Deviled eggs with chipped country ham and chives are on the menu… (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
When Irene Smith took over Baltimore's Woman's Industrial Kitchen last fall, she was determined to return it to its rightful place as a lunchroom where American home cooking is celebrated. What better way to do that, she thought, than to restore the classic deviled egg to the menu?
"Deviled eggs," she said, "are so integrated into American iconography that every maker of fine china also makes a deviled egg plate.
"Even the hot dog doesn't have its own plate."
The deviled egg, a staple on the Easter menu — what else are you going to do with all those hard-boiled eggs? — has migrated to restaurant dining. And it is holding its own.
It not only has its own plate (and its own plastic carrier), it has its own website, The Deviled Egg Gourmet (thedeviledegggourmet.webs.com), and an impressive entry in Wikipedia, where it is also called egg mimosa, Russian egg, dressed egg and picnic egg.
And there are as many recipe variations for grandma's deviled eggs as there are for, well, grandma's meatloaf, including lobster meat and bread soaked in milk. Deviled eggs are supposed to be a simple, homespun side dish or appetizer, but they can be dressed up with black truffles, caviar or salmon.
Baltimore's Spike Gjerde, who wanted to evoke the farmhouse kitchen at his restaurant, Woodberry Kitchen, put his mother-in-law's version of deviled eggs on the menu.
"They are the greatest deviled eggs I ever tasted," said Gjerde, who has served them as appetizers at Woodberry Kitchen since it opened in 2007 and has resisted any suggestion that they be replaced with something new. Even his most worldly customers have come to crave them.
"I have friends who are these sophisticated wine guys," said Gjerde, "and they come to the restaurant and all they can talk about is having their deviled eggs. Even before they sit down."
Smith serves them with chicken salad and tomato aspic at the Woman's Industrial Kitchen, or as a side order with house-made pickles. They are an appetizer at Woodberry Kitchen, where guests often order enough for the table to share.
Both restaurateurs use a version of the classic combination of yolk, mustard and mayonnaise, returned to center of the egg and lightly garnished with paprika or ham. But this recipe isn't sacred.
Deviled eggs are supposed to be creamy, but you can top them with fried onions or bacon or sauteed diced apples and they will be crunchy.
They are supposed to be a cold appetizer, but you can roll them in flour and panko crumbs and deep-fry them in peanut oil.
The "devil" in the deviled egg is supposed to be the mustard, but it can also be chipotle in adobo sauce, horseradish, jalapenos, hot sauce or barbecue sauce.
Traditionally, they are dusted with paprika, but they can also be topped with a tarragon leaf, scallions, chives, slivered red cabbage, parsley or Old Bay.
While it is easiest to simply spoon the filling into the egg white, Gjerde uses a pastry bag with a special tip to pipe it into the center.
Gjerde understands the restless creativity of chefs and their need to tweak recipes — or turn them on their heads. But he has changed his mother-in-law's recipe very little.
He garnishes his deviled eggs with little threads of house-baked ham. "Otherwise, it is just the classic mayonnaise, Gulden's mustard, salt and pepper," he said. "And a tiny bit of fish pepper powder that we make here."
It is the mayonnaise that makes them creamy, but you can also use creme fraiche, sour cream, ranch dressing or cream cheese. And while some cooks add lemon juice or vinegar for tartness, others add pickles, relish or olives.
Deviled eggs first appear in cooking journals in ancient Rome, where they were stuffed with raisins and several good cheeses. As they moved across Europe, deviled eggs took on regional affectations. The French added pepper and parsley. Russians filled them with caviar. Hungarians often use white bread soaked in milk. Germans might add anchovy and capers.
"In some families," said Smith of the Woman's Industrial Kitchen, "there would be mutiny if you changed grandma's recipe."
Tina Perry, the chef at the Woman's Industrial Kitchen, uses her mother's recipe — twice as much mustard as mayonnaise — but she has also stuffed them with shrimp and crab meat.
"They are labor-intensive, but they are worth it," she said. "The classic deviled egg needs to be kept alive."
The deviled egg is elegantly simple, but it is deceptively hard to get it right. The trick is to separate the egg from its shell without leaving pock marks in the egg whites. Here are some tips from "The Art of Deviled Eggs," an entry in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe website (h2g2.com).
•Begin by placing fresh, uncooked eggs on their sides in the refrigerator for seven to 10 days, turning them every day or two to keep the yolk centered. The time period will help the egg separate more easily from the shell membrane.