If there’s one dish you’ll find doubled or tripled up on in a Southern party spread, it’s deviled eggs. And even then, the folks who brought them aren’t likely to go home with leftovers. The “devil” part? It’s not because they’re a source of temptation (though they are); it refers to the spices that add their nice, piquant kick. Southern cooks have lately taken to dressing up their eggs with various accoutrements—country ham, chilled Gulf shrimp, poached tomatoes. But connoisseurs will rightly tell you that what matters most is the springiness of the white and the tang of the yolk.
To please the fussiest of them, start with eggs a few days removed from the nest, since fresher eggs are frustratingly dodgy come peeling time. Put the eggs into a pot, cover with an inch or so of cool water, and bring to a boil. Once the water is sputtering, reduce the heat to a low simmer, and cook for eight minutes. To avoidovercooking the yolk, shock the eggs in an ice water bath for 30 seconds before peeling. Slice the eggs lengthwise, and remove the yolks.
If the boiling process is a science, doctoring up the yolks is an art. But if you’re short a treasured yellowed recipe card with handwritten instructions for the absolute best proportion of mustard to mayonnaise, not to worry. Just combine a dozen yolks with a cup of your favorite mayo and a quarter cup of your favorite mustard, then add salt, pepper, and paprika to taste, and you’ll have a preparation worth handing down.
For creamier eggs, you might stir in a bit of butter. For spicier eggs, a few dashes of Tabasco or grated horseradish will do the trick. And there are plenty of folks who won’t declare a deviled-egg filling ready until they’ve added a teaspoon of lemon juice and a tablespoon of pickle relish. But by then, you’re just tinkering with perfection.