I never knew I was in food school more than the day I showed up at our first barbecue of spring proffering a homemade shallot mayonnaise to spread on some burgers, and then had to engage in a game of mother sauce Tetris in order to find room for it on the buffet among the four other homemade mayonnaises whipped up by my classmates.
Mayonnaise has always intrigued me – many find it easy to loathe – this shiny, globulous fat spread that can render a sandwich soggy and seemingly unappealing – before they even know what goes into it: oil and a raw egg yolk. I, on the other hand, have always loved it, and assume that if you are ridiculous enough to abhor this delicious emulsification, then you must be either overly diet-conscious, or your only exposure to mayonnaise has been in the pitiful form of some chemical imitation like Miracle Whip. Not that I’m judging or anything.
However, while I despise both the taste of Miracle Whip and the bad reputation it brings to mayonnaise-like products, I must praise its name. For that is exactly what mayonnaise is – a whipped up miracle. It is one of those elusive foods where the final product transcends its component ingredients. Whisk a bright orange egg yolk (anything less vibrant isn’t worth your metacarpals) with some lemon juice, salt and pepper, slowly drizzle in a cup’s worth of oil (olive tends to be a bit bitter, I’ve had excellent success with peanut or canola), while continuing to whisk the yolk, and what do you get? Not an orange-y looking oil with a hint of lemon flavor, but MAYONNAISE. A heavenly emulsification with a taste that can only be described as satisfaction. And an excellent partner for French fries.
And just as this final product that does not taste like an identifiable combination of the component ingredients, it does not look like it either. The texture is somehow creamy and thick, but not oily or greasy or eggy or really even soft. It is friend to land and sea – being the essential ingredient to either a tuna salad or a turkey salad. In its most basic form, it is a subtly persistent happiness, but the addition of spice or herb can turn it into a slick shock of flavor. It is at home in heat and in cold, as a dip, or as a condiment. For, to quote a dear friend, “A turkey sandwich is nothing if not a vehicle for more mayonnaise.”