“Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.” - Alice May Brock, author (b. 1941)
Or plates of cold meats, such as sliced roast beef or lamb.
But sometimes all that is a bit bland. So let’s put some zip in it. How? With some sauce! Some condiments! Some extra flavor!
The following are a few basics I learned during my years in France. When I arrived, I hated mayonnaise. Then I learned that my mother’s favorite Hellman’s is to French mayonnaise what an ordinary mushroom is to a truffle: a joke.
Once you know how to make a mayonnaise, you may want to make a bit extra and use it in these other sauces that are all mayonnaise-based: aïoli, rouille, tartare, faux béarnaise.
It’s not hard. And it will make all the difference.
Pressed for time, we spend inordinate amounts of money to make our lives “easier”. But sometimes it’s both healthier and more economical to make something yourself.
Mayonnaise, for instance. Rather than buy a tube or jar of the phony stuff, full of industrial junk, why not make it yourself? You already have everything you need right there in your home. And it will keep in the refrigerator for at least a week. So make more than you need and just keep it refrigerated. Everyone will notice the difference, believe me.
This recipe comes from French chef Pierre Franey.
- 1 large egg yolk
- 2 T Dijon mustard
- 1 T white-wine vinegar
- salt & pepper
- 1 c vegetable oil
- 1 T fresh lemon juice
Combine the egg yolk, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. Stir with a wire whisk or a mixer. Add the oil in a thin stream while beating briskly. When the oil is incorporated, add the lemon juice and blend in well.
Yield: 1 c
Once you’ve got this down, you can go inventive, adding curry powder to taste for a yellow, Indian subcontinent flavor. Or to accompany cold fish, especially salmon, try adding spinach to make a green mayonnaise (2 c mayonnaise + 1 t Dijon mustard + ½ c finely minced, very well drained cooked spinach + 2 T minced fines herbs).
Tartare (for fish and cold meats)
- 5 small gherkin or dill pickles, minced
- 1 T capers (chopped, if they are big)
- 1 T minced fresh fines herbes (any blend of the following herbs, chopped up fine: chives, tarragon, parsley, basil, rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, fennel, chervil and celery)
- 2 c mayonnaise
Blend all the ingredients into the mayonnaise using a wooden spoon or wire whisk.
Again, working from a mayonnaise, add minced fresh tarragon and shallots plus freshly ground pepper, all to taste.
- 15 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 eggs
- 3 c (75 cl) olive oil
- Add one raw egg yolk, 1 boiled egg yolk, 3 pinches of salt.
- Then, using a mixer, start beating them together, adding the olive oil almost drop by drop. When it starts to “take” (i.e. look like mayonnaise), you can go a bit faster.
Very important: For this magic to work, all the ingredients must be at the same temperature, which usually means ambient temperature because that’s easier. That obviously holds for mayonnaise as well.
If the aïoli starts to go bad, don’t worry. In a separate small bowl, mix together 1 clove of garlic, 1 raw egg yolk and a pinch of salt. Slowly beat them into the aïoli.
If it ends up being too stiff, thin it a bit by adding 1 or 2 tsp of warm water.
“Okay,” you’ll say, “that’s a LOT of aïoli! Don’t you have a smaller recipe?” Well, yes. This version by J-B Reboul allows you to make just what you need, depending on the number of guests. It uses the same ingredients, with the addition of some lemon juice. He makes it the traditional way, with a pestle and mortar. But I’ve changed it a bit so you can make it with a mixer.
- garlic, 2 cloves per person
- 1 egg yolk, raw
- olive oil
- juice of one lemon
- warm water
- Peel and crush the garlic cloves. Add a pinch of salt, the raw egg yolk, and then start pouring the olive oil in very slowly with the mixer on low. The aïoli should become thick. When you’ve poured in the equivalent of about 3 or 4 T of oil, add the juice of one lemon and 1 tsp of warm water. Continue to add the oil little by little and when the aïoli is very thick again, add a few drops of water. Otherwise it will appear to “melt” and the oil will separate.
- Aïoli for 7 or 8 people will take a little over 2 c (½ l) of olive oil.
- If, in spite of all this, the aïoli separates, break a second egg yolk into an empty bowl along with a few drops of lemon juice, and then add in the “bad” aïoli spoonful by spoonful, stirring constantly with the mixer. (You could also use Reboul’s traditional mortar-and-pestle method, but make sure to keep pestle-ing.)
OR you could just take some of that mayonnaise you made and add crushed garlic and some lemon juice if you’re really pressed for time. It might not be quite aïoli but it’ll be close.
|A way to cheat|
The recipe I have calls for an aîoli to which you add a pinch each of mild paprika, hot paprika (this is where the espelette comes in) and powdered saffron. Be sure to mix well.
And there you have it: enough sauces to make it through the summer. Here in France, we’re not having one yet, but hope springs eternal.