Friday, May 9, 2008

RECIPE: Mayonnaise

"To make a homemade mayonnaise," said Julia Child, "you have to know your way around an egg."

She was wonderful for witty, pithy sayings like that, also coming up with this one on her television show while making a cream soup: "First, you take a leek...." and then bursting into laughter. She was, in every sense of the word, a grande dame.

My grandmother was very fond of Julia Child's show and of course, she had the two volume set of the world's most famous cookbooks, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I don't remember my grandmother doing much French cooking, however, although she made lovely mushrooms fried in butter with garlic, which seems kind of Frenchy, and also bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, which doesn't. And Tollhouse cookies, because all grandmothers are required by law to know how to make Tollhouse cookies, reserving half the dough for their greedy, sticky-fingered grandchildren to eat.

One French thing my grandmother did do was make homemade mayonnaise, at least a couple of times. I can attest to the fact from my youth that homemade mayonnaise tastes better than the creamiest, richest jar that Hellman's ever produced, but I don't believe I've had homemade mayonnaise since I was about sixteen or seventeen years old.

But now, I've been inspired by watching Top Chef on the Bravo network, and I decided I'd give it a whirl. Making a homemade mayonnaise was a recent relay challenge on a Top Chef episode and it looked so delicious in high def that I knew I had to try it.

I racked my brains trying to remember my grandmother's recipe, and all I could come up with was egg yolk, a sprinkle of onion powder, a pinch of salt, some lemon juice and a cup of oil, slowly pouring while stirring like a caffeine addict. Of course, there are all kinds of things you can add to mayonnaise: some mashed avocado for avocado mayonnaise, which may be the best thing ever mixed with a can of albacore tuna. Or then there's horseradish mayonnaise, which is so good on a roast beef sandwich, it could bring tears to your eyes. You can make tarragon mayonnaise, parsely mayonnaise, lime mayonnaise....I've always added those things to prepared mayonnaise, though, so I've never enjoyed the flavor or had the satisfaction of consuming a product made by my own dainty hands. But obviously, I thought it would be best to stick to something simple.

Here's the first recipe I made, and I don't think it was a success. (I should have just tried my grandmother's recipe, but I was worried that I'd forgotten something.) It has a lovely creamy consistency, but it is too tangy for our taste and less rich than we like. But is occurs to me that it might be a very nice mayonnaise indeed for deviled eggs:

1 whole large egg

2 scant teaspoons Dijon mustard OR 1 scant teaspoons prepared salad mustard

1 tablespoon lemon juice

a pinch of sea salt

1 "grind" of pepper

1 cup olive oil (or any other oil, really - although it must be the kind that is liquid at room temp)

Directions: Using a mixer on a medium high speed or a food processor, beat the first four items together very, very well in a small mixing bowl. VERY WELL. WELLER THAN YOU THINK THE TERM "WELL" COULD EVER POSSIBLY MEAN. Beat them well enough that they have some body to them; you'll know when this happens because they won't be lying there, liquid-y, in your little bowl.

Gradually add the oil, allowing a very thin, steady stream to fall over the beaters or into the food processor. Beat and beat and beat and thank heaven above that you aren't doing this the old-fashioned culinery school way, which is by hand with a wire whisk. No wonder so many classically trained chefs spend a little too much time gulping down little soupçons of cognac when they think the sous chef is adding finely diced onion to the terrine.

The egg mixture and the oil will begin to emulsify and have a creamy, spreadable consistency that is easily recognizable as mayonnaise. However, due to the egg yolk and the mustard, this mayonnaise will not be cream colored; it will be a lovely pale yellow.

As I said, it would be tasty with deviled eggs on a June picnic, but this one isn't quite us. I plan to make this a project and keep trying different recipes.

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