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
Combine the cream and fennel seeds in a small heavy saucepan, and bring just to a simmer. Remove from the heat, cover, and let steep for about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath.
Then combine the milk, ½ cup sugar, and a pinch of salt in a medium heavy saucepan, and bring just to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the remaining ¼ cup sugar. Add the hot milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the medium saucepan and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the mixture coats the back of the spoon and registers 175°F on an instant-read thermometer. (Do not allow it to boil.) Immediately strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a metal bowl. Cool in the ice bath, stirring occasionally.
When the custard is cool, strain the fennel cream through a fine-mesh sieve into the custard, pressing on the solids. Continue to chill in the ice bath until the custard is very cold. (Alternatively, cover the mixture, and chill it in the refrigerator overnight.) Freeze in an ice cream maker. Transfer to an airtight container, and put in the freezer to harden, about 1 hour.
Yield: 1 quart