Let the record show that, I, Molly Wizenberg, have, in this lifetime, made some ugly deviled eggs.
Maybe this picture is the better approach.
I seem to have come down with some sort of virus, the kind of thing that feels totally out of place in the month of June, that keeps you in your bathrobe, eating mostly toast and canned peaches, for the better part of five days. To be perfectly honest, I can’t say that I feel like eating a deviled egg right now. But I did manage to eat a bowl of cereal this morning, and that is a great improvement. I even felt well enough for a cup of coffee! Maybe, by the time you read this, I will be wearing something other than my bathrobe. It’s halfway over, but I intend to do this month right. I have a deviled egg quota to meet.
I’ve been meaning to post this recipe for a while, because every time I make it, someone asks for it. It’s one of those recipes. Most recently, I made it for Brandi’s birthday party, and that night, I think there were actually three people who asked for the recipe. THREE! That made me particularly happy, I remember, because I had gotten a slow start in cooking that evening and had felt anything but love for these eggs as I stood in the kitchen, peeling them over the sink, already late for the party and still unshowered. But such is the power of the deviled egg, that even after making me swear and pout and show up at a party with my hair looking like I’m in Van Halen, still, still, I want to make them again. (Of course, I do have a certain fondness for David Lee Roth.)
In any case, this recipe was inspired by a deviled egg served to me by Olaiya, so I can’t take credit for it. Three summers ago, she had just moved into a house with a terrific backyard, and she threw a barbecue. She made deviled eggs and salmon burgers and a giant tomato salad and corn on the cob, and our friend Ben had just moved to town, and it was a famous night. Afterward, I wrote about it here and posted the recipe for a basil aioli that we ate on almost everything. And I started working on recreating the deviled eggs: classic ones, creamy with mayonnaise and mustard and lemon, but with a very small spoonful of basil aioli on top and, balancing on top of that, a couple of crispy fried capers.
(Olaiya’s looked much nicer than mine do. Lest you should forget, there was a lot of swearing and hurrying going on.)
As a general category, I love deviled eggs. We even served them at our wedding. But of all deviled eggs, all types and all recipes, I think these are my favorite. The yolk filling is fairly standard, but when you add that basil aioli, which smells and tastes like June itself, this month that we have waited all stinking winter for, you get something entirely new. And with the briny crunch of capers, each one exploded in hot oil so that they look like strange, delicate flowers and dissolve on your tongue, yes, I really do think these are my favorite. Just be sure to buy your eggs a week or two ahead of time, because old eggs usually peel more easily than fresh ones. Actually, you know, if you buy now, you’ll be all set for the Fourth of July.
The multiple steps in this recipe can feel daunting, but it’s actually pretty quick to make. I usually make the aioli while the eggs are cooking, and while they cool, I fry the capers. And if you’re feeling really short on time, just skip the frying and use drained, rinsed capers. No sweat.
Hard-boil the eggs. I’m sure you have a favorite way to boil yours, but just in case, here’s mine. Put them in a large pot, so that they can sit in a single layer. (That’s important.) Add cold water to cover by an inch or two, and place the pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil; then immediately cover the pot and remove it from the heat. Let sit exactly 12 minutes. Drain and rinse well with cold water.
Warm the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot and runs easily around the pan, add the capers. They should sizzle. Fry, shaking the skillet occasionally, until they split open and start to crisp, about 3 minutes. They should not brown. Fish them out of the skillet, leaving the oil behind, and drain them on a paper towel.
When the eggs are fully cool, cut them in half crosswise. (I think this looks prettier – and is easier to eat – than cutting them in half lengthwise.) Carefully remove the yolks and put them in a medium bowl. Trim a tiny sliver off the rounded end of the whites, so that they will sit upright when you serve them; then set them aside. Using a fork, mash the crap out of the yolks. Add the mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice, and salt. Mash and mix until smooth. Taste, and adjust as necessary.
Just before serving, spoon the filling into a pastry bag, and pipe the filling into the egg white halves. If you don’t have a pastry bag, spoon the filling instead. Top the filled eggs with a small dollop of basil aioli. (You will have aioli left over.) Finish with a few fried capers.
Yield: 24 deviled egg halves
Homemade mayonnaise is terrific, but if I’m making deviled eggs, it’s usually summer, which means that it’s hot outside and I want to limit my exertion in the kitchen. So I generally use Best Foods – also sold as Hellmann’s – mayonnaise for this recipe.
A note on the first step: when I make this aioli, the basil mixture sometimes gets wonderfully smooth, like pesto. Other times, though, it doesn’t seem to want to get that smooth, and instead looks more like a mess of chopped basil. I’m not sure what goes wrong, but I think it has to do with the age and texture of the basil leaves: when they’re bigger and hardier, they don’t process as easily. Either way, though, the aioli will taste fine.
In the jar of a blender (or a small food processor), combine the olive oil, basil, lemon juice, garlic, and salt. Process until the mixture is smooth, pausing every now and then to scrape down the side of the blender jar with a small spatula or spoon.
Put the mayonnaise in a small bowl. Add the basil mixture, and stir well to mix.
Serve as a dip for raw vegetables, spread onto sandwiches, folded into chicken salad, or dolloped on top of deviled eggs.
Yield: a generous 1/2 cup