If you're 40 or over, you may remember stuffed eggs - those ubiquitous canapés of the fifties and sixties - with joy.
Or your stomach may tremble at the childhood memory of rubbery egg-white halves packed with lumpy yellow paste, made doubly vile by the addition of pimento-stuffed olives and hairy whorls of anchovy.
It is certainly off-putting looking at photographs of stuffed and devilled eggs in mid-century cookbooks. Look, for example, at this particularly ghastly example of the stuffed egg in its prime.
There is scarcely a recipe book of that era in my collection that doesn't feature them in all their lurid egginess; in fact, I would go so far as to say that the stuffed egg - along with the tuft of curly parsley - was the number-one subject choice among food photographers at the time.
I reckon that stuffed eggs - in all their curried, caviared, capered, devilled, parsleyed and anchovy-draped forms - were on the wane as a party food by the early seventies, and that by the 1980s they had faded away with barely an eggy squeak to mark their departure.
Still, I think a proper stuffed egg is a most superior and delicious snack, and I am frustrated that this gentle comfort food has fallen so far out of fashion in the last 30 years or so. I'm not alone in feeling sentimental. My late mother-in-law used to get a bit misty-eyed when she described her mother's devilled eggs, with their delicate criss-crossing of anchovies, while my own mum hooted with laughter when I told her I was writing about stuffed eggs: 'At teen parties in the Fifties, younger brothers used nick a few stuffed eggs off the buffet table and push them up car exhaust-pipes,' she told me. 'When the cars started, there'd be a muffled rumbling and the eggs would shoot out of the exhausts. Everyone fell around laughing.'
There are a few drawbacks to the classic stuffed egg, though: one, there's always too much egg white. Two, they are slippery underneath, so they skate around the platter and spring out of your fingers as you grab them.
If made carelessly, the filling will be lumpy and - oh, horror - there will be a greeny-black ring around the yolk hole. And there's always too much for a mouthful (not necessarily bad; half the fun of eating a stuffed egg is having a bulging cheek on one side and, on the other, creamed egg yolk toothpasting onto your shirt front)
I have tried to fix some of these problems in the following recipe. Look, I know these eggs look twee. Such fussinessness involving piping bags and dainty bits of non-slip toast is not my usual style. But do give this recipe a try next time you have a party.
This is a ridiculously long post for such a simple delicacy but, if you like stuffed eggs, I hope you will indulge me and read it to the end.
There are two important points: one, please sieve the egg yolks so there is not a trace of a lump. Two, use a little good, real mayonnaise, not nasty salad cream: the egg should taste of egg, not vinegar. You can, of course, add any other flavouring you like to the yolk - mashed sardines, for example, are retrolicious. If you want the full fifties experience, steer clear of any newfangled 'garnishings' (chillis, sundried tomatoes and coriander spring to mind) and stick to anchovies, caviar, capers, green olives and parsley. Please don't mix the yolks with tomato ketchup. Or avocado, unless you're planning to serve them to kids (with obligatory ham).
If you can't be bothered to make two-toned eggs, divide the plain mixture and the devilled one between the boiled egg whites.
Oh, one more thing: an essential ingredient is white pepper. This spice has also fallen out of favour over the past decades, as cookery writers have doggedly insisted on only freshly milled black pepper. But fresh white pepper has a distinctive and lovely flavour all of its own and, besides, it doesn't freckle your lovely yolks with black dots.
Non-Slip Two-Tone Half-Devilled Stuffed Eggs
six large eggs
2 T (30 ml) softened salted butter
a dash of home-made (or Hellman's) mayonnaise, or a little olive oil
salt and white pepper
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) hot English mustard powder
1 and 1/2 tsp (7.5 ml) fresh red curry powder or garam masala, of your choice
a pinch of turmeric
a pinch of paprika
6 slices of white bread
vegetable oil for frying
First boil the eggs. It doesn't matter how you do this (every cook has their own theory about how to make and peel a perfect hard-boiled egg; if you don't, please refer to the excellent instructions of St. Delia). What does matter is that the white is firm, and that the yolks are just cooked through, with not a sign of glassiness. Drain off the boiling water and run cold tap water over the eggs until they are cool to the touch. Set them aside for an hour to cool completely.
Peel the eggs. Cut the tip (about 5 mm) off each end of the egg so that you have a barrel shape, and then slice the barrel in half, crossways. Using a teaspoon, carefully remove the egg yolks. (Don't worry if the egg yolks weren't perfectly centred on the white as they cooked: all this will be hidden under artful piping). Push the egg yolks through a metal sieve, or a potato ricer if you have one, into a bowl. Using a fork, whip in the softened butter and just enough mayonnaise to make a smooth, thick paste that will just hold its shape. Add the mustard powder and season to taste with salt and white pepper.
Divide the mixture in half, and to one half add the curry powder, turmeric and paprika. Taste the mixture. If it seems too pale or mild for you, add a dot of tomato paste, a glug of Tabasco, some cayenne pepper, or any spice you like.
Fit a piping bag with a large star nozzle. Hold the bag loosely, halfway up, in one hand and fold the top of it down and over your fist. Spoon the plain egg mixture into the bag, placing it only on one vertical half of the bag (as if you were packing pencils into the left side of a cardboard tube). Now spoon the devilled mixture into the gap, so that you you have two vertical 'pipes' of different-coloured mixture. Pull up the sides of the piping bag, twist the top of the bag, and set aside while you make the toast.
Using a cookie cutter or wine glass, cut out 12 small circles - or stars - out of the bread. Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan and fry until golden and crispy on both sides. Drain on a piece of kitchen paper.
Arrange the toast on a platter. Put the prepared egg slices, broad side up, on the toast bits. Carefully pipe a big, billowing mound of filling onto each egg half. Add any toppings you like - I've used mustard flowers and parsley in the photograph - and serve immediately.
Serves 6, as a snack.
- don't use very fresh eggs, as you won't be able to peel them neatly. Your eggs should be four to five days old. Eggs should be stored in a cool place, and never in the fridge.
- these eggs will keep at room temperature for two or three hours after they've been filled, provided that they're covered to prevent any crustiness setting in. Put them in a deep dish and seal it with cling film.
- don't put them in the fridge after filling them. A cold stuffed egg is shuddery.