Zen and the Art of the Deviled Egg
Salvation South co-founder Stacy Reece finally gives up her recipe. Except it’s not really a recipe. More of a method, maybe.
My friend, Leigh Anne, is fearsome.
She’s Southern through and through. The daughter of a county agricultural extension agent, she grew up in the 4-H club and was a guidance counselor at Rock Eagle, a 4-H summer camp in Eatonton, Georgia. She is now a nurse with a specialty in neurology. If you present in the emergency room on a Saturday night with a head injury you got while on psychedelics, she will strap you down and straighten you out until a doctor can treat you.
While nursing, she found find time to be president of the Junior League of Athens, along with being a single mother. Leigh Anne taught me the Junior League trick of how not to show irritation in a social setting: simply tilt your head, smile, and nod frequently when you are talking to somebody you’re mad at—or who’s mad at you. When my first husband was dying from brain cancer, she and our friend, Laura, dropped everything to help me get him into hospice, and then they got me through his funeral. Leigh Anne is tough as nails.
But Leigh Anne isn’t much of a cook. She once used her oven as a place to store blankets over the summer. My own skills are limited, but I am a better cook than Leigh Anne. In my home-goods business, Down South House & Home, I sometimes give one of the dozens of deviled-egg plates I have collected to my customers as a premium. When Leigh Anne won one of my deviled-egg-plate giveaways, she was just tickled. My first reaction was delight, but then my thoughts darkened when I remembered the polyester fleece on her oven racks. What on earth was she going to do with a deviled egg plate? I hand-delivered to her an extra large plate that could double as a chips-and-dip tray.
Thus equipped, she surprised me and said she actually knew how to make her own deviled eggs—but they always came out too runny.
I believed I could help her. Here is how I did it.
Who Needs a Recipe?
I have a very short list of dishes I do well, none of which come from an actual recipe. I’m not a big fan of recipes. I find recipes tedious and generally look at them as guidelines for my grander creative ambitions. This approach has not served me well over the years. Still…
People often appear puzzled when I tell them how to make deviled eggs. They want to know things like measurements and proportions. These are things I cannot offer.
I know how to make deviled eggs blindfolded. When I serve deviled eggs at home, I am always surprised when people tell me they can’t make them and that they want my recipe. I tell them it’s eggs, mayonnaise, pickles, mustard, salt, pepper, and anything else you think might taste good. Paprika on top always gives them a more finished look but really isn’t necessary. It’s a lot easier to sprinkle on paprika than adorn each deviled egg with a tiny sprig of dill. That’s just time you can’t get back.
People often appear puzzled when I tell them how to make deviled eggs. They want to know things like measurements and proportions. These are things I cannot offer. I can, however, show you how I do it and send you on your way. You must reach a zen state and follow your intuitions. Deviled eggs should be an expression of one’s own individuality. You must find your own voice.
The first step is steaming the eggs in a vegetable basket. After many years of struggling with pockmarked whites caused by the shells sticking to my boiled eggs, I have found that steaming them for about seventeen minutes, followed by an ice bath, lets the eggshells slip off effortlessly under running water.
After you cut the eggs in half, put the yolks in a mixing bowl. This is where the magic begins. You need to eyeball the mound of yolks and add a dollop of mayonnaise that is slightly smaller than your mound of egg yolks. I prefer Blue Plate, but I know there are many who favor Duke’s. Miracle Whip is for barbarians and should be avoided at all costs.
Treat Your Pickles right
Then you add some chopped pickles. Some people buy pickle relish, but I consider the price for a jar to be highway robbery. You can make your own by dumping some pickles and the juice in a blender and pulse it until the pieces are small enough for your tastes. I prefer dill pickles, but some prefer sweet pickles. You get to choose.
Here’s where I think Leigh Anne gets her runny eggs. You have to drain the pulsed pickles really well before adding them.I usually put them in a strainer and let them drain for about ten minutes. If you don’t have a strainer, you can scoop them out with a fork into a tiny bowl and then only take the pickles from the top. You want dry pickles in your deviled eggs. Add a heaping spoonful of your dry pickles to the bowl.
Add a little mustard. I usually use dry mustard, but told Leigh Anne bottled yellow mustard was fine because that’s what she had in her kitchen.
I prefer Blue Plate, but I know there are many who favor Duke’s. Miracle Whip is for barbarians and should be avoided at all costs.
Add some salt and pepper. You can also add powdered garlic and onion if you like. You can add whatever you want. These are your deviled eggs.
Mix all of this together until smooth. I prefer a whisk, but plenty of deviled eggs have gotten made in the South just using a fork. If the mixture if too thick, add a little more mayonnaise.
This is the point where you want to taste the mixture. If it tastes good, stop and fill your egg whites. If not, add something.
I have always found filling the eggs tedious. I got tired of doing each one by hand with a teaspoon, so I filled a pastry bag with a standard open tip to finish the eggs. That makes pretty eggs. But I recently lost that tip and the pickles get stuck in all my fancy tips that are built for icing. So now, I use a sandwich bag with a small hole cut in one corner. It’s pretty efficient.
Once you have the eggs filled and arranged on the plate, you can add some paprika or herbs or nothing at all. You choose. And never look at Pinterest for guidance. It will only gin up a crisis of confidence. Remember: you put yourself into a state of calm attentiveness when blending your yolks with their flavorings. Your deviled eggs therefore express your own Southern soul.
Also remember: at the end of the day, nobody cares what your deviled eggs look like. They just care that they taste good and that you loved them enough to make them. And that’s the point, isn’t it?
Stacy Reece is the co-founder and chief stuff officer of Salvation South. is the former Director of the Georgia Center of Innovation for Life Science where she pioneered the use of social media in economic development. She was also the Director of Partnership Development for Georgia Bio. After leaving the economic development world, she taught herself to screen print and launched the home goods company, Down South House & Home. In 2021, she co-founded Salvation South with her husband, Chuck Reece. Down South House & Home will relaunch its podcast series, At the Welcome Table, in 2024.