Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sympathy for the Devil

Are deviled eggs a good food for Halloween? In my most recent post, I explored some food history and some Halloween history. The association of spicy food with the devil doesn't have any special connection to the Halloween Devil (or to Devil's Night, an unfortunate Detroit tradition). However, I think spicy food -- anything "deviled" -- is a wonderful addition to a Halloween menu. I make deviled eggs all the time, especially for potlucks, and I've never come back with any leftovers. As you see from my photos, I even own a special deviled egg platter!

Deviled eggs don't need very many ingredients, and I would say that they don't need a recipe.* Today I used Hellman's Low-Fat mayonnaise (an incredible calorie bargain!), sriracha sauce, and salt in my egg-yolk mixture, mashed with a fork. For a large quantity of eggs, I use an electric mixer. Eggs and mayo are the standard ingredients, and I just add mayo until I like the texture. Then I add almost any condiment I feel like using until it tastes good. Sometimes I don't even make them spicy.

Today's garnish was Trader Joe's Hot & Sweet Cherry Peppers. I have at times garnished the egg halves with sliced olives, fresh red pepper slivers, or sprinkles of paprika. For anchovy lovers, if you know any, you could even use a little piece of anchovy on each egg! Don't worry about it, the filling doesn't have to be totally smooth, and you don't  have to use a fancy icing tip device to make the filling look like a Dairy Queen. At least that's my opinion. Some cooks have other ideas.

Wall painting of eggs from Pompeii: I remember
learning in Latin class that a classic banquet in Rome
proceeded ab ovo usque mala, that is, from eggs to apples.
(Picture from wikipedia)
Similar treatments of hard-boiled eggs go back into the distant past. Apicius, the main source of Roman recipes, describes quartered eggs served with spicy dressing: not-quite-stuffed. In the first-century satire Trimalchio's Feast, egg-shaped pastry shells were stuffed with egg yolks into which little songbirds were stuffed: a joke on the guests. Actual stuffed eggs made their earliest known appearance in a recipe from Medieval Andalucia; they included cilantro, onion juice, pepper, oil, and salt. (sources: Oxford Food Symposium, and Trimalchio)

Fifteenth-century cookbook author Platina gave the following recipe:
"Make fresh eggs hard by cooking for a long time. Then, when the shells are removed, cut the eggs through the middle so that the white is not damaged. When the yolks are removed, pound part with raisins and good cheese, some fresh and some aged. Reserve part to color the mixture, and also add a little finely cut parsley, marjoram, and mint. Some put in two or more egg whites with spices. When the whites of the eggs have been stuffed with this mixture and closed, fry them over slow fire in oil. When they have been fried, add a sauce made from the rest of the egg yolks pounded with raisins and moistened with verjuice and must. Put in ginger, cloves, and cinnamon and heat them a little while with the eggs themselves." (source: Food Timeline)
Recipes for stuffed eggs appeared frequently as time went on. As I pointed out in the earlier post, the use of the word "devil" for spicy foods dates to the late 18th century. By then stuffed eggs were common in much of European cuisine. A recipe using mustard, pickles, and vinegar appeared in an American cookbook in 1871. (source: Marion Harland)

The major difference between the way stuffed eggs were made more than 100 years ago and my method is that mayonnaise only came into use at the end of the 19th century, the first printed source being a recipe by Fanny Farmer. By mid-20th century, mayo was a standard, as in the recipe from The Joy of Cooking (1940s). Earlier cooks used melted butter, mustard, or oil to obtain a creamy texture for the egg yolk stuffing. Obviously the sriracha sauce I used is also an innovation -- though cayenne pepper is traditional in anything labeled "deviled."

Maybe you believe that deviled eggs are quite modern and enjoyable. Maybe they remind you of a Roman banquet or a Medieval feast. Maybe you envision the 1920s when the first specialized egg platters began to be manufactured. Or you see deviled eggs as a throwback to cocktail parties in the 1940s or 50s or 60s. Whatever you think, you're right!

* If you need a reminder on hard-boiling, my method is:
  • Put the eggs in a pot that fits one layer of eggs. 
  • Cover the eggs with cold water and put a lid on the pot.
  • Bring the water to a boil (you'll hear the eggs bumping around).
  • Turn off the heat, and leave the eggs in the covered pot for 11 minutes. 
  • Immediately cool in cold water, even with ice cubes if you like.
  • Peel the eggs at once, or store them in the refrigerator and peel them later.
  • Tips: Overcooked eggs have an ugly green rim around the yolk. 
    You should not try to hard-boil perfectly fresh eggs, because too fresh = too hard to peel. 


    Debra Eliotseats said...

    Excellent lesson and I couldn't agree with you more: These would be perfect for a Halloween buffet. I love that you used sriracha! The spicier the more devilish!

    Jeanie said...

    Mae, deviled eggs are my favorite so this is not only a useful post but a really fun one, too! And a good reminder to whip some up for Friday!

    ~~louise~~ said...

    I love deviled eggs, Mae! The sriracha is a cool touch, lol...

    I would even consider going back to the "olden" days before mayonnaise if it weren't for the egg yolks!

    Thanks so much for sharing, Mae...