The first dish we learnt to make at cookery school was mayonnaise. We all stood at our work benches, buttoned up securely in our fresh, spotless whites, hair snugly packed into caps, clattering a whisk around a metal bowl of egg yolk, slowly dripping the oil in off the prongs of a fork. Dip the fork in the oil, drip it in the egg. Repeat. Drip by drip by drip…
Never again have I made mayonnaise in this slow, labourious manner, and never again have I seen chefs dressed so splendidly. I probably looked like a new sheepskin rug which you’re not allowed to go near with the red wine.
Leiths taught me to worship the egg. I still remember the first lecture when our teacher held up a raw fragile egg (ready to lob it into the crowd, shouting, ‘Welcome to school, kids!’) and described it as a ‘natural pre-packed fast food’. Respect, control and patience is the key to cooking with eggs, (as I devoutly describe here when I whipped up some silky scrambled eggs), and nothing could be more accurate when making a good mayonnaise.
Since then, I’ve found mayonnaise to be a basic requirement to cooking. In various jobs, I’ve needed to whip up a quick aioli with squidgey roasted garlic and mustard for dunking chips, or with fronds of wild garlic to create a vivid green mayonnaise, a grassy bed for a pile of smokey potatoes.
Even now, living with a Frenchman making a mayonnaise is a pre-requisite. Homemade mayonnaise, made with tablespoons of spicy Dijon, is essential for burgers, then for dipping our chips, then for ripping off chunks of baguette and wiping them around the bowl.
In an East meets West combination, I added miso and lime to a batch of mayo and then, in a fit of ‘oh, let’s just see’ added a centimetre of finely grated ginger. So fine, it’s basically pulp. What emerged was a silky, salty-sweet spread, the colour of a creamy beige swatch you’d probably find at Farrow and Bull; a hit of umami miso to start, then the ginger and floral lime zest refreshing the palate with an edge of sweetness. Each dip of a chip was more intriguing as the flavours layered and twirled on my tongue.
Admittedly, it’s not the most exciting to photograph so forgiveness please. I paired it in a sandwich with some leftover cooked salmon, cucumber and spinach, and couldn’t believe how the sweet lime shone through, complementing the salmon and enhancing the cucumber freshness. I ate it, then remembered to take a picture.
Cookery school taught us to be cautious as we made mayonnaise and, to a degree, they were right. Over-confidently adding oil is a mistake we’ve all made. But don’t be daunted, dear reader. If there’s something we can achieve this lockdown, it’s adding mayonnaise to our repertoires.
Miso and lime mayonnaise
Adapted from Leiths How to Cook
For the best mayonnaise which doesn’t split, keep your eggs at room temperature. If it does happen to split and curdle, simply add a new egg yolk to a clean bowl and slowly add the split mixture like you would the oil, then continue with the recipe.
- 1 egg yolk
- 150ml flavourless oil
- ½ tsp mustard powder
- 1 lime
- 1 tsp brown miso, loosened with a splash of water
- 1cm fresh ginger
- Sea salt
- In a clean bowl, add the yolk, mustard powder and a grinding of salt. Mix them to combine, then slowly, carefully pour in a thin stream of oil and whisk with a fork continuously. You want to be combining that oil into the egg as it pours. If there is too much oil it could easily split.
- The egg mixture will start thickening. If it looks greasy add a teaspoon of warm water.
- Adding the oil will take a while so be patient! When it is finally all incorporated, add the loosened miso, the finely grated ginger and the zest of half the lime. Cut the lime into quarters and add one quarter of juice. Taste and add a little more lime juice if necessary.
- Leave the mayonnaise at room temperature for the flavours to amalgamate then serve with chips, baguette, in a sandwich, however you like!