Labor Day is coming up, that bittersweet three-day weekend that marks the end of summer vacation season at the beginning of September. It's too lazy a time to get into the kitchen, so let's follow up on last week's guacamole by talking about another simple but tasty treat that makes a great addition to a picnic basket for Labor Day or any occasion.
That term "deviled," by the way, bears testimony to the bland tastes of our Western European ancestors: A little dash of cayenne or a dab of mustard added to an egg dish or a bowl of chopped ham made it, in the mind of these tender-mouthed old chefs, as hot as Hades. To modern tastes, "deviled" eggs are mild at most. But they're easy and delicious, and like so many good dishes, they can be almost endlessly varied to suit your tastes and your mood.
The basic procedure is straightforward: Hard-boil eggs, using the method of your choice (more about that below). Once they're cool, split them in half, pop out the yolks, "devil" them by mashing or pureeing with a little mayonnaise, a bit of mustard and seasonings, then put the result back into the waiting egg whites, piping it in neatly from a pastry bag if you're finicky, or simply piling it in with a spoon if you're not. Garnish if desired, chill or don't, and serve.
INGREDIENTS: (Yields one dozen)
6 fresh eggs
1. First, hard-boil your eggs. Julia Child had a famously finicky procedure that involved simmering the eggs, shocking them in a bowl of ice, then reheating, all in an effort to make them easy to peel and to eliminate that purportedly unsightly green edge around the yolk. All that's necessary, really, is to avoid overcooking the eggs. Put them in a saucepan with plenty of water to cover. Bring it just to a boil, then cover the pan and turn off the heat. Let the eggs sit undisturbed in the hot water for 20 minutes, no more, then cool them under cold running water until they're cool enough to handle. Crack and peel immediately. (INGREDIENT NOTE: I've become a true believer in fresh free-range eggs, preferably locally produced. They can't be beat for color and flavor, and extra credit for freshness if your supplier openly dates the packages.)
2. Using a sharp knife, cut the eggs neatly in half lengthwise. Carefully lift out the hard yolks and put them in a bowl. Mash them with a fork if you like a coarse texture, or push them through a strainer with the back of a spoon if you prefer a silken-smooth puree.
3. Blend in the mayo, the mustard and the seasonings to your taste. Now's the time to think about those optional add-ins if you like them: A few snipped chives or scallions, a little bit of pickle relish, a few capers, a dash of soy sauce or Worcestershire or even something more exotic. My bride mentioned having once added a drop of red food coloring to turn the filling a pretty shade of pink, but that's a little too ladies-who-lunch for the likes of me.
4. Put the filling back into the whites, using a spoon or pastry bag as noted. A colorful sprinkle of paprika is a traditional garnish, or chopped parsley. You can go non-traditional with cilantro or thin-sliced basil or other fresh herb, or take it upscale with a tasty dab of caviar or salmon roe.
They'll be great for your Labor Day picnic, but do take care to keep them well-chilled in the fridge or in a picnic cooler filled with ice until they're ready to serve.
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Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: Guacamole (Aug. 25, 2005)
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Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005
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