Deviled eggs with caviar and white truffles. Smoked deviled eggs with smoked salmon. Pickled deviled eggs with uni. Fancified versions of deviled eggs, once a cocktail party and potluck staple in the U.S., are now a requisite dish on the menus of some of America’s most popular restaurants. At some point, the relatively unfussy food made the leap onto restaurant menus, and now it’s became a canvas for chefs to show off their skills and finest ingredients.
The new wave of deviled eggs appears to have gotten its start about 10 years ago. As early as 2008, Aspen Social Club was serving yellowfin tuna deviled eggs to New York diners. Around the same time, celebrity chef Anne Burrell started serving truffle deviled eggs at Manhattan restaurant Centro Vinoteca; the recipe became a hit among food bloggers. By 2012, the dish started popping up on menus in the West Coast. Chef Joël Robuchon is known for many dishes, including a luxurious deviled egg called oeufs mimosa; it’s made with crab, caviar, and a dainty topping of gold leaf.
Preciously plated deviled eggs remain popular in restaurants across the country from San Francisco to Detroit to Atlanta to Los Angeles and back to New York where chef Alvin Cailan of Egg Slut recently unveiled an egg stuffed with crab louie, fried shallots, and chili threads at the Usual. It might seem like all a fancy deviled egg needs is some fancy ingredients, but chefs say a lot of thought goes into composing a good bite.
“A deviled egg is almost like a really tiny sandwich. If you don’t build it perfectly with all the layers, the experience that you get could either be really exceptional or it’s just not going to be very enjoyable at all,” says chef Jennifer Puccio. At her fleet of San Francisco restaurants— Marlowe, Petit Marlowe, Park Tavern, the Cavalier, and Leo’s Oyster Bar — Puccio always makes sure there’s a deviled egg on the menu. “As a chef, when I go out to a restaurant I enjoy eating lots of different small things and getting as many different tastes and flavors and experiences in a meal as possible,” she says. Thus, when it came to designing the menu for Marlowe in 2010, Puccio says she was focused on developing dishes that suited her philosophy of small, unpretentious bites. “Personally I think [for] the perfect deviled egg, the filling needs to be creamy, but it needs to have great acid. It also needs to have texture. And then the same thing with the topping needs to pop,” she says.
At Marlowe, the warm deviled egg is served with aged provolone, pickled jalapeño, and bacon for $3, which Puccio says makes it a good, inexpensive start to a meal without having to invest in a full appetizer. Not many restaurants in San Francisco were offering stylized deviled eggs on menus back in 2010, “but then it was such a hit at Marlowe as we opened each restaurant […] the deviled egg thing stuck,” Puccio recalls. “It was something that we were known for, so it became sort of a fun challenge to make sure I could get one that fit the menus at all the new restaurants.” Today at Park Tavern, diners can feast on a smoked deviled egg with bacon, pickled jalapeño, and chive, while at Leo’s the deviled egg du jour features a fried oyster with wing sauce. At the Cavalier, Puccio swaps the chicken egg for a soft-boiled quail egg and serves it atop a salad of crispy fried shallots, dijon mayonnaise, and candied shallots.
Puccio says deviled eggs are “endlessly adaptable,” which makes them particularly appealing to chefs. “There’s so many iterations of ways to cook eggs and it’s just a beautiful textural base as well as the amount of fattiness in the egg inherently,” she says. “It becomes a great vehicle for many, many, many, many things.”
While the trend in chefs experimenting with deviled eggs appears to be rooted in the late-aughts and early 2010s, various versions of stuffed eggs have been around just about as long as people have been writing down recipes. Deviled eggs were first mentioned in a 13th century Andalusian cookbook that recommends mixing the yolks with salt, pepper, cilantro, onion juice, pepper, coriander, and murri sauce (similar to soy sauce). Other texts from the 14th and 15th centuries in what is now Italy suggest stuffing eggs with ingredients like ginger, clove, cinnamon, and raisins, or sweet cheeses, according to scholar Nancy R. McArthur’s 2006 presentation on deviled eggs at the Oxford Symposium of Food and Cookery.
The dish was traditionally referred to as stuffed eggs, eggs farced, pudding in eggs, or even egg surprise; the term “deviled” didn’t appear in print until the late 1700s. By then various versions of the recipe were being used across Europe. Americans appeared to latch onto the recipe in the 1800s. The first reference to incorporating mayonnaise into the hard boiled egg yolks comes from a French-influenced dish in Fanny Farmer’s Boston Cooking-school Cookbook called egg farci. Common ingredients in American deviled eggs today such mustard started getting included in recipes in the late-1890s, according to McArthur, while paprika only came into wide use in the United States in the 1920s with an influx of Hungarian immigrants. From there, deviled eggs were frequently recommended as lunch items and appetizers, with cookbook writers praising their affordability and healthiness.
Over the decades, families have developed their own beloved recipes. The Southern Foodways Alliance’s annual conference in 2004 even attempted to collect some of the best variations on the dish through a deviled egg competition. Many of the versions utilized similar ingredients such as mayonnaise, paprika, and pickle relish, though some of the submissions added a little flair by incorporating pico de gallo salsa, sour cream, or olives.
Chef Gabriel Rucker of Portland-based French-American bistro Canard, believes that Americans’ love of and familiarity with deviled eggs is what continues to fuel the trend in fashionable restaurant deviled eggs. Rucker has been dazzling Instagram happy customers and critics alike with his take on a French-style stuffed egg called oeufs en mayonnaise. The Canard version features a boiled egg with a slightly soft yolk paired with roasted garlic mayonnaise, Tabasco, bacon bits, chives, and smoked maple syrup. The whole thing is topped off with sunset orange-hued smoked trout roe.
Although the ingredients are certainly upgrades from the classic paprika-dusted deviled eggs found on party platters, the dish feels approachable to customers and has made it one of the more popular items on the menu. “A deviled egg is something that most people can make. Maybe they have a way their mom did it. Maybe they have a way they do it and everyone has their tweak on it,” Rucker says.
It’s that familiarity with the dish and its affordability that makes it feel less risky to diners, Rucker theorizes. “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?’” The same is simply not true of other dishes that aren’t popular in home cooking. “There’s not that connection with a foie gras terrine,” he says.