Perfect Deviled Eggs Start with Steaming, Not Boiling

By Paul Thomas Zenki

Simple secret makes egg shells peel perfectly …

In the American South, deviled eggs are nearly a contact sport. I know a pair of sisters who maintained a seventeen-year fued over paprika. (Don’t ask.)

Indeed, many a church supper’s been silently plagued with pride, envy, gluttony, covetousness, perhaps even inklings of lust over deviled eggs. (In all fairness though, I mean seriously, how can she keep showing her face with those sorry things she drags in here on that scratched up old Tupperware looking like something from the corner mart?)

But hey, I’m no different from anybody. I do love deviled eggs, but for years I wouldn’t make them to save my life, because I couldn’t get the damn shells off without gouging them up so bad it looked like I’d peppered them with a shotgun. I know when folks are laughing at my eggs behind my back, I’m not stupid.

Then one morning I’m standing in line at the cafeteria, grabbing some breakfast before teaching my first period course, and for the first time I actually notice something I must have looked at a hundred times — a steam tray piled with scores of immaculately shelled boiled eggs. A still, small voice commanded me to discover how that got pulled off.

I said, “Excuse me,” to the lady on the other side of the sneeze guard, “but how do y’all get those eggs to peel so perfect like that?”

She said, “We steam ’em, honey.”

“Steam ’em.”

“Yup. Seventeen minutes. Shells fall right off.”

I thanked her, and at that moment I was on a mission.

That very evening I pulled the steamer pan from the back of the cabinet, got the water boiling, set a half dozen week-old eggs in the basket, and pegged the timer. Seventeen minutes later I was spooning my little experiments into a bowl of icewater.

Then came the moment of truth.

One by one, I fished the eggs from their frigid bath, rolled them along the counter under my palm, then pressed my thumb against the fractured shell. And lo and behold, each and every one sloughed off like a snake’s skin.

As God is my witness, I was never going to make a janky egg again!

So let’s see, that was, oh, going on twenty years ago now, and some six thousand boiled eggs later — I eat about a half dozen a week at breakfast and diced up in salads — the cafeteria lady’s secret has rarely failed me. (And to think I never even asked her name.)

No doubt, if you’ve read this far, it’s likely you have your own favorite recipe for deviled egg filling to put these fine looking eggs beneath. But for those of you who don’t, I’m going to pass on my family recipe, and may it serve you well. It’s nothing fancy, just your basic recipe from all over, except where I’m from we prefer sweet pickle relish to vinegar. As God intended.

OK, here’s what you’ll need:

  • A dozen steamed eggs, thoroughly chilled and halved lengthwise, with yolks removed*
  • The dozen aforementioned egg yolks
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup mayonnaise (I prefer the low end, but your mileage may vary)
  • 2 teaspoons mustard (use your favorite, for me it’s Dijon)
  • 2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
  • Paprika (don’t ask what kind, I don’t want to get involved)
  • Fresh parsley (optional)

To make the filling, mash the yolks with a fork in a bowl till finely crumbled, then add the mayo and mustard and stir-mash (that’s the technical term) until creamy. Stir in the relish until evenly mixed. Spoon the filling into the egg halves, or use one of those miniature ice cream scoops if you have it. (Alternate method: Mash everything together in a zip baggie, snip off a corner, then squeeze out like a pastry bag.) Dust the filled eggs with paprika — add parsley if you want to get all fancy with it. Serve cold.

*Pro tip: Let the egg lie naturally on the cutting board, then rotate 90 degrees before slicing to ensure it won’t want to go cattywampus on the plate. To really do it up right, get yourself a deviled egg tray.

Now one thing you might notice, I haven’t added any salt and pepper to the mix. But good lord, people, you got mayo and relish and mustard in there, that should be enough salt and spice for anybody.

One final thing: Make your deviled eggs as soon before serving time as possible. It’s best to steam the eggs a day ahead so they have time to chill in the fridge. But once you’ve done the devilling, get them on out onto the table or the filling will dry out and the egg whites will start to slime up on you. Nobody wants that.

As always, feel free to experiment, and enjoy!

Header image by Michael Sylvester and Engin Akyurt via Pixabay

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Paul Thomas Zenki is an essayist, ghostwriter, copywriter, marketer, songwriter, and consultant living in Athens, GA.