One of my favorite treats when I was growing up was my grandmother's deviled eggs (and her chocolate chip cookies, and the Mexican brownies...). She used to bring them sometimes when she drove to visit us, and I just remember my mouth watering as she peeled back the cling film from the plate and set them on the kitchen table. The minute I was given the go-ahead from my mother, I'd dart forward like a small rodent and grab an egg, stuff it whole into my mouth, and bite down into the rich, soft, yolky center.
My mouth would fill to bursting with contrasts: firm white and silky yolk; smoky paprika and sweet relish; spicy mustard and cool bland egg. I was convinced I could eat a whole plateful by myself, if I'd been allowed to be so glutinous.
But I never tried, and now I'm old enough to know how sick I would get if I ate all that richness on my own. Still, I've never forgotten how much I loved those eggs, and I've tried to find similar ones since my gram died. I've tried the deviled eggs at delis, restaurants, and even some fancier bars, but they're never quite the same (and some have been extremely disappointing). I even tried making them myself, after Easter one year when my brother was refusing to eat hard-boiled eggs unless they were deviled, but I didn't have an exact recipe, and while they did turn out tasty (and my brother did eat them), they just didn't hold up to Gram's standards.
So I gave up. For years, I didn't eat a deviled egg, and I managed to forget how much I loved them. Until last year, when the BF and I were in New York, and we ate at a restaurant that had them on the menu. I asked the BF if he'd ever even had a deviled egg, and he looked puzzled, which was my answer. So we ordered them, and while we waited for them to come I described the wonder that is the great deviled egg. And they came, and we tried them. And they were meh. Meh! I was appalled, and begged the BF not to write off my favorite party food just yet. I set my jaw – I was determined all over again to make a great deviled egg. The education of my British man was at stake, here.
My opportunity came last month, when we organized a Christmas party for a bunch of our friends. I knew I'd be baking cookies and mini pumpkin pies, but I hadn't thought much about savory snacks. And then I remembered the eggs. I rushed to the fridge; we had plenty of eggs, and mayo and mustard and salt and pepper, and paprika... but no relish! Not even any sweet pickles to cut up into relish! I'd set my heart on trying, though, so I grabbed the closest things – pickled peppers and capers in brine – and set about experimenting.
My first mistake was mashing the yolks in a too-small bowl. Don't try this (although why you would, I don't know – I'm weirdly obsessed with using the smallest bowl/plate possible for each dish/task. Must be a California conservation thing). Once I transferred the mess to a bigger bowl, and added a couple of good dollops of mustard and mayo, I chopped up a pepper and tasted it. It was the right kind of pickly sweetness, but the bitter aftertaste of the pepper would ruin the eggs, I decided. So I took a chance on capers; they're salty instead of sweet, but I figured that might be to my advantage, as the BF doesn't really like pickled things anyway.
I mushed it all together with salt and pepper, and a hearty dash of paprika, then tasted. Almost... I threw in a hefty pinch of dry mustard, then another, and tasted it again. There was the spicy bite I needed. I was almost ready to declare a modest victory – not quite Gram's recipe, but a very tasty stand-in – when I had a stroke of genius. I tipped a little bit of the caper brine into the mix and stirred. E Voila! I filled my prettiest egg half (so many of them were mangled at the peeling stage because the eggs weren't old enough when I boiled them), dusted it with more paprika, took some snaps in the light by the window, and then took a bite.
As the flavors and textures filled my mouth, the silky egg and the slight crunch of the capers playing on my tongue, I felt like I was that little hamster-child all over again. And I knew, even if they weren't perfect, that Gram would have been pretty well chuffed with my efforts.
Hard boil a dozen large eggs a day or two before you want to make your deviled eggs. The older the eggs and the longer they sit in the fridge before peeling, the easier they'll be to peel. Another tip I found (too late to use it myself): to center the yolks in the egg, for a prettier finished product, lay the raw eggs on their sides in the fridge the night before boiling them. Apparently this works...
Slice your hard-boiled, peeled eggs in half lengthwise and separate the yolks from the whites. Place the whites on a platter and combine the yolks in a large bowl. mash the yolks with a fork, then stir in:
2 tsp mustard
1/4 c mayonnaise
2 Tbsp capers, roughly chopped
Test a bit of the mixture and add salt and pepper to taste. Continuing to test as you go along, stir in:
dash of caper brine
hefty pinch of dry mustard
large dash of paprika (keeping in mind that the eggs will be dusted with more paprika when they're filled)
Taste and adjust the flavors to your liking (I like mine very mustardy and less mayo-y), then fill the white halves with mounds of yolk mixture (you can use a piping bag if you like, but I just used a teaspoon) and dust the entire platter with paprika.