Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Making Mayonnaise

I love mayonnaise. I don't care how much bad cholesterol or how many unwanted calories it may add to my body, although, at my age, I should. I find the creamy concoction with that hint of mustard irresistible.

I fell in love with mayo (as it is called in cooking jargon) in America, where I started cooking with real interest and - if I may add - and flair. I first ate it in sandwiches in fast-food restaurants. But, I felt its real charm when I first ate tuna sandwich. This was in Corvallis, Oregon, where I was doing a summer internship. I couldn't believe fish in a sandwich could taste the way it did as I ate the "welcome lunch" for interns at a quaint restaurant I can't place now. The sandwich was magical.

After I returned to India, my home country, I used store-bought mayonnaise for chicken and fish sandwiches. Then, I thought of making mayonnaise myself. I wanted to make Waldorf chicken salad with home-made mayo.

I trawled the World Wide Web for a recipe for the humble mayonnaise. I found several, but, given my phobia of salmonella poisoning, I picked one that involved pasteurizing. I think the site was USDA's - some organization that recommends sterilized mayonnaise.

My attempt turned out to be a disaster. When I warmed the egg yolk in a double boiler with a thermometer dipped into it for precise temperature, it curdled. One egg and some oil wasted from a poor cook's pantry.

The words of a cookbook author, Barbara Beckett, sounded, at that moment, ironical: "It is quite magical to make the first time." (I had read her recipe for mayonnaise in Learn to Cook Poultry, one in the Learn to Cook series of the publisher, Harlaxton.)

Then, I tried a recipe from allrecipes.com. This one was more forgiving - no sterilization required. The lemon juice would be enough to counteract any ill effect of the raw egg. The only variation I did was to use vegetable oil instead of olive oil.

And, lo and behold, my mayonnaise took shape drop by drop. It was, indeed, quite magical to make. Only, it was the second time, not the first.

Since that unnerving first time, my mayo has turned out smooth and nice every time. So, I am no longer a mayo virgin.

Here is my recipe for sure success:

1 egg, yolk separated
1 cup vegetable oil
Juice of 1 lime or lemon
1 tsp of dry mustard paste (with 2 tsp of water)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Take a bowl - I use a deep glass bowl - and put the yolk in
2. Pour the lime or lemon juice.
3. Whisk with a wire whisk. The mixture should look a pale yellow.
4. Add oil drop by drop, whisking after each addition. If the mixture still looks smooth, you are doing fine. If it looks curdled, you have messed up - start over again.
5. Keep on adding oil, a few drops at a time. As the mayonnaise stabilizes, you can add oil a little faster, but never faster than a thin stream. Keep whisking.
6. Add the mustard and seasoning.

Note: Your kitchen equipment must be spotlessly clean. Store the mayonnaise in a sterilized jar. To sterilize, boil the jar in water for 20 minutes. Screw it tight. The stuff will keep for a maximum of 2 weeks in the refrigerator.