I believe that my mother’s favorite dish may well be stuffed eggs. That’s what we always call them, not deviled eggs, because deviled somehow implies spicy and my mother does not do spicy. Stuffed eggs have always been an essential part of a family gathering, particularly Sunday after-church lunch at my grandparents’, with tomato sandwiches and fried chicken. We never had a real stuffed egg plate that I am aware of, but it is considered by most a Southern essential, and features on many a wedding gift registry. I bought my own recently; it’s very modernist, but it’s the only one I’ve ever seen that holds 24 stuffed eggs, and if you are going to make stuffed eggs, use the whole dozen box!
But in my family, the real key to stuffed eggs is paprika. Stuffed eggs without a generous sprinkling of paprika would have been considered inedible. Stuffed eggs without paprika look nekkid. Sweet paprika I should specify. This tradition originated in the days before the variety of paprika now on the market was available; no pimenton, no smoked paprika, no ten degrees of Hungarian hot or sweet. Just Paprika, in the McCormick jar with the green screw-top. The folks at McCormick once wisely put out a series of ads in magazines charting the history of their spice packaging so you could figure out how old your spice collection was, and throw out those over two-decade old bottles. That paprika jar at my grandmother’s house didn’t even make the chart.
I never thought paprika had any flavor until I went to Hungary and got a little punch-drunk ordering paprikas. Now my pantry is stocked with imported Hungarian sweet and hot, smoked Spanish in a variety of depths, and they all figure regularly in my cooking. But there is also still a simple jar of just plain Paprika in case some relative should stop by to inspect my full family credentials. And of course, to sprinkle over stuffed eggs.
Stuffed Eggs Béarnaise
Classic stuffed eggs are usual made with jarred pickle relish, but I can’t stand the stuff, so I came up with the flavored with the tastes of classic Béarnaise sauce, and I have to say this is now the family standard.
1 dozen eggs*
2 -3 Tablespoons vermouth or white wine
1 small shallot
4- 5 sprigs fresh tarragon
3 sprigs parsley
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste
Place the eggs in one layer in a large saucepan. Cover with water by about 2 inches. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and boil for 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool until you can comfortably reach into the water and take them out.
Peel the eggs and rinse away any extra shell bits. Pat dry. Cut the eggs in half and gently scoop the yolks into a bowl. Place the white halves on a platter (if not serving immediately, line the platter with paper towel).
Break the yolks up with a fork and sprinkle with the vermouth. The yolks should absorb the vermouth with no liquid left in the bowl.
Chop the shallot very finely. Chop the tarragon and parsley. Toss into the bowl with the yolks and mash with a fork. Add the mustard and continue to mash. Add the mayonnaise by spoonfuls, mashing after each addition until you have a thick but smooth filling. You may use more or less mayonnaise than called for. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon the yolk mixture into the white halves, pressing gently to fill. Sprinkle with paprika.
These are best made shortly before serving. You can boil the eggs as much as a day before, and several hours ahead separate the eggs and make the filling. Store both in the fridge, the whites covered in paper towels to prevent condensation. Stuff just before serving.
*If you store the eggs in the carton on its side until you boil them, the yolks will come out perfectly centered every time. And eggs that are a bit older peel easier, so buy the eggs days before you want to stuff them.
Makes 24 stuffed eggs