Beyond the everyday condiment
I’m not ashamed to admit that the secret ingredient in the 100,000-plus lobster rolls we have served during the past three years in the restaurant is a store-bought Japanese mayonnaise named Kewpie. There, I said it. A warm, fresh toasted, buttered bun, cold poached and sliced crayfish, watercress and the now not-so-secret sauce – Kewpie mayonnaise.
At home, I always have a tube of Kewpie in the fridge. It has a long shelf life, is substantially more delicious than most store-bought mayonnaise brands, and has a pleasant junk-food quality – possibly because of its high sugar content.
Homemade mayonnaise, though, is something else entirely and incomparable to anything found on the shelf. Mayonnaise is the emulsification of oil into a base of egg yolks. Often Dijon mustard is added along with quality white wine vinegar or lemon juice and a blend of good oils.
When making my own mayonnaise, I always use a blend of one-third olive oil to two-thirds vegetable or grape seed oil. When it’s made with straight olive oil it becomes bitter and unpalatable. The true beauty of homemade mayonnaise, though, is not only its freshness and balance but its ability to carry other flavours. Fresh herbs, spices and various vegetables such as roasted and puréed red capsicum all work well. In the recipe here, the addition of a mussel stock adds flavour and thins the mayonnaise to a pourable sauce consistency. Either raw or pasteurised egg yolk can be used to make mayonnaise. If using raw egg yolk, I don’t recommend keeping your mayonnaise longer than two or three days.
I enjoy the fact that mayonnaise and egg-based sauces are still considered foundation recipes in the modern kitchen. They’ve been made for hundreds of years and are now an everyday condiment or sauce base in Western cooking. Used daily in the restaurant kitchen, they are also one of the few preparations used just as often at home. Once you’ve mastered a basic mayonnaise recipe, it can be easily adapted to the dish or salad with which you wish to serve it. A delicious addition to the aioli recipe above involves replacing the raw garlic with a head of roasted garlic, the cooked pulp squeezed from each clove and whisked into the base recipe.
Freshly made aioli is also a treat. I like the addition of Pernod (a subtle anise), but it can be easily omitted. Hollandaise sauce, which is vaguely related, is another favourite and one of the best accompaniments to meat I can think of. It’s basically a cooked custard as opposed to raw egg yolk mayonnaise, with the addition of clarified butter instead of oil. Unlike mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce needs to be seared hot so the butter remains fluid and the sauce doesn’t set.
The first time you attempt to make a mayonnaise I suggest making it in a bowl with a whisk and a friend: taking it in turns to whisk while the other person drizzles the oil into the bowl. Traditionally made with a mortar and pestle, a somewhat laborious task, a mixer with the whisk attachment makes much lighter work of it.
If possible, use Australian garlic for this recipe. It is a bit more expensive than the imported variety, but it is so punchy you don’t need to use as much. And its tang is irreplaceable. Homemade aioli is great to have in the fridge. It completes any sandwich, is terrific tossed through a bean salad, and is a joy served with roast chicken.
– 3 cloves Australian garlic, peeled
– 2 tsp Dijon mustard
– 3 egg yolks
– 180ml vegetable oil
– 3 tbsp olive oil
– 1¼ tsp Pernod
– 1½ tsp lemon juice
– 1½ tsp white wine vinegar
– salt and white pepper
Using a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic to a fine paste with a pinch of salt. Transfer to an electric mixer with the whisk attachment fitted. Add the mustard and egg yolks to the bowl.
On high speed, whisk the yolks and slowly add the oils until incorporated. Finally add the Pernod, lemon juice and vinegar.
Taste, and adjust with salt and white pepper if required.
Saffron and mussel mayonnaise with steamed whiting
This recipe is a mayonnaise in principle but it is thinned with some mussel juice to make a thick sauce. It is staggering when used to dress warm boiled and peeled potatoes.
– 4 whiting fillets
– 1kg mussels, cleaned
– splash white wine
– pinch chilli powder
– 1 tsp white wine vinegar
– 2 tbsp olive oil
– pinch saffron
– 1 tsp Dijon mustard
– 1 egg yolk
– 100ml sunflower oil
– 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
– 1 tsp lemon juice
– 2 tbsp mussel and saffron liquid (see method)
Cook the mussels in a covered, preheated saucepan with a splash of white wine until the mussels have opened. Remove from the heat and strain, reserving the juices. Remove the mussels from their shells and place in a small bowl. Toss with a pinch of dried chilli, the white wine vinegar and olive oil. Leave in the fridge to marinate for up to an hour.
Meanwhile, place the saffron in a small ovenproof dish and warm in a moderate oven for one to two minutes. Make sure your oven fan is turned off.
Once the saffron is toasted, take three tablespoons of the reserved mussel juices and warm with the saffron in a small saucepan. Cook for one minute and remove from the heat, taking care not to reduce the mussel juice too much.
To make the mayonnaise, whisk together the mustard and egg yolk. Slowly add the oils in a fine stream, whisking all the while. When incorporated, add the lemon juice and cool mussel and saffron liquid.
To serve, steam the whiting fillets for three to four minutes or until just cooked. (They can be cooked gently in a non-stick pan with a little olive oil.) Serve a fillet on each plate, add one tablespoon of the saffron sauce/mayonnaise, and scatter the mussels about the plate.
Serve any excess mussel mayonnaise on the side, along with a rocket salad dressed with a squeeze of lemon, salt and extra virgin olive oil.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 19, 2014 as "Mayonnaise secret". Subscribe here.