Genius Recipe: Virginia Willis' Deviled Eggs

Every week, at Food52.com, we're digging up Genius Recipes -- the ones that make us rethink cooking myths, get us talking, and change the way we cook.

Today: A deviled egg to convince the doubters -- perfect for Easter brunch, dinner, and the unending glut of dyed eggs.

deviled egg

- Kristen Miglore, Senior Editor, Food52.com

Given our all-but-universal love for eggs, the deviled kind turn out to be strangely polarizing. Lukewarm feelings are not possible, only love or distrust.

>>RELATED: Browse through our egg recipes on FOOD52.

That's not to say that it's an even split. The few (like me, before I met this recipe) are suspicious of the whole sneaky feedback system of yolk-impersonating-yolk; the cold jiggly white. We're not about to pick one up at a party, because we know there's no turning back; no "just a taste"; no hiding a tooth-marked egg in shame. A deviled egg is a commitment.

But for the many -- the ones who see no problem with owning trays shaped like this, the only questions are 1) how many can one sensibly eat in a sitting and 2) whether to attack each egg in one bite or two. (The FOOD52 staff is equally divided between one-biters and two-biters.)

>> RELATED: See the entries for Your Best One-Bite Party Snack contest.

hard-cooked eggs

Until recently, I stayed away, a no-biter. It was Virginia Willis -- a French-trained chef with strong Southern roots -- who would convert me.

You may remember her lilting voice and sparkly smile from this Warm Summer Shrimp Salad video. Willis is a talented chef and recipe writer, having worked with icons like Martha Stewart, Anne Willan, and Nathalie Dupree for years before publishing her own cookbooks, most recently Bon Appetit, Y'all and Basic to Brilliant, Y'all.

By combining her Southern sensibilities with the restraint of her French training, her deviled eggs just do everything right.

The whites are supple and smooth, more than just a caddy for the golden middles. This is because, technically, the eggs aren't hard-boiled, but hard-cooked -- i.e. left alone for 12 minutes in just-boiled water. As you peel, the eggshells fall away -- if you listen to Willis and use week-old eggs instead of fresh ones.

>> RELATED: See our picks for the best Easter- and Passover-related kitchen tools.

The yolks too are just cooked enough to be firm, but not chalky or sulphurous. Hard-boiled yolks of my childhood were green-tinged and rubbery, like the gutted remains of a chew toy. Not these. They're just yolks, good and yellow.

hard-cooked eggs

Willis has you nudge them out and push them through a sieve (if you feel committed and listen to her French side) or just plunk them straight into a food processor. Then they're dolled up with only enough condiments to make the yolks go silken and loose, no more. There is no overdosing on sweet, vinegary mayonnaise; no chunky pickle relish to mar the texture.

>>RELATED: See our menu ideas for an Easter Brunch.

But there is a secret ingredient here, 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, dijon 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. A doubter doubts no more.

piping deviled eggs

So when you fish those painted eggs out of the planters and sprinkler holes they were hiding in, make deviled eggs. Lots of them. You can expect a few new customers this year.

And watch out for those one-biters.

>> RELATED: See our ideas for Easter Leftovers Done Proud.


deviled eggs


Virginia Willis' Deviled Eggs


Adapted very slightly from Bon Appetit, Y'all (Ten Speed Press, 2008)

Makes 2 dozen

12 large eggs
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon, chives, or chervil, plus leaves for garnish

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. To assemble the eggs, when ready to serve, pipe the yolk mixture into the whites. Garnish with additional herbs and serve immediately.

6. 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.

See a slideshow, save, and print this recipe here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at kristen@food52.com.

Want more genius? Try Alice Medrich's New Classic Coconut Macaroons, Tartine Bakery's Lemon Cream, or Northern Spy's Kale Salad.

Photos by James Ransom

virginia willis' deviled eggs