July 17, 2002

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Hold the mayo

RECENTLY I STOPPED at a friend's house for a glass of wine, and we fell to talking, somehow or other, about mayonnaise. Perhaps I mentioned how well it goes with roasted or grilled asparagus, or with oven-fried potatoes. She has long been a champion of a certain brand of commercial mayonnaise and, from her refrigerator, produced a jar so that I might taste it.

It wasn't bad – nice weight and consistency – though it did have a faint sharpness I've always associated with Miracle Whip. Since her blender was sitting on the counter, I offered to whip up a batch of homemade so that we might make a direct comparison. I explained what I needed: an egg, a few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and enough canola oil to make a cup, a dab of mustard, a squeeze of lemon, a pinch of salt, and a few grindings of pepper. All in stock. A moment later I was whirring everything but the oil in the blender, then adding the oil through the feed cap in a steady stream.

And just as the sun rises each morning in the east, the mixture was soon thickening and turning a rich, opaque white – mayonnaise! There was a general, if muted, amazement in the room at the swift straightforwardness of the procedure. We tasted. The homemade was slightly less salty and with a pronounced flavor of extra-virgin olive oil. Of course I prefer this, but it could be an acquired taste. You can adjust it easily enough by using more, or less, or no extra-virgin olive oil in your one cup of oil.

You can also adjust it by adding a smashed clove of garlic to the blender, with the egg and other non-oil ingredients, and whirring it all together before dribbling in the oil. You then have aioli. Add some ground chipotle chile with the garlic and you have chipotle aioli; add some roasted red bell pepper and you have rouille – just the thing for dressing up some fish soup or simply spreading on toasted bread.

It is so easy to make your own mayo, in any of a number of tasty permutations, that I'm amazed there's still a market for the commercial stuff. The one reservation people might have about the homemade is the possibility of catching salmonella or some related malady from using raw eggs. I've never had a problem in this respect. But, to be on the safe side and for ethical reasons, I buy only cage-free organic eggs. It's a small indulgence: one egg makes about a cup of mayo, and that goes a long way.

Paul Reidinger paulr@sfbg.com