Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The incredible, edible egg, part two: mayonnaise.

In general, people have very strong feelings about mayonnaise. They either love it (like I do) or hate it (like a crazy person might). I like the way it combines the tang of the vinegar with the rich, unctuous oil and eggs. I like it on sandwiches, on french fries, and on, well, just about anything else. Those who dislike mayo are, I think, mainly put off by its appearance (vaguely gooey white stuff) and its mellower-than-ketchup-or-mustard flavor.

Mass-produced American mayonnaise is far milder than commercial European mayos, and vastly different from its homemade counterpart. Homemade mayonnaise is closer in texture and flavor to a hollandaise or a super-creamy vinaigrette than to Hellmann's. (Let it be known, however, that I love all mayonnaise, just in different ways.) It's essentially a suspension of oil in egg yolks and a tiny bit of vinegar (and sometimes lemon juice), more a sauce than a true condiment.

And it's phenomenally easy to make. You just take an egg yolk, muddle it up with some vinegar and mustard and salt, slowly add in some oil, and bam! You've got a sauce fit for french fries or poached salmon or steamed asparagus. You can gussy it up - curry powder works well, or some fresh herbs - and let's not forget that aioli is essentially garlicky mayonnaise.

For lunch on Sunday, I decided that the best thing to do with the chicken I roasted on Saturday night was to make homemade chicken salad. Chicken salad is, for me, really just an excuse to whip up a batch of homemade mayo, something I thought would be a particularly fitting way to highlight another of the gorgeous eggs. I folded the chopped chicken and some cucumber into a dollop of the mayonnaise, added a little shallot, and finished the whole thing off with some garlic chives.

Spooned on top of a toasted crumpet, it was a little bowl of springtime heaven - and all of it, except for the oil, mustard, and crumpet, came from the Greenmarket. Pretty neat, right?

Homemade Mayonnaise
Based on a recipe from The Gourmet Cookbook

1 egg yolk, left at room temperature for thirty minutes
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. champagne or cider vinegar

In a small-to-medium, heavy-bottomed bowl, whisk together the yolk, mustard and salt. Combine the oils in a liquid measuring cup (with a spout) and add to the yolk mixture drop by drop, whisking constantly until the mixture begins to emulsify.

Pause and whisk in the vinegar, then whisk in the remaining oil in a thin, constant stream, whisking all the while. If the emulsion breaks, stop adding oil and just whisk until things come back together, then resume adding the oil.

Salt and pepper to taste, and use to your heart's content! The mayonnaise will keep for about two days, covered, in the refrigerator.

Makes approximately 3/4 cup of mayonnaise, enough in which to dip several bags of Cape Cod potato chips. Not that I speak from experience or anything.

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