A few weeks ago, Seasonal Pantry featured aioli, the classic French sauce redolent with fresh garlic. In a way, I was getting ahead of myself, in that aioli is a variation of “mayonnaise,” one of the classic mother sauces of haute cuisine.
I focused on aioli when I did because that’s when we had our local crop of fresh garlic, which has a brief season of just 2 to 3 weeks. It produces a slightly different version of aioli.
Now, we’re back to mayonnaise. Why? Because summer through late fall is one of the best times for homemade sandwiches, and thoughtful use of condiments are essential to their success.
Most creamy condiments are based, at least in part, on mayonnaise, one of the world’s most widely used mother sauces, a foundation on which dozens of other condiments are built. It’s the classic cold emulsion and, unless you hate it, is as essential a pantry ingredient as olive oil or vinegar. It’s also easy to make.
Mayonnaise has a French pedigree, though its historic roots extend into Spain and Catalonia; mayonnaise-based sauces have evolved from both regions. From Catalonia, we have romesco, with almonds, tomatoes and peppers; and alioli, a kissing cousin of classic Provençal aioli. France also gives us rouille, similar to aioli but spiked with saffron and, traditionally, monkfish liver and served with bouillabaisse; and remoulade, today also a signature sauce of New Orleans.
The popularity of mayonnaise has spread — ha! — worldwide. It is used to make tartar sauce, an essential accompaniment, along with malt vinegar, to fish and chips. Walnut prawns, a dish found in Chinese restaurants throughout the United States, is dressed with mayonnaise sweetened with honey because, as restaurateurs will tell you, “Americans love mayonnaise.” Russian dressing and similar Thousand Island dressing in that both require mayonnaise, and if you deconstruct many of the dipping and spreading sauces popular in American fast-food joints, you’ll find mayonnaise or a close equivalent.
On its own, mayonnaise is essential in potato salad, egg salad and coleslaw. It is also the traditional condiment with fries — French fries — in France and Belgium. “Fries with Sauce” is how you order; the nature of the sauce is understood.
But today we are focused on sandwiches. My best advice is twofold.
First, you want a spendthrift, not a wager, slathering on the mayo. You’re going for voluptuous, not lean nor frugal.
Second, the operative word is slather, not spread, not rub. I can always spot an amateur cook in a restaurant when I order a burger and the condiment – my most recent example is chipotle mayonnaise – is rubbed into the bread instead of forming a layer that almost floats atop it. Don’t do this!
These instructions are for making mayonnaise by hand, using a whisk. If you have an immersion blender, you likely already know how to use it to make mayonnaise; if so, by all means, do. This technique is not better; it is simply basic.
Homemade Mayonnaise with Simple Variations
Makes about 1 ¼ cups
1 large or jumbo egg yolk, from a backyard or pastured hen
Generous pinch of kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice or white wine vinegar, plus more to taste
1 cup mild olive oil
Put the egg yolk into a small mixing bowl, season with salt and whisk until very smooth and thick. Add the lemon juice or vinegar and mix again.
Begin adding the olive oil a few drops at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. As the emulsion forms, gradually increase the quantity of oil you add to a small but steady drizzle.
Taste and correct for salt and acid, if needed. If the mayonnaise is too thick for your taste, thin with 1 or 2 teaspoons of water.
Use right away or refrigerate, covered, for up to 4 days.
Mustard Mayonnaise: Stir in 2 tablespoons of your favorite mustard. Use on grilled chicken, grilled salmon salad and grilled salmon sandwiches.
Fresh Herb Mayonnaise: Thin 2 tablespoons of fresh herbs, featuring a single herb. The best herbs for solo blends are basil, Italian parsley, tarragon and cilantro. Enjoy on French “eggs mayonnaise,” on tomato sandwiches and on roasted lamb sandwiches.
Chipotle Mayonnaise: Put 2 teaspoons of chipotle powder into a small bowl. Add a teaspoon of fresh lime juice, a pinch of salt and 2 teaspoons of minced cilantro. Stir well, taste and correct for salt. Outstanding on pulled pork sandwiches.
Mayonnaise Tapenade: Stir 2 tablespoons commercial or homemade tapenade into the mayonnaise. Use on sandwiches, with steamed or boiled artichokes and with grilled salmon.
Harissa Mayonnaise: Stir 2 teaspoons commercial or homemade harissa into the finished mayonnaise, along with 1 tablespoon each chopped fresh cilantro and chopped Italian parsley. Use on lamb burgers, as a dip for merquez and on grilled eggplant sandwiches. Also excellent on rare leg of lamb sandwiches with fresh spearmint leaves.
Raspberry Mayonnaise: Add about 1 teaspoon sugar to the egg yolk and replace the lemon juice with 1 tablespoon low-acid raspberry vinegar. This is delicious in coleslaw.
Blueberry Mayonnaise: Add 1 teaspoon sugar and a generous pinch of ground cloves to the egg yolk and replace the lemon juice with 1 tablespoon low-acid blueberry vinegar. This is delicious over sauteed chicken livers or with blueberry and lettuce salad.
Curry Mayonnaise: For 2 tablespoons olive oil into a small saute pan set over medium heat, add a minced shallot and saute until limp and fragrant, about 7 minutes. Stir in a teaspoon of ground ginger, a teaspoon of ground cumin and 2 teaspoons curry powder of choice. Add a generous pinch of salt and several turns of black pepper and remove from the heat. Cool and stir into 1 cup homemade mayonnaise. Excellent in chicken salads, on chicken sandwiches and on roast cauliflower sandwiches.
Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “Vinaigrettes and Other Dressings. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.