Mayonnaise; it's not just for ham sandwiches

August 7, 2013 

Mayonnaise is perhaps the most underrated condiment of all. It is the child of Hollandaise, one of the five mother sauces in the culinary arts from which all sauces derive.

At its core it is an emulsion of oil, lemon juice or vinegar and egg yolk and, when properly laid together, makes a wonderful and very adaptive sauce with countless applications.

"Sauces," the indispensable book by James Peterson, lists 15 mayonnaise-based sauces and "Larousse Gastronomique," always a bit on the conservative side, lists only 10, but includes a shrimp mayonnaise that should not be missed. No matter the number of derivative sauces, we have been making and consuming mayonnaise since the 16th Century at least and perhaps longer.

Most historians seem to think mayonnaise was first made in Spain and then was carried to France, where it found its true glory, but a few think the sauce has English beginnings. There's always an argument, isn't there?

The demise of mayonnaise in modern consciousness was caused by the bottled preparation sold by so many manufactures around the world, but no one consumes it by half the amount we Americans do. Certainly there are different qualities of the store bought varieties and they vary from goop to pretty good, but nothing compares to homemade. The tragedy is that so many see mayonnaise only as a simple condiment for a ham-and-cheese sandwich.

This is as adaptive a sauce as can be found and the list of things that can be added to it to make distinctive and delicious sauces is almost endless. It becomes the famous Provencal aioli by adding garlic and becomes a remoulade by adding mustard. If you add chopped pickles, mustard and capers you will have a fine tartar sauce. If you add tomato paste and roasted bell peppers you get Sauce Andalouse that the Belgians pair with French fries.

Mayonnaise is definitely not just a sandwich spread. A well-made homemade mayonnaise can be used to great effect to stuff boiled eggs, or as a delicious addition to crab cakes as a binder. If you are a chicken wing aficionado then adding crumbled blue cheese, especially if you use a superior cheese like Maytag, along with a little lemon juice to a cup of mayonnaise and the dip will become the main event. If you like things with a little zing add wasabi to your mayonnaise and use it as a salad dressing.

Don't be afraid to experiment and add herbs, spices or vegetables to your mayonnaise, but please remember the difference farm fresh eggs will make. They are available at most farmers markets.

JULIA CHILD'S MACHINE MADE MAYONNAISE

1 whole egg

2 egg yolks

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 cups best quality olive oil

1 pinch white pepper

Combine the whole egg, egg yolks and mustard in the food processor and process for 30 seconds. Add the salt and lemon juice and process for about 15 seconds more. With the machine running pour the oil in a very thin stream of droplets into the egg mixture. When the sauce begins to thicken stop and taste, season as necessary and process again just to incorporate the pepper. If it is too thick add a tablespoon of water

Variations: add blanched spinach leaves for green

mayonnaise, or fresh basil leaves for an herbal variety. Blend 1/3 cup of boiled shrimp and add to the mayonnaise for a great dip or to be used as a sauce for fried seafood.

GRILLED SHRIMP ON TOAST WITH AIOLI

1 pound large shrimp

Tony Chachere's Creole seasoning

Black pepper

Butter or olive oil

FOR THE AIOLI

3 cloves garlic

2 egg yolk

1 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Salt and pepper

Local crusty bread

Optional: Saffron

Remove the shells from the shrimp and, if you have the time, place in several cups of cool water and a pinch of salt and allow to brine for an hour or so. Season the shrimp with Tony's and black pepper and sauté very quickly in the butter or oil over high heat. Cook no more than 45 seconds or so on a side, remove and set aside.

In a food processor or using a mortar and pestle make a paste of the garlic and salt, add the egg yolks and combine thoroughly. Add the oil in a thin stream, continuing to process or mix until well blended. Add the lemon juice and process briefly. Add a pinch of saffron half way through adding the oil if you like. Slice the bread and toast in a little olive oil or butter, top with the shrimp and garnish with the aioli. Serve hot or cold.

SPICY MAYO AND FRIED OYSTERS

1 pint local oysters

Tempura batter

Panko bread crumbs

1 cup homemade mayonnaise

1 avocado

Juice of one lemon

Tony Chachere's seasoning

1 pinch red pepper flakes

Black pepper

Add several pinches of Tony's to the tempura powder and mix well. Drain the oysters and toss in the tempura powder (do not add liquid), place the oysters on a large platter so that they do not touch each other and allow them to become tacky; if you are in a hurry spritz with water. Toss the oysters in the panko bread crumbs, shake off the excess and then fry in very hot oil for 1 minute and not a second longer. They will be golden brown on the outside and still moist on the inside. Combine the mayonnaise, meat of the avocado, lemon juice, red pepper flakes and a pinch or two of black pepper and mix well. Keep the spicy mayonnaise cold until served. Make sure to serve the oysters immediately. Serve the spicy mayonnaise in individual bowls.

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