Though popularized in postwar America, the practice of serving boiled, spiced eggs as an appetite-stimulating first course (called gustatio) can be traced to Ancient Roman dinner parties. Stuffed eggs as party appetizers remained trendy throughout the following millenium, but referring to spiced foods as “deviled” only became popular in 18th-century Great Britain.
Deviled eggs are a study in simple things done right: Hard-boil as many eggs as you have dinner guests, split them pole to pole, then transfer the crumbly yolks to a small bowl. To this bowl, add something sharp (Dijon mustard), spicy ( cayenne pepper), and creamy (mayonnaise). Mash until it just holds together. Pipe or spoon the filling back into the boiled egg-white halves—whether you do this with a piping bag fitted with a star tip or just two spoons is totally up to you.
Deviled eggs are not only make-ahead friendly; they benefit greatly from it, as well. Cook and peel the eggs up to a week in advance. The fridge rest will make for cleaner splits and thus, a neater presentation. If not prepping ahead, no sweat—just be sure to let the boiled eggs cool completely before peeling and halving. Prepare the filling only up to a day in advance—any longer and the flavor and texture (especially if you’re including finely chopped acidic things) will go, ha, sour. Store the filling in a sealable container or reusable plastic bag; simply scoop, or snip and pipe when ready to serve.
By combining her Southern sensibilities with the restraint of her French training, Virginia Willis' deviled eggs just happen to do everything right. There’s a secret ingredient here, too, 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, mustard, 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.
To hard-cook the eggs, place the eggs in a saucepan and add water to cover them by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat (you will see bubbles around the sides of the pot). Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand for 12 minutes. Drain the eggs and rinse them under cold running water. Set aside to cool completely.
To peel the eggs, once the eggs have cooked and cooled, remove the shells by tapping each egg gently on the counter or sink all over to crackle it. Roll an egg between your hands to loosen the shell. Peel, starting at the large end, while holding the egg under running cold water; this facilitates peeling and also removes any stray shell fragments.
To prepare the filling, halve the peeled eggs lengthwise. Carefully remove the yolks. Set the whites aside. Pass the yolks through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl or place them in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Blend the yolks, mayonnaise, butter, mustard, and cayenne, and mix until smooth; season with salt and pepper. Add the finely chopped tarragon.
Place the mixture in a piping bag fitted with a large star tip, or use a medium sealable plastic bag with one of the corner tips snipped off.
To assemble the eggs, when ready to serve, pipe the yolk mixture into the whites. Garnish with additional herbs and serve immediately.
To make ahead: Unpeeled hard-cooked eggs can be refrigerated for up to 1 week. Or prepare the eggs, but don’t assemble, up to 8 hours in advance of serving; refrigerate the whites covered with a damp towel in an airtight plastic container. Store the egg-yolk mixture in the piping bag with the tip also covered in a damp paper towel. Knead the yolk mixture slightly to soften before filling the yolks. The eggs may also be assembled and stored covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 hours. Any longer and the yolk mixture starts to form a crust.
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