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Flash in the Pan

Mayonnaise-ology: notes on the special crème

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As the Earth tilts toward winter, our northern landscape is softly tucked beneath a blanket of snow. At the sight of this quaint white comfort, my thoughts turn to mayonnaise, the warm and creamy blanket of fat that brings out the true flavor of the finest cuisine.

Boosting your mayo intake is a good way to brace against the cold, and astute readers of this column may notice that as far as I’m concerned, whatever the problem—cold or otherwise—mayonnaise is the solution. But for this to be true, you must be informed, and indulge responsibly.

Missoula City Councilor John Engan, for example, once explained to me that “mayonnaise and a straw is nature’s most perfect food.”

Myself, I like to have something to put the mayonnaise on. I cook in order to have something on which to put the special crème.

Some people find this gross, as if eggs and oil are some kind of culinary Antichrist. Let them eat cake and fried eggs, both of which contain eggs and oil.

Yes, there are many confused souls who don’t believe that mayo is a solution to anything. And then there are the scientists, who claim that mayo is not a solution at all—it’s an emulsion!

A solution is a material in which at least one substance dissolves into another. This requires complete diffusion of one, which surrenders its identity to join the greater solution.

But some substances are immiscible, meaning they do not mix. Oil and water are classic examples. You can shake them together, but as soon as you stop, they separate like boys and girls at a 4th-grade dance party.

The components of an emulsion, paradoxically, do not surrender their autonomy, but they do mix. They are held together in a separate-but-combined state, against their natural tendency to separate, with the aid of an emulsifying agent.

Special crème is an emulsion of oil and vinegar. Normally, the two don’t mix, because vinegar is essentially acidified water, which doesn’t mix with oil.

But the acid in vinegar allows it to bind lecithin, a protein contained in egg yolk. Lecithin can also bind to oil, thus serving as a bridge between the two, gluing them together.

Ladies and gentlemen, please: a moment of silence in deference to lecithin.

Thank you.

That’s all fine and dandy, but there is a dark side to the crème of liquid chicken. This dark side must be faced, if you wish to enjoy it responsibly.

If you eat mayonnaise from one of the larger brands, like Best Foods, take a moment to consider what, exactly, you are eating. The industrial poultry farms that mass-produce eggs are close contenders with hog farms for the title of “worst living conditions imposed upon animals by humans.”

Generally, six layer-hens share a cage slightly smaller than six layer-hens. These creatures spend their brief lives shitting on each other, while converting feed, hormones, and antibiotics into eggs.

Their beaks are cut off so they don’t peck each other to death. Many die of disease and heartbreak.

If you eat the product, you are a player in the process.

So, if you want to divest yourself of the dark side, while continuing to enjoy the pleasures of the special crème, you have two options: purchase mayo made by companies that purport to use “happy” eggs, such as those from free range chickens, or make your own crème, using good ingredients. With your new understanding of special crème mechanics, there should be nothing stopping you.

Put two eggs in a blender with a teaspoon of mustard and 3/4 teaspoon salt, and blend for one minute. Slowly add a cup of oil (I like a combination of grapeseed and high-grade olive oil). With the blender going, add the oil very slowly at first, and then faster as it starts to thicken. With the motor still running, add 2 tablespoons each of lemon juice and vinegar. Then stir in other seasonings you may desire, such as minced garlic, and put it in the fridge. That’s it!

Remember: raw eggs may contain salmonella microbes. As a precaution, you should rinse the outside of the eggs before you crack them. If you have a depressed immune system, you might want to avoid homemade mayo, as well as homemade eggnog, or even sunny-side up eggs—which they no longer serve in nursing homes for this reason.

Now that you have your emulsified product, it’s time to prepare a delivery system for your special crème: bread, potatoes, pasta, venison, fish, burritos, soup…the sky is the limit. In fact, the entire food universe can be divided into just two categories: special crème, and that which delivers it to your mouth.

E-mail Chef Boy Ari: flash@missoulanews.com

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