Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mayonnaise: The Real Deal

Mayonnaise is a strange food.  It is the crux of many delicious recipes, but very few people yearn to crack open a jar of Hellman’s a dig in with a spoon.  Traditional mayonnaise is simply an emulsion of egg yolks, oil, and lemon juice, but commercial production sometimes renders into something seemingly more offensive.  Few have been spared the visual trauma of a vessel of mayonnaise that has been exposed to open air, out of refrigeration, translucent and gelatinous at the edges.  Despite this burdensome image, I truly enjoy mayonnaise on sandwiches, as a base for sauces and dips, and as a binder for various recipes.  Some of the most delicious (and unhealthy) foods hinge on mayo: spinach-artichoke dip, blue cheese dressing, the creamy sauce on a spicy tuna roll.  I can nearly guarantee that even the most vehement mayonnaise haters have unwittingly enjoyed it on a few occasions.
I actually had to be tricked into it myself.  When I was in elementary school, my brother became devoted to making turkey sandwiches one summer.  As part of this project, he made it a personal mission to convince me of the merits of mayo in such a context.  He handled this issue with exceptional finesse.  Catapulting off my deep-rooted love of butter, my brother told me that mayonnaise was “sandwich butter,” like butter but designed especially for sandwiches.  As he crafted my lunch, he would spread mayo on challah bread, and present it to me for approval, creating a thin, without the slightest hint of oozing or glopping.  Soon, I was regularly devouring his carefully constructed turkey sandwiches adorned with “sandwich butter.” 
I never really understood why my brother was so devoted to his cause, until I began sharing meals with someone who expresses a deep disdain for mayonnaise.  This person, also known as my co-chef (see “Fish Tacos”) will eat foods with mayonnaise in them, but only when thoroughly disguised.  This leaves me irrationally distressed, not only because it limits the food we can share, but also because I want him to experience the joy of a turkey sandwich or a BLT with mayonnaise, or other mayonnaise-enhanced foods (such as a corned beef sandwich with swiss, Russian dressing, and cole slaw). 
I have embarked upon my own mission, championing the merits of mayonnaise.  Similar to the “sandwich butter method,” I am trying to be gentle and non-threatening.  My subject is a willing participant, but the idea of mayonnaise makes his stomach turn.  As a first step, I chose to make him something simple with high quality ingredients, and a flavorful homemade mayonnaise.  And because I wanted him to truly enjoy what he ate, bacon seemed like an appropriate avenue.  Only one food could fulfill such exacting specifications: a BLT sandwich with basil mayonnaise.  I even added a little avocado to make it as palatable as possible, with sourdough bread, summer tomatoes, red leaf lettuce, and plenty of bacon (see two examples directly below).
For the mayonnaise, I used extra virgin olive oil and lots of fresh basil to make it minimally offensive and maximally flavorful.  I actually think that I overly-softened the blow by making it so flavorful.  It was rich and delicious, and it made for great sandwiches.  However, it was not a true introduction to mayo.  I was trying to be gentle, but I think I played it a little too safe, and my co-chef agreed.  In particular, the extra virgin olive oil resulted in quite a strong flavor.  For the next installment of our experiment, I intend to omit the basil and use half extra virgin olive oil and half canola or vegetable oil to impart a more bonafide mayo effect.  However, if you are looking for something delectable to put on a sandwich, I would include the basil, or any combination of fresh herbs.   
(photography courtesy of my co-chef)

Basil Mayonnaise (based on Marc Bittman’s basic mayonnaise recipe)

1 large egg yolk (this would be a good time for really high quality eggs)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Dash of cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon each of freshly ground pepper and kosher salt
¼ cup of fresh basil, torn (I used a combination of opal basil and regular basil because it was what I had)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
-       Mix together all ingredients besides the oil in the canister that accompanies an immersion blender or a regular blender.
-       Add a couple of tablespoons of oil, and then run the motor.
-       While the motor is running slowly drizzle in the remaining oil until a creamy, uniform emulsion results.


  1. cool -- I never thought to use my immersion blender to make mayonnaise -- i'll have to try it -- thanks psycho, you da best

  2. I don't care - I still love the Palm http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/26/reviewing-palms/?ref=dining