Double Down on Mustard for These Deviled Eggs From Wursthall

Wursthall deviled eggs with glass of beer and a pretzel

[Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt, except where noted]

Hey, everyone! For the last couple years, I've been working on recipes for Wursthall, the San Mateo, California, beer hall my partners and I opened in March of 2018. You're all welcome to stop by for a beer and a bite any time you're in the Bay Area (we're about 15 minutes from the airport!), but until then, from time to time, I'll be sharing the exact recipes for some of our most popular dishes, so you can make them at home.

"Did you start those eggs in cold water or boiling water?" I asked as I watched a cook-who-shall-not-be-named, who was trying in vain to cleanly peel the 200 or so hard-boiled eggs we go through for our extra-mustardy deviled eggs during a typical weekend at Wursthall. At home, it's not so important that your deviled eggs be smooth and divot-free, but at a restaurant with paying customers, it sure is.

His answer, along with a sheepish "That's how my old chef told us to do it," confirmed my suspicion.

"It's okay," I told him. "Looks like egg salad for family meal today. Fill another pot, and wait for it to boil before adding the eggs this time."

That's the real secret to boiled eggs that peel perfectly, incidentally. Heating them slowly gives the whites time to bond to the interior of the shell, while lowering them into rapidly boiling water causes those whites to set before they really have a chance to start sticking. A thorough chill in an ice bath immediately after they come out of the water ensures that the air bubble in the fat end makes a minimal dimple, and further firms up the whites for easier peeling.

At home, you can steam your eggs for even faster results, but steaming doesn't work with more than a half dozen eggs or so at a time. (Alternatively, you can do what we do these days, mainly out of necessity: find a good supplier of pre-boiled, pre-peeled eggs, and take the guesswork out of it altogether.)

Once the new batch of eggs was cooked, I helped him peel them all, then slice each one in half, dump out the yolks, rinse the whites in a tub of clean water, and lay them neatly in half-size hotel pans, between layers of parchment paper, to store in the walk-in. Afterwards, Lisseth, our daytime garde-manger (meaning she runs the station responsible for cold appetizers and salads) made the filling with the egg yolks, transferred it into pastry bags, and sealed the bags with the vacuum sealer (neatly labeling them with the date in Sharpie, of course).

When we were designing the menu for Wursthall, deviled eggs seemed like a no-brainer. They're a deliciously adaptable canvas for a variety of flavors, they're quick to plate—it's important to have a few dishes that can hit the table almost immediately after being ordered—and, as anyone who frequents The Dutch Goose in Menlo Park, as my parents did in the '70s, can tell you, they're a perfect partner for beer.

The question was, what would we do with our deviled eggs? How would we make ours distinct? I've never really been a fan of adding baroque garnishes or fusion elements to deviled eggs just to make them interesting,* nor do I want to stick meat into places where it needn't be. (Bacon on deviled eggs is a particular pet peeve of mine. Cold bacon on cold eggs? No, gracias.) I'm much more of a "just do it right with high-quality ingredients and let it speak for itself" kind of cook.

* Says the guy who once wrote an article called 9 In-Your-Face Deviled Egg Variations.

Making Deviled Eggs That Cut the Mustard

Finished deviled eggs with piped filling, topped with chili powder and herbs

[Photograph: Erik Drobey]

So what are the elements of a great deviled egg, and how do we best amplify them?

I like to think of deviled eggs as a suit. The egg white and filling are like the jacket and pants—they're the main attraction, and the part that the egg is largely going to be judged by. The other garnishes are like the tie and cufflinks—they've got to fit the ensemble, but you'd better still look good even without them.

In this case, the basic filling starts out as a slight variation on my favorite deviled eggs, which in turn were inspired by the excellent deviled eggs April Bloomfield serves at The Spotted Pig.**

**Though, for very good reasons, I don't go there anymore. No matter; you can make their best dishes—the ricotta gnudi and the blue cheese–topped burger—at home anyway.

The real secret here is to absolutely pack them with mustard and vinegar. A big dollop of Dijon mustard, a heavy glug of white wine vinegar, and a splash of brine from the pickled Fresno chilies that we make will do the trick. At home, you can use a dash of vinegary hot sauce, or some brine from a jar of pickled hot cherry peppers, in place of the pickled Fresno chili liquid. It won't make much difference.

When an order comes in, the garde-manger (tonight, that's Rosa) drops a couple small dollops of filling onto a plate to keep the split egg whites in place, pipes in the filling, then starts adding the garnish. A year ago, I coached Rosa through her first time ever using a piping bag. These days, she can pipe circles around me.

First up: pickled mustard seeds. These are based on a technique I learned from my old boss Ken Oringer in Boston. By cooking down yellow mustard seeds slowly in seasoned vinegar, you can tame their intense heat (mustard heat is neutralized by acid, which is why the hottest styles of mustard are made with water as opposed to vinegar) while simultaneously plumping up the seeds.

Meanwhile, the mucilage (real word, look it up!) secreted by the mustard seeds binds the plumped seeds into a sort of gel-like matrix. The result is a condiment that is quite similar in appearance and texture to caviar. The flavor is mildly hot, sweet, and vinegary.

The only complication is that some—but not all!—mustard seeds contain lots of bitter tannins, which can turn your finished mixture... bitter. What's more, that bitterness can vary a lot by supplier and batch. At the restaurants, we've found mustard seed supplies that have minimal bitterness, but at home I'd strongly suggest boiling the seeds in water a few times in order to remove the bitterness before you finish them in the brine.

Pickled mustard seeds and chopped chives in bone marrow, on a wooden surface

Pickled mustard seeds as a topping for bone marrow.

We make these pickled mustard seeds by the gallon. They last virtually forever under refrigeration and make a wonderful garnish for all kinds of dishes. In the past, we've used them to top bone marrow, to brighten up potato and sauerkraut soup, and as part of a glaze for pulled-pork sandwiches.

After the mustard seeds, Rosa squirts on a bit of extra-virgin olive oil. Not a common addition to deviled eggs, but Ana Sortun douses her amazing deviled eggs with it at Oleana in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and if it's got her blessing, that's all the go-ahead I need.

Finally, deviled eggs wouldn't be deviled without a source of heat. Mild paprika is just that: mild. I much prefer the brightness and more pronounced heat of Aleppo chili flakes, though we've also experimented with Korean gochugaru. Flaky Maldon sea salt adds crunch and saltiness (salt is just as important for flavor as it is for extra beer sales), and a teeny-tiny sprig of fresh dill (chives or parsley would also work, if you're dill-averse) adds a finishing pop of color and herbal flavor. We keep our dill stored on the stem in chilled water, and pick each frond to order.

It took quite a few experiments to get to this point—a deviled egg that's not just delicious but fits the theme and style of the restaurant—but, in all honesty, the hardest part was coming up with the name and description on the menu. My partner Adam and I spent several late nights toying with variations. How do you explain that these are basically just deviled eggs, but with more flavor than you're used to in deviled eggs?

For a while, they were "Really Good Deviled Eggs." Sounds good, right? But some folks weren't expecting the massive hit of mustard they come with. In the end, we settled for plain old "Deviled Eggs," along with "lots of mustard" in the description. That's stuck around for over a year now, and I can't imagine that these will ever come off the menu. They're just that good.