To finish freshman composition, I had to turn in a paper comparing and contrasting both sides of a controversial issue, with the history of the subject and two personal interviews. Most people went political, but I chose to write about mayo.
Apparently the Italians and the French still argue over whose war-captured chef slave invented the sauce. Regardless, the recipe has traveled all over the world, making all Japanese deep fried foods even more excellent. P.S. Thanks for the whole frying idea, Portugal! (Unrelated and also cool: Ketchup is Chinese. Get over it.)
It was not difficult to find a mayo lover and a mayo hater to interview. Chef Ted, my first restaurant boss, swallows his daily vitamins with a spoonful of mayonnaise, making my vauge mental picture of his homeland of Long Island even wackier. Rory, the coolest 9-year-old I know, hates mayo, yelling with her eyes shut, “That ketchup-cheese stuff is gross!” Needless to say, I got an A, and I only had to spend fifteen minutes on the research.
Anyway, if you’ve never had homemade mayonnaise, you are really missing out. Jarred mayonnaise contains a lot of water and air, making it a nice, tasteless waste of money compared to the homemade stuff. Not to mention the preservatives! And the jars themselves; how they pile up! No one is that crafty.
2 egg yolks
1 T white wine vinegar
1.5 T dijon mustard
1 pint safflower oil
2 small mixing bowls
Towel, to keep the bowl steady
It is a good idea to lay a cloth towel down and set your bowl on top of it to prevent your bowl from traveling across the table as you make this sauce. Start by whisking up the dijon and vinegar in one of your mixing bowls. Note that these ingredients are traditional, but you can mix in any sort of paste instead of the dijon (wasabi, garlic paste, anchovy paste, curry paste, mashed herb paste, tamarind paste, on and on!) and any sort of acid instead of the white wine vinegar (balsamic vinegar, cider vinegar, sherry vinegar, rice wine vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice, et cetera).
Many restaurants will make different kinds of flavored mayonnaise and call it aioli, but true aioli is garlic paste emulsified with oil. Some regions of Italy also add lemon and egg yolk and then cool stuff like capers and anchovies, but the whole mustard thing is purely French and sets these two sauces apart, technically.
I, however, do not draw the line religiously. If it has some garlic in it (“aioli” literally translates to “garlic oil”), it will pass in my book. No garlic? It’s mayo. But “aioli” is such a pretty foreign word that doesn’t bring fast food or expanding waistlines to mind, so I understand the menu rewrite. As the old joke goes, “What’s the difference between remoulade and tartar sauce?” About $3 on a menu.
Next, separate your eggs. Be sure to crack the egg on a flat surface! Cracking eggs on the edges of bowls or pans forces the shell bits into the center, making it all the more likely that you will puncture the yolk. Carefully open the cracked egg and pour the contents into your hand over the other mixing bowl.
Transfer the yolk back and forth between your hands, letting the white fall through your fingers, and even pulling it off gently with your opposite hand. (Using the shells instead of your hands to get the white off is a great way to pop the yolk! Why make life harder?)
Next, whisk up those eggs for a minute or two. The mixture should be nice and bubbly-fluffy. We’re opening up all of that yolk so it can soak up the fat of the oil we’re about to add in.
Do you have to use egg yolk? Nope. You can use egg white, or whole eggs. Egg yolk has the richest flavor in the egg, so if you use more or all white, you may need to balance your flavor with the other ingredients to make up for the flavor loss. Furthermore, try different types of eggs! Chicken eggs are great, but there are lots and lots of birds out there. (Or reptile eggs? There has to be some hipster chef out there making snake yolk aioli. Jerks.)
Get ready to beef up that forearm, it’s emulsify time! Again, it helps to set the bowl on a cloth towel to keep it from running around the table. Also, make sure the oil is in a container that is comfortable to hold up in the air for a few minutes. If it’s too heavy, pour some into a smaller container. Once you’re all set up, start whisking the egg mixture while drizzling in the oil.
Mayonnaise is traditionally made with a neutral-flavored oil, and most fats may be used to create more diverse flavors. Bacon fat, sausage fat, sesame oil, almond oil, on and on! With animal fats, make sure they’re pretty close to room temperature so you don’t cook your eggs. As for vegetable oils, be careful with olive oil; it tends to become very bitter when whisked.
The mixture should begin to thicken and whiten. If the oil hangs out on the sides instead of mixing uniformly, you are either whisking too slowly or pouring your oil in too quickly. Stop pouring the oil and just whisk for a little bit until it all comes together, then continue with the oil pour. The process of emulsifying in the oil can take anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes, depending on your whisking skill level (read: endurance).
Lastly, whisk in salt, white pepper, and vinegar to taste. Voila, you have made mayonnaise. Try lots of different combinations of pastes, acids, eggs, fats, and spices for more interesting salads, sandwiches, and dips.