Let me be the first to say it (or at least the first this century). Eddie Griffin is completely right.
Now, maybe Ed wasn’t the funniest comic of his generation. Or the smartest. Or the most original. But, if nothing else, he made one vital point crystal clear to all of us – mayonnaise is a little sick.
That’s right, mayonnaise! The creamy condiment of depressing office sandwich platters the world over. From Eurotrash french fries to your favourite burger joint’s “secret” sauce, it’s hard to escape the omnipresence of mayo.
Way back in 2002, I probably would’ve agreed with the Undercover Brother. At the time, I was new to the world of emulsified salad dressings. Growing up, I hated mayonnaise. When Ma threw a sandwich my way, I demanded only the finest of spreads – Parkay Margarine. Really, I was one step away from loading up my hoagie with Vaseline.
Things done changed and I clearly have no problem with a little mayo now (especially its Japanese incarnations). But, I get Eddie’s problem. I’ve been there. Mayonnaise is, well … weird. Its mild flavour. Its wobbly texture. Its hospital ward colour. While the homemade stuff holds up much better than storebought, there’s something about a white wiggly substance that screams “I’ll have the soup, thanks.”
The weirdest part of all? Even the most strident mayo-haters will lap it up like a thirsty poodle if you call it aioli.
Lick it up, Puppy. Lick it all up.
Now, aioli and mayonnaise aren’t exactly the same thing (more like kissing cousins), but you’d never know it from a trip to a restaurant. If you’ve been out on the town in the past ten years, you’ve surely come across it. Lamb chops with herb aioli. Chicken burgers with chipotle aioli. Everything with truffle aioli (which has as much real truffle in it as your white trash uncle’s kitchen).
All of these condiments can be delicious, but are they aioli? Eh, maybe. Traditionally, aioli is just a bowl of smooshed garlic and olive oil. Sure, the folks in Marseille and Nice will toss a li’l egg and lemon in the mix, but it’s still mostly garlic and olive oil. Most importantly, it tastes of garlic and olive oil.
Chipotle aioli? That’s just going to taste of chipotle peppers, son. Truffle aioli? That’s just a big mouthful of 2,4-Dithiapentane.
Still, the definition of aioli has loosened over the years and people love it (maybe they’re all Scrabble players). So, whatever, I’ll play ball. Call it mayo, call it aioli, call it oil-emulsified-with-egg-yolk-and-seasonings — it’s a damn fine condiment that’s much better made at home, especially when you punch it up with a kicky flavour profile. It’s also easier than running to the store and dropping five bucks on a jar that’ll sit mouldering in your fridge for the rest of the Obama administration. Let’s do this!
Mayonnaise (aka Aioli for Hillbillies)
First, buy this stuff:
- Vegetable oil
Now, I could explain in step-by-step detail about the time-honoured tradition of emulsifying a mayonnaise by hand in the same ritual performed for centuries by Escoffier, Bocuse, Julia Child, and your grandma. Or, I can just link to this video from Serious Eats which shortcuts the whole thing and does a bang up job of it all.
But, at about the :43 second mark, I’d suggest a brief pause.
As wonderful as it is, homemade mayonnaise is just mayonnaise. It’s not exactly tearing the roof off the sucka. Yes, it tastes better than Hellmanns. Yes, it avoids all the preservatives of questionable nutrition in the shelf-stable versions. Yes, it’s a core technique in your culinary arsenal. But, who really gives a shit?
If you’re going through the trouble to make mayonnaise at home, you probably want to liven those flavours up a tad. Consider that blank white canvas in your mixing jar a place to highlight punchy accents. Fresh herbs. Anchovies. Or ghee and vadouvan.
“Dude, WTF! First aioli and now this shit? How many foreign words can you jam into one blog post? Give it a rest.”
Be still, young Grasshopper.
Be still, young Grasshopper. You’re well familiar with this stuff, even if you don’t know it. First, let’s talk ghee. This liquid gold is just butter you’ve melted until it turns a roasty-toasty amber thanks to the glory of the Maillard reaction. Ranging from dark brown to barely coloured, this stuff shows up in dishes the world over — rogan josh, gnocchi in sage butter, cookie batter, yada yada yada.
Meanwhile, vadouvan is just curry powder — but what a curry powder! Unlike the trash labeled “curry” at the Safeway, vadouvan is a real masala that sprang from the delicious (if tragic) imperialism of the French in Pondicherry. It’s mild and fragrant, adding dried shallot and garlic to the more standard ingredients of cumin and fenugreek. (It’s also all the rage among the TV cheferati these days.)
Combine these two ingredients and you’re basking in sweet colonial heaven. Then, swap that liquid for the oil in your mayonnaise and you’ve got one indulgent dressing. I can almost hear Paula Deen weeping from her plantation. Here’s how it’s done.
Put a small pot over medium heat on your stove.
Lay a stick of butter inside it.
Watch as it melts, then foams, then turns a couple of shades darker.
When it looks sufficiently golden, stir in a heaping teaspoon of vadouvan.
Hover your face over the pot. Does it smell like warm, delicious curry? Take it off the heat.
Unpause the video from before.
Carry out the same mayo procedure, but use this vadouvan butter instead of the vegetable oil.
Sauces may get better, but they don’t get any richer. Creamy, fragrant, warm, and a little tangy, this mayonnaise (or aioli) works especially well in dishes that are vaguely Indian — a curry chicken salad, perhaps, or a Pondy coleslaw.
Or sautéed shrimp, broccoli couscous, and shaved cauliflower
Try it out and let me know how it goes! Or, better yet, make your own spin on mayonnaise. Change out the oils and acids until you hit on something truly scrumptious and unique. Then, do me a favour and tell me all about it. Send me an e-mail or hit me up on Facebook. Like you, I’m always on the hunt for hot ideas for dinner.