Welcome back to The Canal House Perfect Bite, a recipe series from Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, the award-winning food mavens behind Canal House.
Anyone who knows us can tell you that we always start off a gathering with deviled eggs. Whether we serve them the old-fashioned way, dusted with paprika, or more twirled-up—each one jewel-like, garnished with one flavor or another—nobody at Canal House doesn't like a stuffed egg. It's almost everybody's favorite retro hors d'oeuvre that never really went out of style; the perfect rich bite to take the edge off one's hunger. We always have eggs in our fridge, plus some mayonnaise and mustard on hand, so they're ready to serve in less than 30 minutes. It's no wonder we've made them a tradition at Canal House.
Good deviled eggs have smooth whites and a fluffy filling. They begin with hard-boiled eggs that are easy to peel, with firm, dry yolks (minus the dreaded green ring, an indication they've overcooked) that pop out of the whites.
After two lifetimes of hard-boiling eggs, we've come to rely on a few methods that consistently work. Very fresh eggs usually don't peel well: The shells cling to the whites and won't let go without tearing and pockmarking the surface. Storing eggs in the refrigerator for a week or two before boiling them makes slipping their shells off easier.
Despite this, we still prefer to use the freshest eggs for our deviled eggs. Adding eggs to gently boiling water, instead of starting them in cold water, makes them easier to peel. It also takes the guesswork out of determining just when to start the timer. So, we submerge large eggs, straight from the fridge, into a pot of lightly bubbling water (the water should cover the eggs by about one inch) and boil them for 12 minutes. Then, using a slotted spoon, we immediately transfer them to a bowl filled with cold water and run more cold water from the faucet over the eggs to quickly stop the cooking. (Read this article for more on the science of boiling eggs.)
When the eggs are cool enough to touch, they're ready to peel. We tap the eggs all over on the kitchen counter. Then, under cold running water, we peel off the shell, starting at the fatter end of the egg, where the air sac is.
Next, we make the filling. We cut the eggs in half lengthwise and pop the yolks out from the whites, directly into the bowl of a food processor. We set the egg whites aside to drain on a paper towel–lined tray, in an even layer, cut side down, and cover them with a sheet of plastic wrap to keep them from drying out as we make the filling.
We blend the yolks with mayonnaise to add a rich smoothness, and lighten the texture with sour cream, which also adds a pleasant tanginess. Sometimes we add a little extra sour cream, but we usually prefer a stiffer, more yolk-rich filling that holds up the weight of any garnishes. Of course, they wouldn't be deviled eggs if the filling didn't have a touch of heat, so we add a bit of Dijon mustard.
Salt and pepper go in to taste, then we whirl everything together in the processor until the filling is smooth. We put the filling in a bowl and, if we aren't stuffing the eggs right away, lay a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the filling to keep it from forming a crust and drying out. The eggs and filling can sit at room temperature for an hour or two. Any longer, and they should be moved to the fridge.
What to garnish our deviled eggs with is always a fun question; the choices are endless. We often go simple, embellishing the tops with just a tiny leaf of a tender herb, a scattering of chopped chives, a shard of crisp bacon, or a dab of harissa. But if the season, the occasion, or our cravings call for something more involved—blanched asparagus tips and diced preserved lemon, sticky salmon roe and feathery dill, ham and chutney (we like Major Grey's mango chutney)—we're happy as larks, decorating each egg with the precision of a Fabergé jeweler.
We prefer the natural look, so we spoon the filling into the eggs instead of filling a pastry bag and piping it in. Just before we're ready to serve the eggs, we fill them using two teaspoons: one spoon with the filling, the other to push the filling gently into the egg white.
It's a delicate point, but we think it matters. On one occasion, when we were serving deviled eggs for a big party, we had a friend help us stuff them. She smooshed the filling into the eggs, until we suggested a gentler touch, asking her to "feel" the lightness of the filling. It worked—she made one beauty after the next. Stuff these devils gently, have fun garnishing, and make them a tradition at your house.