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Devilled eggs

"a culinary amalgam of history and taste" Food Timeline

Continuing with the retro thing which has been appearing here and there in recent times, I am today looking at Devilled eggs, which Woolworths Fresh Ideas Magazine featured in their retro pages. Now how retro can you get? And when does something that seemed so fashionable, new and trendy become retro and fashionable in a different way? Spoiler - I cannot answer that last question.

The above picture is Felicity Cloake's perfect version - with the filling being a classic mix of mayonnaise, the egg yolks of course, some butter, vinegar, hot sauce and mustard. Even though I say this is the classic mix, there are of course endless variations. I mean take just one of those ingredients - mayonnaise - how much and what kind of mayonnaise? I have seen recipes that use kewpie mayonnaise for example and some, which have no mayonnaise at all. Mustard - well you could go on forever on that ... Well stuffings of any kind have always been that way haven't they? They are a receptacle for leftover stuff, scraps, and things you have in the cupboard anyway.

"like a good catalogue model, the humble egg is versatile enough to take on almost any flavour humanity can throw at it, from simple smoked salmon to hipper-than-thou kimchi." Felicity Cloake

And yes, it was ever thus - beginning with the Greeks and the Romans who domesticated chickens and therefore had eggs. Statements such as this always give me pause for thought, because surely chickens were domesticated before the Greeks, who are relatively recent ancients. What about all those civilisations from the Fertile Crescent, and Egypt? It seems that the Chinese did other things with their eggs. But we will take the experts as experts and discover that the Romans hard-boiled eggs and then poured a sauce over them which is not really the same thing at all. But an ancestor perhaps?

By the middle ages though people were stuffing eggs - and in this recipe (which I include because it's almost tempting) from De Platina Honesta Voluptate, published in Italy in the 15th century, they go one step further and fry them.

"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. This has more harm than good in it." De Platina Honesta Voluptate

So even back then they know that frying things was not a good idea. But there are a few recipes for fried stuffed eggs - one is by Jacques Pépin - shown here, but is rather simpler than the medieval one. I also saw versions that enclosed the stuffing and then covered with breadcrumbs or something, before frying, or else they were grilled rather than fried.

All of these early versions were not however, 'devilled'. They were simply stuffed. The 'devilled' name was not added until the 18th century with the devilled bit meaning something hot. Well I guess that's obvious and it's somehow amazing they didn't get around to it until then, but then I guess we didn't get chillies until the late fifteenth century.

Apparently everyone lays claim to the modern notion of the devilled egg, but by the time we get to post-war Britain it was certainly a thing. So I checked out Robert Carrier, because I thought he would be into them - and so he was. Below are two versions in a book called Cooking for You. Now if you want to serve something that looks really retro - i.e as served in that heady period then look no further. Well there's Julia Child too. Elizabeth David does not even mention them.

Or as Felicity Cloake says:

"For maximum retro-chic points, pipe the filling into the eggs using a star-shaped nozzle. You should probably serve them on a doily as well, but I’ll leave that up to your own conscience." Felicity Cloake

Re the piping Nigella says:

"There’s not much that can get me squeezing a fancy-nozzled icing bag, but I can’t get enough of these - and nor can those I make them for."

I admit they do look pretty but I'm not sure that I'm up to the piping.

Mind you the man with the incredible name J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats, has a video in which he demonstrates a relatively easy way to do it.

That particular post also has links to 9 somewhat different versions of Devilled eggs, but the demonstration is for the classic ones, which, I have to say look superb. His secret, he says, is olive oil.

Everyone bangs on about what perfect cocktail party food they are. Do people still do cocktail parties? Have canapés changed over time? Another post perhaps.

I can't really imagine why, these days anyone would actually make these, but if you want to go classic and Australian then the Australian Women't Weekly gives it a good hot go. It's a pretty simple recipe and I suppose you could save some time, by boiling the eggs well in advance.

In spite of my reluctance it seems that in England there is a restaurant called Rita's - there have been a few, but currently they are Rita's in Soho, and one, if not the one signature dish is a version in which the stuffing has a Chinese bean paste and sesame oil. I don't think there is an actual recipe on the net, but there is, of course an Instagram picture, and also a recipe from Rita's chef Gabriel Pryce for what he calls The Highway Dan, which is, I think, the same flavours but served quite differently as a mix in a sandwich. When trying to find the recipe I also found Devilled eggs with spicy black bean stuffing from Toby Amidor, whoever he is, which I think might be a variation, and which I think, because of the dark brown colour of the stuffing, doesn't look nearly as appetising.

Even Woolworths goes Asian though with Thai devilled eggs which include spring onions, lime juice and fish sauce. And at the other end of the spectrum Ottolenghi also goes Asian with

Devilled eggs with tangerine rayu which he maintains is inspired by that version from Rita's. Rayu is apparently a Japanese chilli sauce, and I have no idea whether you can get it here.

Other more standard variations? What about Devilled egg and anchovy from Florence Knight;

Crab stuffed devil's eggs from David Tanis and Salmon devilled eggs from Jamie Oliver. Fish is a popular partner it seems - I also saw smoked trout, caviar, prawn versions.

Or - what about this idea from Alison Roman of Bon Appétit - a platter consisting of halved hard-boiled eggs and a range of things you can put on top:

"As for the toppings: They are your paint. The eggs are your canvas, and you are the greatest egg artist the world has ever known. I like mayo, cornichons or sliced pickles, shallots (fried or pickled), nice anchovies, tender herbs, paper-thin slices of smoked fish, and even salmon or trout roe because eggs on eggs is peak fun ... The best part of this whole thing is that while it looks fancy and carefully planned, it's really just a bunch of boiled eggs surrounded by some odds and ends you probably already had in your fridge. It's all in the branding. Call them...“egg-y tapas” rather than "lazy deviled eggs." Alison Roman - Bon Appétit

Which is a typically modern idea.

The fanciest version I saw? One from that selection in Serious Eats by Daniel Gritzer - Devilled eggs carbonara. Looks very flashy and proves you can carbonara just about anything.

I don't know whether Heston has done anything weird with Devilled eggs. I suspect he has but couldn't find a recipe.

So next time you have time on your hands and want to play with food have a go - eggs, hard-boiled plus something spicy and something creamy ...


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