When I think about summer, I think about deviled eggs. Beginning with Easter and going straight through September, just about every activity -- from camping and cookouts to beach vacations and July Fourth gatherings -- can be enhanced by a plate of deviled eggs.
It's really just a matter of swapping the garnish to fit the activity or mood.
If I am feeling down-homey, I add a little pimento cheese to my basic deviled egg mixture. If I want to spice it up, I add pureed chipotle and substitute lime for the lemon. For the right occasion I'll even get a little fancy and top deviled eggs with caviar, either the traditional variety or the newer wasabi-infused flying fish roe.
Still, no matter how good embellished deviled eggs are, my favorite remains what I call "straight-up deviled eggs." They are as advertised -- classic and simple. You can use them as a base for any and all flavor mix-ins, or serve them like I do, straight up, simple and sublime.
One of the beauties of deviled eggs is how well they travel. That's why I call them party eggs. But there are a few tricks to making certain they are sensational.
First, you have to cook the eggs properly. Freshly boiled eggs are key to great flavor and texture. Don't buy pre-cooked hard-boiled eggs.
The best method is to place the eggs in a saucepan and add enough cold water to generously cover them. Bring the water to a boil. As soon as the water is boiling, turn off the heat, put a lid on the pan and wait 15 minutes. This method really is more like poaching than boiling, and will guarantee a yellow, creamy well-cooked egg.
After 15 minutes, plunge the eggs into a bowl of cold water. This prevents them from overcooking (and from turning green at the center).
I like to make the deviled mixture right away. This helps the flavors of the ingredients fully meld with the yolk. I am a fan of cutting the eggs in half vertically because I think it is easier to keep all the goodness of the deviled egg mixture in the white. However, for esthetic purposes, you should follow the shape of your deviled egg tray.
The eggs taste better after the mixture has had a chance to sit so the flavors can marry. For that reason, I always make my deviled eggs the day before and refrigerate the mixture in a closed pastry bag. I pipe (squirt) the filling into the whites just before serving or leaving the house. A light hand with the garnish, then you are done.
Straight-Up Deviled Eggs
Start to finish: 30 minutes (plus overnight chilling)
Makes 24 halves
1 dozen large eggs
1/3 cup mayonnaise (I prefer Hellmann's)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup strong Dijon mustard (such as Amora or Maille)
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Pinch garlic powder
2 to 4 shakes hot sauce
Smoked paprika or minced fresh chives
Fill a large bowl with cold water.
Place the eggs in a large saucepan or stockpot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, cover, then turn off the heat. Let the eggs sit for 15 minutes. Drain the eggs, then transfer them to the bowl of cold water. Let them sit for about 10 minutes, or until cool to the touch.
Carefully peel the eggs, keeping the whites intact. Cut in half across the middle or lengthwise, depending on your desired final presentation. Use your fingers or a small spoon to gently scoop out the yolks into a medium bowl. Set the whites aside on a platter or deviled egg plate, then cover and refrigerate.
Use a fork to mash the yolks until all large pieces are broken up and smooth. Add the mayonnaise, butter, mustard, lemon zest and juice, garlic powder and hot sauce. Stir well. Taste and season with salt. Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag or plastic zip-close bag and refrigerate overnight.
Just before serving or leaving for a summer event, snip off the tip of the piping bag (or one of the bottom corners of a zip-close bag) and squeeze the deviled egg mixture into the egg whites. Alternatively, you can use a small spoon to fill the egg white "boats" with the yolk mixture, but the presentation is less attractive.
Sprinkle the eggs with smoked paprika for classic eggs, or chives for a fancier version. Serve chilled.
Nutrition information per half egg (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 70 calories; 45 calories from fat (64 percent of total calories); 5 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 95 mg cholesterol; 2 g carbohydrate; 3 g protein; 0 g fiber; 80 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."