My Mayo Manifesto
Sometimes I know the name of the chicken that lays our eggs. My favorite chicken names, among friends' chickens, are "Teacup" and "Chicken." Yes, Chicken is a scaredy-cat hen, but her eggs are the opposite of scary. They are safe and completely reassuring. Fresh eggs from known sources abound in our house these days, courtesy of the wonderful pastured, certified organic egg operation at Elmwood Stock Farm, as well as the generosity of neighbors with backyard urban flocks. This development—great, safe, healthy eggs all the time—is one of my favorite local food system advances, one I have enjoyed for the past six years or so.
Safe eggs are crucial to homemade mayonnaise. I have said before that I am both a mayonnaise snob and a mayonnaise wimp. I don't like the stuff unless I make it myself, and I'm afraid of the canned versions other people use. So I make most of the mayonnaise we eat, without a single concern about food safety.
In fact, I make my own mayonnaise not only because homemade mayonnaise is delicious, but also because I can make it healthier by controlling the kind of oil I use (organic olive oil) and how much I salt it: sometimes lightly, sometimes aggressively, depending. I can certainly avoid adding preservatives and chemicals with unpronounceable names. I can eat delicious mayonnaise with confidence that the eggs I eat have not bumped into a new microbe of some sort, developed in the fertile breeding grounds of confined animal feedlots. I can keep an eye on the age of my mayo, and get rid of any that ages to a questionable point.
I can control the flavor by selecting or avoiding add-ins (horseradish, cayenne, miso, green chilis, fresh tarragon, chives). I like all this control,
With a blender, room temperature ingredients, and this Joy of Cooking recipe, I make mayonnaise from scratch in about four minutes. It would take longer than that to locate the correct aisle in the store, find the jar, and pay for it. I used the Joy of Cooking recipe for years before realizing I could simply wing it: put salt, pepper, a few seasonings and a single fresh egg in the blender, drizzle in oil while the blender is running, listen for the sound of thickened emulsion, add juice of one lemon, listen again, add more oil, stop and taste.
Homemade mayonnaise has a hundred uses in my kitchen, including these:
- Top leftover salmon
- Mix with tuna
- Spread lightly on chicken breasts before broiling
- Use as a dip for cold steamed asparagus or green beans
- Thin with more lemon juice, add something sweet and chopped mint to make a delicious light dressing for fresh fruit
- Spread lightly both inside and outside a grilled cheese sandwich (whir of the rotary beater to Ruth Reichl for the "outside" suggestion)
One word about cost. I have not done a real comparison of the cost of homemade and commercial mayonnaises. Because I use high quality oil—and mayonnaise is mostly oil—my version may cost the same or more. It is still a bargain because of the intense flavor a small amount adds to so many foods.
The eggs? Even more so. Certified organic eggs from a farm near you may cost three or four times as much as commercial eggs, and they look much the same on the outside. Why spend extra? First, because eggs offer splendid, versatile, affordable protein, even at certified organic prices. Compared to meat, eggs are a fine bargain. Second, as you may notice I have been saying, locally grown eggs from sustainable farms are safe to handle, eat, and serve to your loved ones. Third, locally grown, pastured, fresh, organic eggs taste better. Fourth, the money you spend on local eggs supports growers who do painstaking, exhausting work to get great eggs to you.
So with eggs, most of us can afford the best. There are few things in my life for which that is true, which makes me enjoy eggs all the more.
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