Moon in the 6th

Archive for the ‘Products’ Category

Since when does an eight-ounce jar of Hellmann’s cost more than $2.00? I just saw a jar for $2.39 at my local grocery store. It’s not exactly a specialty retailer either, much as neighbors of Scottish descent would tell you otherwise. Two dollars and 39 cents. The number made me think longer about a simple mayo purchase than I ever, ever have. Why didn’t I simply pick up a different, cheaper brand? Noooo, nooo, nooo, nooo, noooo; not with mayo. I had to survey what’s on the market for an article once, and what I encountered engendered a loyalty to Hellmann’s bordering on stranglehold. (And don’t get me started on Miracle Whip, which I’m convinced owes its market share to childhood memories.) So I stared and stared and stared at the pricey little jar. If mayo’s is going to cost this much, I may as well make it myself. I sensed an experiment coming on.

I combed through my cookbook collection for one or two recipes to try and found more variety than I’d expected. A few ingredients are common — egg, oil and a tart liquid (lemon juice or vinegar) that holds hands, so to speak, with the other two and brings them together. The recipes I looked through used proportions that varied wildly, though, from one egg with a half a cup of oil to one egg and two yolks with two cups of oil. The oil prescriptions differed, too. Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything recipe uses extra virgin olive oil, for example, which is exactly the oil type expressly forbidden by Shirley O. Corriher in Cookwise, an enthusiastic and readable treatise on the science behind recipes (which it also provides). (She warns that unrefined oil will cause the emulsion to separate after a day; it didn’t.) Some recipes call for dry mustard, some for sugar (confectioner’s sugar, in the 1973 edition of The Joy of Cooking), some for both. (The concept is that the powder enhances the emulsion). The techniques ranged from simply drizzling a trio of ingredients into a blender to a complicated, elbow-grease-heavy process of heating, cooling and beating.

I choose four recipes that covered the spectrum of difficulty and made them back to back. Three of them yielded results worth eating, while one went down the drain.

Behold my handiwork

Behold my handiwork. Left: Bittman's How to Cook Everything. Middle, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Right, Cookwise. This would sicken my friend Kelley, who is so repulsed by mayo that she recoils at the word.

On the left, the olive oil-based mayo from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Anything. This one occupies an acceptable middle ground, as do so many of Bittman’s recipes — not the best version I’ve made, but workable, reliable and good enough, with one egg to one cup of oil. I disagree with him on the EVOO, though. It’s astonishingly strong, with a bite and harshness that did not soften after a day in the fridge (but neither did the mayo separate, as Cookwise warned it would). Even diluting it half with canola oil would not be sufficient, I sense. If I make this one again, I’m going with canola or safflower oil.

In the middle, the beautiful, peaked, luscious results of the recipe in the most recent edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck. I doubt the original edition recommends using a food processor over a blender (which I followed because my blender gave up, possibly a casualty of the current Mercury retrograde), but there’s no way I’d hand-whip this recipe. It combines an egg and two yolks with two cups of oil, added at such a slow trickle that my hand hurt from pouring and the food processor squealing its own objections. The first cup alone took longer than 15 minutes; the total blending came in at closer to 35-40. But oh the taste and texture. When time allows, this is the recipe I will invoke.

On the right, the results from the recipe in Cookwise. This one involved heating the egg yolks and sugar over a very low heat until they start to thicken, then plunging the pan in cold water before moving the mixture into the food processor. The process took one hour and was that short (!) only because I got fed up with how long the heating was taking and turned up the burner briefly. (After this, I took a second look at the recipe I’d rejected as too high maintenance from the 1914 edition of Fannie Merrill Farmer’s Booking Cooking School Cook Book and, apart from the hand whipping aspect, it suddenly seemed a lot less labor and time intensive.) This mayo tasted the closest to Hellmann’s, and I’m suspecting the reason is a combination of the sugar and my using vinegar instead of lemon juice.

The failure surprised me. It was the easiest recipe, from Emalee Chapman’s obscure and delightful Fifteen Minute Meals, which has been with me and served me well (and true to its title) since the 80s. It combined one egg and a half a cup of safflower oil in a blender and, even though I drizzled the oil in agonizingly slowly, the emulsion didn’t take. I’m thinking there wasn’t enough of a binder to take hold. Something similar happened, though, when I later tried a recipe with several binders (lemon juice, sugar, mustard powder) that a friend gave me after hearing of my testing. You can’t have too slow a hand in pouring, it seems.

Based on ingredient cost, each recipe beat the going rate for Hellmann’s at my local store. Were any of them worth the time? Bittman’s and Child’s recipes, yes. I’d make Bittman’s again first, with a neutral oil and likely adopt that as my standard, if the taste comes through as I think it would.

In the meantime, I’m finding homes for tubs of homemade mayo while it’s still within its seven day fridge-shelf life. Free to good homes.