I remember reading a newspaper story a few years ago about a woman whose husband volunteered to bring deviled eggs to an office potluck. And while the woman put her best whisk forward, she simply couldn't manage to peel the hard-boiled eggs without mangling them. In the end, she called the local deli and placed an order. Thinking of the story still makes me smile. I'm sure she wasn't the first home cook to try to pass off deli cooking for her own. I think any home cook who's had a kitchen disaster on deadline knows when to draw the line.
Making a deviled egg really is a simple task once you get beyond peeling the eggs. Some commercial kitchens even buy peeled, hard-boiled eggs because the task of peeling can be so labor intensive. The trouble is that often it's hard to get the thin membrane that sits just beneath the shell to peel away without taking a chunk of the white with it. Sometimes it's a breeze and the entire shell will practically slide away like a dab of butter on a hot skillet. But other times it seems the shell just won't wield to even the strongest of thumbnails.
There are a few things that can improve your egg-peeling odds. First, start with eggs that aren't fresh. You don't often hear those words come from a food blog, but seriously, the fresher your eggs, the less likely you are to be able to pry the shell off of them. If you've ever tried to peel a hard-boiled egg that you plucked from a chicken coop, you know what I'm talking about. Both the shell and its inner membrane are much tougher on a fresh egg. Over time, they begin to deteriorate. The thinner they are, the easier they slip off.
So how do you know if your eggs are fresh? Well, one sign is to look at the yolk of a cracked egg. If it has a little white tail coming off of one end, the egg is still fairly fresh. That little tail will also deteriorate and disappear with time. If you're buying eggs at the grocery store, you can simply look at the date on the side of the carton. If you happen to be lucky enough to have a neighbor with chickens, your eggs are likely way fresher than any you'd ever find at the grocery store. Typically, you're on the lookout for expiration dates as far from the current date as possible. If you're picking up eggs you plan on hard boiling, look for a carton with the date closest to the current day. Or simply pick up your eggs several days in advance.
To help improve your odds even more, put the hard-cooked eggs, unpeeled, in a pot and clang it around. The eggs will crash into each other and the sides of the pot, cracking the shells in a much better way than you could do on your own.
Whatever the case, please don't let a little torn egg white stop you from making these deviled eggs. Once you slice them and pipe the filling in, the outside of the egg becomes the backside of your deviled egg. So no one will ever know how well you peeled them. And even if they cared, they'd forget as soon as they popped one into their mouth.
This recipe comes from Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table. Reichl, who stumbled into the food journalism business through the back door and now is the editor of Gourmet, describes in the book when she met Marion Cunningham of the Fannie Farmer cookbooks at cocktail party honoring James Beard. Reichl was new to the business and knew few of the foodies of the moment. She asked Cunningham if she was someone famous. Cunningham laughed and replied that she was one of the last home cooks.
Marion's Deviled Eggs
From Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table
4 hard-boiled eggs
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon ballpark mustard
Salt and pepper
Shell eggs. Carefully cut in half lengthwise, and place yolks in a bowl. Mash yolks with a fork until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. The mixture should be thick and creamy.
Fill each egg white half with yolk mixture. Grate a bit of pepper on top. Refrigerate until needed.