egg Chartreuse egg yolk blended with avocado and mayo (choose your favorite seasoning -mine's fresh black pepper, garlic powder and/or cumin). I spread the mixture over the egg white "cup" and all of that upside.

My dad was the one who most loved coloring eggs and having Easter egg hunts. When his kids were too old, he recruited the neighbor's kids - and a good time was had by all. My mother still has some Easter eggs that my dad and niece blew the raw egg out of and decorated 30 years ago. ;-)
Mis4 April 1, 2012
Sigh! I should have made these when my kids were growing up. : ) All those wasted eggs!
davidpdx March 31, 2012
Oh, my! And what's the secret to getting that beautiful perfectly smooth surface on the cut whites in the pictures?
BavarianCook March 31, 2012
You wrote exactly what I was thinking! I am looking forward to the response on this one. Mine also never look THAT amazingly smooth. :)
cooking2eat April 2, 2012
My way to get perfectly smooth egg whites: When you remove the eggs from the hot water to the ice water to stop the cooking, save the hot water and keep it simmering. When you are ready to peel, return the eggs to the hot water for 10 to 20 seconds, remove egg from water and roll on any hard surface to crack the shell. You will find that the shell comes off easily without harming the egg white.
Kristen M. April 4, 2012
A nice sharp knife helps, as does a good scrape in between eggs, to get rid of any clinging yolk. Deviled eggs can be unpredictable things, so the best tip I've heard is to always make a little bit extra, since you never know when you're going to have a wonky, uncentered yolk or a misshapen white (not that people won't snatch those up too). I always think my deviled eggs are going to be terrible looking until they're done.
Kitchen B. March 30, 2012
Oh, I'm one of those....with a special devilled eggs platter......! You write beautifully Kristen - now I'm in love with devilled eggs!
Robin O. March 31, 2012
I'm with KB. The deviled egg platter is essential, especially in the South.
Kristen M. April 4, 2012
Thank you KB! I always love your recipe headnotes.
lastnightsdinner March 30, 2012
I love this! I've been mixing my yolks and seasonings in the food processor for years, and it really makes a huge difference - now I'll have to try adding a little butter!
BlueKaleRoad March 30, 2012
Perfect timing! I'm making deviled eggs for tonight and can't wait to try this recipe with its secret ingredient. We are on the love side of deviled eggs - my family is crazy about them and will scarf a platter down in minutes. Thank you for sharing this terrific recipe! And the photos are gorgeous.
Kristen M. March 30, 2012
Love that timing -- let us know how you like them!