Food Lab Lite: My Favorite Deviled Eggs

The Food Lab

Unraveling the mysteries of home cooking through science.

[Photograph and video: J. Kenji López-Alt]

Growing up, I was never a fan of deviled eggs (or anything mayonnaise-related, for that matter). Then again, deviled eggs back then consisted mainly of overcooked, slightly sulfurous hard-boiled eggs, mashed up with Hellmann's mayo and a bit of yellow mustard and served too cold. They were the default "serve them anyway, someone will eat them after the guacamole's gone" option at the potluck. I thought I'd sworn them off forever.

Well, times have changed. Or, more likely, my ability to surround myself with people who know how to make awesome deviled eggs has changed.

To be precise, the first truly outstanding deviled eggs I tried as an adult were from Oleana in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I hadn't actually gone in intending to find the key to my devilish chastity belt, but as it happened, I was a poor college student at the time, and in way over my head pretending I could afford to be at a restaurant that I really couldn't. So I did what any well-intentioned but underfunded kid would do: I ordered a cocktail and the cheapest dish on the menu. Both were outstanding.

For one thing, Chef Ana Sortun really knows how to properly cook a hard-boiled egg. The key is starting them in cold water, bringing them up to a boil, then removing them from heat and letting them rest in the cooling water.* Starting them cold helps them come up to temperature more evenly, preventing the whites from overcooking and, even better, preventing the dreaded green ring from forming around the yolk—a reaction between the sulfur in the egg white and the iron in the yolk, and a sure indication that your eggs are overcooked (and stinky).

* UPDATE: Further extensive testing has demonstrated that starting eggs in already-boiling water or steaming them is a superior method for easier peeling.

At Oleana, Sortun combines these yolks with plenty of really good olive oil, tuna that's been slowly confited in more of that olive oil, along with some black olives and parsley. That's all well and good, and the tuna and olives are a nice addition to deviled eggs, but the real key to getting them to taste awesome is the perfect cooking, coupled with the great olive oil and plenty of acid and salt. Anything tastes better with really good olive oil and more acid.

Since then, I've had plenty of great deviled eggs. Our beer reviewer Nick Leiby makes some pretty mean ones (traditional, but well seasoned). The Spotted Pig makes the best I've ever had, and they're the archetype for my own recipe these days (even more vinegar and salt than Ana's!).

I like to boil more eggs than I need so that I can add extra yolks and overstuff each of the egg halves. (I eat the leftover whites with some Frank's RedHot—I also add a dash of it to the filling—or mix them into Hambone's dog food.) You can never have too much egg yolk. Chives or parsley, with some nice crunchy Maldon sea salt and a sprinkle of good paprika or crushed red pepper (Spanish piment d'Espelette if you're lucky, or a good planner) finish 'em off.

The only other bit to look out for is that, just like when you're making a mayonnaise, if you try to add too much olive oil to your egg yolks too fast, the filling will break, turning grainy and greasy. The key is to slowly drizzle the olive oil in while your food processor is running (or while whisking vigorously, if you like to go manual).

Why did I suddenly realize that the site lacks a basic deviled egg recipe, you ask?

Wait until the debut of Bottom Shelf columnist Will Gordon's new column tomorrow morning, and all will be revealed.

Want more flavor? Here are nine in-your-face deviled egg variations to get you started!