For the last three years I have made huevos rellenos de atún, devilled eggs with tuna, as a Christmas Eve hor d’oeuvres for the annual Christmas fest at my sister’s house. I’m ashamed to say that for each of those three Christmases I have turned to Google to jog the memory and recreate the version that is stored somewhere deep in my bones. This version was that of my Spanish grandmother’s. She made this deliciousness every Christmas Eve when our extended family would gather en masse. Those days of large gatherings have ended, sadly, with the older generation no longer and our family spread across states and countries, as naturally happens.
In these recent days of war, an enduring pandemic, natural disasters, and news I have had of young people having their lights dimmed way too soon, I have turned inwards to a place of nostalgia. Here I feel a strong sense of wanting to preserve and to remember. It sounds rather ominous, but these days feel awfully so, particularly on the back of two difficult years. Simple pleasures – tastes and sounds that delight – and meaningful human connection where presence, authenticity and kindness are shared, are the morsels of pleasure needed to remind us that joy and sweetness are attainable and there for us, if we dare and are able to see and reach for them.
My grandmother made these eggs with a care that I will likely never master. I don’t have the patience. She would grate hardboiled egg yolk (correct me if I’m wrong, Tata Emmie!) over the top of the tuna filling once it had been stuffed into the hard, hollowed egg white, to delicately cover the yellow mass, making the eggs hor d’oeuvres-worthy and not the smelly stuff of forgotten school lunches. Mine have never have looked ready for anything fancy, but they do taste so very good, I will say. Bringing them to our now much smaller family Christmas Eves really does make me silly-happy with nostalgia, although I curse the eggs hours earlier when some fall apart in my hands and I vow every time never to make them again! I like to watch the faces of my parents and siblings, who also remember those epic gatherings as they bite into the huevos. I see the young ones at the table with eyes closed as they devour, because ‘these eggs are sooo yummy’, as my nephew told me last Christmas.
I have no idea if my version is traditional, fusion or a completely bastardised version of my grandma’s. But they taste close to hers and take me where I need to go – a time of innocence and simplicity, full of people, familial connection and noise, the best kind.
Quantities are not exact here. This one is really about tasting as you go and ensuring there’s a balance between smoky spice, creamy mayonnaise and tuna goodness. Don’t be shy with any of the ingredients and go for quality here!
A dozen large, free-range eggs (enough for a gathering of people)
Approx. 150-200g best-quality tuna in olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
2–3 teaspoons pimentón (Spanish paprika. I like the smoky version for this dish, but sweet pimentón is also bueno)
1 cup (ish) of whole-egg mayonnaise
sea salt and black pepper
12 pitted or stuffed green olives
Serves 10–12 as an hor d’oeuvres (if having about two serves each)
Step 1: Boil the eggs. Now, there are many ways to boil eggs and many methods to be found online, but I did the following… I added the eggs to a large pot and filled with cold water, covering the eggs well (about 3 cm). I brought the water to the boil and then turned the heat off, covering the pot and allowing to stand for 15 minutes (maybe a few minutes less for fewer eggs). I then drained the water and filled the pot with cold water, allowing it to then stand for another 10–15 minutes.
Step 2: Once this hard part is done (I found it quite stressful!), peel the eggs. I tend to crack and roll the egg so that it’s all cracked, and usually I find the membrane this way to peel it all off in one go. On a good day! Cut the eggs in half and then spoon out the yolks, placing in a separate bowl. I then make the tiniest horizontal slice at the base of each egg white, so that it sits flat on a platter. This is finicky business, but worthwhile.
Step 3: Use a fork to break up the egg yolks and add the tuna (with a tiny bit of the oil), pimentón, lemon, mayonnaise and seasoning. I add a bit of each of these as I go (except the tuna), tasting as I go. You want to ensure there’s a good hit of flavour there or else it becomes too creamy or eggy, and the spice and lemon cuts through this in the loveliest way.
Step 4: Carefully spoon the yolk mixture into each hollowed egg white, filling as much as you would like. Place half an olive on top of each egg and add a sprinkle of pimentón.
I hope each mouthful takes you someplace joyful! xx