Deviled Eggs: Don’t Call it a Comeback

Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs, those classic denizens of holiday parties and picnics everywhere are, we’re told, making a comeback. After decades of fearmongering about eggs being unhealthy cholesterol bombs, science has changed its tune and these delicious almost-chickens have reemerged as a preferred breakfast and anytime food. But don’t call it a comeback.

Deviled eggs with fresh cucumber, radish, and green pea shoots.
Deviled eggs with fresh cucumber, radish, and pea shoots

Egg consumption may have been suppressed for the last 50 years, but deviled eggs haven’t really stopped being popular. They were still found gracing the tables of backyard barbecues and neighborhood potlucks. Everyone still had that one aunt that brought them, without fail, to every family gathering, and picnics felt incomplete if deviled eggs didn’t make an appearance.

Deviled eggs aren’t making a comeback because they never went away. What’s happening instead is that fine dining restaurants are finally realizing the true potential of the humble deviled egg, and are exploiting this simple canvas to create a fresh new wave of interesting egg experiences. Except this isn’t really new, either.

Deviled Eggs Have Always Been Open to Experimentation

We all know how deviled eggs are supposed to be made. This classic recipe is as constant and unchanging as the tides, the procession of the constellations, and Paul Rudd’s permanently 20-something face.

You mash up the yolks with mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper and then top your completed creations with a sprinkling of paprika. This is a proper deviled egg, and everything else is a riff on this form.

Except that it isn’t. Not even close. This is just the recipe that stuck. And only in the United States. Cultures across the globe make deviled eggs with very different ingredients. In Sweden, they call the dish “stuffed eggs” and commonly use sour cream instead of mayonnaise as a binding agent, adding parsley or dill, and pickled herring or anchovies. In Germany you’ll frequently find anchovies, cheese and capers added to the egg yolks, and in Hungary, the yolks are mixed with milk-soaked bread and mustard.

Deviled eggs with smoked salmon and salmon caviar
Deviled eggs with smoked salmon and salmon caviar

Every culture that makes deviled or stuffed eggs has its own “standard” filling admixture that fits with regional tastes — combinations that evolved from even earlier experimentation with the form.

Deviled egg recipes were common all over medieval Europe between the 13th and 15th centuries, pulling in diverse ingredients such as raisins, cheese, mint, cinnamon and a host of other non-standard and, some may say oddball elements.

Just as fine dining chefs today are pushing deviled eggs into new and interesting shapes and flavors, chefs in royal courts across medieval Europe attempted to satiate their master’s penchant for new food combinations with extravagant stuffed egg concoctions. And the genesis for all of these recipes goes back even further.

Stuffed Eggs Got Their Start in Ancient Rome

Just like the modern republic, plumbing and sanitation, and an unquenchable desire to conquer the entire world, deviled eggs began their journey in the wealthy patrician homes of Rome.

Eggs were immensely popular, and among the upper classes, they were frequently served boiled and mixed with spices and other ingredients. A collection of recipes estimated to have been written down sometime between the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. feature boiled eggs accompanied by wine or broth, pepper, and silphium (a now extinct herb), or pine nuts, lovage, honey, vinegar, pepper, and broth.

From there the fortunes of deviled eggs rose and fell as civilizations rose and fell, each generation and culture tweaking and changing ingredients to suit evolving tastes. Deviled eggs had already existed across the globe for roughly 1,500 years before Americans started using mayo, Dijon mustard, and paprika to create the “proper” deviled egg. So no. Don’t call it a comeback.

Stuffing deviled eggs

What’s happening today isn’t new, but the innovation is happening at an unprecedented rate. In the ten years since the first fine dining restaurant added an elevated deviled egg to its menu, interest in the dish has exploded. Restaurants everywhere began concocting and selling their own riffs on the form.

Firebirds in Charlotte, NC features deviled eggs containing mayo, horseradish, yellow mustard, pickle juice, Sriracha, candied bacon, and house made coleslaw. Bookmakers in Baltimore, MD sells a cheeseburger deviled egg, and San Francisco-based Park Tavern once sold deviled eggs with a fried oyster and wing sauce. The possibilities are literally endless, and today’s inventive chefs are competing to outdo each other.

The Golden Age of Eggs?

Elevated deviled eggs are just the latest iteration of what has become a fairly common practice in modern dining — taking simple “peasant” foods and elevating them. Diners have seen a number of examples come and go, everything from elevated grits, shepherd’s pie, hot dogs, and more.

Other eggs dishes have already enjoyed the sort of stardom deviled eggs enjoy today. In the early aughts, it was Eggs Benedict that got the royal treatment. And before that, it was the omelet.

Chefs love these sorts of dishes because the base product is uncomplicated and plain, which means they can support varying layers of flavors on top. They’re like a blank canvas onto which chefs can pour out their creativity. And people are more likely to go out on a limb to try an elevated dish when it’s based on something they know.

As Chef Gabriel Rucker of Canard in Portland, OR said in an interview with Eater, “If you take that thing that people are drawn to in a home casual setting and if you put it in a little bit of a fancier setting, it’s like, ‘Oh, I wonder how they do it. How does a chef that has awards on his wall do something that I do?’” It’s simply fun for diners to explore new twists on classic dishes.

Deviled Eggs Are Here to Stay

Deviled eggs are more popular than they’ve ever been, and it’s unlikely the trend will reverse anytime soon. Deviled eggs are comfort food. Even when science was saying that eating an egg might cause your heart to explode, people still made deviled eggs.

Deviled eggs with avocado and spinach

We now know that eggs are healthful, but it’s almost certain that if the science reversed itself again and we discovered that eating eggs created tiny black holes that threatened to consume the entire universe, people would still make deviled eggs.

So please, don’t call it a comeback. Don’t call it anything. All the time you spend talking about deviled eggs is time you can’t devote to eating them, and that’s a travesty. So just eat your eggs and enjoy what history has brought you.

Please check out these fun reads: Slip into a Bowl of Comfort: The Top Five Most Popular Soups and Do People Still Invite Their Bosses Over for Dinner?


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