I'm currently teaching a class at Le Cordon Bleu Chicago that focuses for the first week on teaching students how to prepare the classic repertoire of French sauces. We begin with sauces thickened with a roux made from flour and butter, then we move into the family of sauces that use butter as their main ingredient, and then we focus on the one classic sauce preparation that inspires so much passion in me, that I can truly say that I'm madly, crazily in love with it. You guessed it...Mayonnaise!
Stage magicians may know some slight of hand tricks that look amazing at first glance, but nothing can compete with the very real magic involved in the preparation of a lovely, rich, tangy, savory, sweet bowl of fluffy mayonnaise. It's the magic (and science) of emulsions that I'm referring to, of course. For those of you unfamiliar with this essential kitchen technique, we're talking about combining in a suspension, by way of vigorous agitation, two liquids that really don't want to be mixed together. In the kitchen, these two liquids are very often an oil or fat of some sort, and a watery acid such as vinegar or citrus juice. Some emulsions, like a simple vinaigrette, are "temporary", and separate back into their component parts after a period of inactivity. Other emulsions, like mayonnaise, are "permanent" because we use ingredients in their preparation called emulsifiers, which help to more firmly hold the normally repellent liquids' molecules in a fine suspension that won't easily separate.
While there is certainly some real magic involved in breaking up an emulsions' component liquids into microscopic droplets and trapping them in a suspension, the core of my passion and love of mayonnaise lays mainly in its taste, texture, and versatility. Basic mayonnaise is obviously wonderful on cold roasted poultry (what would the turkey sandwich at midnight on Thanksgiving be without mayo?), but I'll bet you've never tried a peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich on soft whole wheat bread with a glass of cold milk. Try it first, then see what you have to say about it. Lastly, you can pretty much mix anything into a basic mayonnaise and create your own delicious sauce to accompany any number of main dishes. More on the wonders of mayonnaise to follow!