Perfectly fresh eggs and sharp lemon juice suspended in extra-virgin olive oil – what could be better than mayonnaise? Add garlic and coarse breadcrumbs and you have aioli, which is perfect with spring vegetables sliced raw, artichokes, fennel and young, sweet broad beans – all eaten as they are, dragged through this unctuous, verdant pool of rich flavour. Then add roasted chillies, a little saffron and red-wine vinegar and you have rouille, the classic accompaniment for bouillabaisse.
Or fold through toasted, roughly chopped nuts – almonds and hazelnuts are especially good – and plenty of chopped marjoram and it becomes the most lovely accompaniment to a grilled veal chop.
I couldn't think of eating a sandwich without it – it is the glue that binds, giving fluidity from one ingredient to another.
Apart from the recipes here, you can use it to make a more sophisticated egg sandwich, with capers and chopped rosemary. Or make a poached-chicken salad with toasted almonds and white celery, then loosen it all with a little more oil and a squeeze or two of lemon juice.
Olive oil is the thing to use when making mayonnaise – don't be tempted to go for vegetable oil – and pay attention to which olive oil you use. Tuscan is too strong, but many of those from Spain, the South of France or Liguria are perfect. The oil should be in good condition, kept in a dark-glass bottle and stored in a cool place.
Basic recipe for mayonnaise
No more than three ingredients are to be found in this recipe – that is if you discount the seasoning that is needed to bring the flavours together. Just two things to bear in mind: make sure your ingredients are all at room temperature, and pour in the oil as slowly as possible. If it does curdle, add a teaspoon of warm water and continue to whisk; this should bring it together again.
Mayonnaise is quick and easy to make in a food processor, and produces a better texture. Alternatively, make it by hand using a balloon whisk and a roomy bowl.
Makes 4 servings
The juice of half a lemon
3 egg yolks
A good pinch of sea salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper
200ml/7fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
Place the lemon juice, yolks and generous pinch of salt into your processor or bowl. Pour in the oil through the funnel at the top of the machine very slowly as the whisk spins, until the sauce has homogenised. By hand, trickle the oil from a narrow-spouted jug, whisking as you do so. It is ready when the mixture is smooth, glossy and the thickness of double cream.
Paprika and sherry vinegar mayonnaise
This is lovely as part of a mezze plate, with raw vegetables or warm flatbread, grilled aubergines and peppers. It also goes well with barbecued chicken, chorizo or even folded through a plate of warm clams.
Basic recipe mayonnaise
11/2 tsp sherry vinegar
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
Place the mayonnaise in a bowl and stir through all the other ingredients; adjust seasoning to taste.
Crab with mayonnaise
Allow 150g/5oz of white crab meat per person and try to pre-order through your fish monger, asking him to remove any shell. Please don't use frozen crab meat – it's watery and horrid – and don't accept pasteurised; it has a nasty aftertaste.
Place the crab meat in a bowl, loosening with your fingers as you do so, spoon in a tablespoon or two of mayonnaise, season with a little salt and pepper and dress using your fingers. Serve with warm toast and a little extra mayonnaise if you like.
New potatoes with sauce vert
Little potatoes are at their best right now – so try to think of any excuse to make use of them. Sauce vert is a classic French sauce of mayonnaise that has had a little crème fraîche and gentle herbs stirred through it. It is lovely dolloped on top of a bowl of warm potatoes.
Basic recipe mayonnaise
1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 small bunch of chervil, leaves only
1 small bunch of chives, very finely chopped
1 small bunch of tarragon, leaves only, finely chopped
2 heaped tbsp of crème fraîche
1kg/2lb new potatoes
Place the mayonnaise in a bowl and simply stir in the mustard, herbs and crème fraîche. Steam the potatoes until they yield to a fork, divide them among four plates, then spoon the mayonnaise over them just before serving.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, petershamnurseries.com
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