Doug Ruley knows a thing or two about deviled eggs.
The seasoned chef, who oversees the culinary operations at all 12 SoDel Concepts restaurants, features them on menus and serves them at VIP functions, including a Delaware Day dinner for former Gov. Jack Markell.
What’s the appeal? For one, they’re approachable. They’re also versatile.
“All our chefs add a conceptional touch,” he said. “We’ve done deviled eggs with lobster or a scrapple chip and green apple. We’ve also made deviled eggs with lump crab, and then, of course, there is the Old Bay deviled egg.”
This weekend, thousands of Americans will serve deviled eggs at backyard family picnics. But as Ruley demonstrated, these summer staples can be far from ordinary.
An age-old tradition
A deviled egg is typically a hard-boiled chicken egg that’s shelled and split in two. The yolk is scooped out, mixed with other ingredients and then returned to the cavities.
The “devil” in the details comes from spicy ingredients, such as black pepper or mustard.
Deviled eggs have a long history dating back to ancient Rome, and the delicacy became popular in Europe.
Today, the dish is an American favorite. SoDel Concepts goes through about 560 a week in the summer, and 300 a week in the off-season.
Samantha Diedrick Harris of Wilmington is a fan.
“Basically, if any restaurant has deviled eggs on the menu, I will order them,” said the owner of Secretariat, an event-planning company. “It’s my favorite to make, too. I even have a specialty plate, and I want to collect more.”
It’s no wonder that Delawareans are devoted to deviled eggs. The blue hen is the state bird, noted Ronnie Burkle, a corporate chef with SoDel Concepts.
But that is not the reason why local chefs like Burkle love them.
“They’re a blank canvas for amazing realms of creativity,” he said.
Imaginations gone wild
Jesus “Zeus” Valentino-Gordiany would agree. Customers at Benvenuto Restaurant, where he is the executive chef, can’t wait to see his deviled egg special on the Milford eatery’s menu.
“Every time that we do, it sells out,” said chef, who has come up with so many versions that he’s offered a deviled egg “trio” as an appetizer.
His special for Benvenuto was inspired by his mother’s shrimp salad, which included bacon, avocado and chopped eggs.
“One day, I looked at it and thought, ‘I could turn this into a deviled egg.’ It has all the same components; it just looks different,” he said.
He used avocado to make a crema, which anchors the egg to the serving dish and serves as a topping. Atop the traditional yolk blend is a juicy shrimp that’s been chili-crusted and pan-seared and a chunk of crisp, glistening bacon. The kicker: a sprinkle of crunchy garlic.
Those accustomed to eating deviled eggs with their hands should consider a knife and fork for this dish.
At Krazy Kat’s at the Inn at Montchanin, executive chef Dan Tagle recently put a local spin on his take by topping the eggs with sweet corn and crabmeat.
In the past, he’s used avocado, Bourbon-bacon, horseradish or smoked salmon in his eggs. “My favorite is traditional filling with creme fraiche and caviar,” he said.
Some like it hot. Bite into a chicken-fried egg filled with sriracha yolk mousse at the Stone Balloon in Newark.
For a pop of color, Maurice Catlett, a SoDel Concepts chef, has pickled his eggs in beets and topped the yolk with jalapeno slices and country ham.
Valentino-Gordiany —a diehard fan of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory ” (the Gene Wilder version) — is adept at putting the flavors of a multifaceted dish into one egg, much like Wonka’s three-course gum.
For his “Greek salad” egg, he blends the yolk with roasted red pepper and tops it with a kalamata hummus, cucumber slices and whipped feta.
“There are so many different things you can do,” he said.
The perfect egg
For many of us, however, just making even plain deviled eggs can be problematic. Cook them too long and the yolks go green. Fresh eggs can be the devil to peel. You wind up with whites with missing chunks.
Here are some tips from the pros:
1. Buy your eggs a few days or even a week in advance for easier peeling.
2. Put eggs in a pot, cover them with water and bring to a boil.
3. Let the eggs boil for one or two minutes. Cover them and turn off the heat.
4. Let the eggs sit for 10 to 12 minutes.
5. Drain the hot water, and let cold water run over the eggs until they are cool or place them in an ice bath.
6. Peel eggs under water to loosen the membrane.
7. To keep eggs from drying out, assemble close to serving time.
8. Consider piping the filling into the whites for a pretty presentation.