Category Archives: mayonnaise

Deviled Eggs with Saffron Aioli: A waste of a very expensive spice

they're prettier if you pipe the yolks back in with an icing tip, but I usually just can't be bothered

The Emperor’s New Spice

Saffron is well-known for being the most expensive spice in the world. In 2009, the average U.S. retail price was nearly  $3000/lb. For comparison, vanilla beans, the second most expensive spice, retail around $150/lb and even if the cheapest you can get them is $5/piece, they’re only about $450/lb. Although saffron is prized for its aroma, its subtle flavor, and its ability to dye dishes a rich golden hue, the cost is primarily due to how resource and labor-intensive it is to produce.

the saffron crocus, from WikipediaEach thread of saffron is a pistil from a particular species of crocus, and each flower only produces three of them. It takes 170,000 flowers to produce a single kilogram of dried saffron. Furthermore, the pistils have to be harvested by hand during the short window of time when they bloom in October, and the harvesting must happen before sunrise because the flowers are so delicate that they wilt in the sun.

As my friend Kevin recently pointed out, saffron is a great example of something priced at its economic or exchange value rather than at its intrinsic (or use) value. As lovely as it smells, its aromatic compounds are extremely volatile and especially vulnerable to light and oxidizing agents. It’s somewhat more resistant to heat, but I generally find the flavor all but impossible to discern in most dishes, including some of the classic applications like paella and bouillabaisse. Given that, I probably should have known better than to put it in deviled eggs, which get their name from the pungent spices combined with the yolks. I could barely even discern it in the aioli on its own.

However, it sure does make things sound fancier. Kevin also recalled a recipe he’d seen for a bean dish involving saffron that noted, “adding saffron to beans is a good way to tell your guests that you’re not just being cheap by serving them beans.” And this, I think, is the true function of saffron at least most of the time: it’s something you put in food to prove you know what it is and can afford it, and then everyone feels compelled to say they can taste it and maybe they even think they do. But really, you could get the same effect by just telling people you put saffron in the dish.

A Classic for a Reason

In the future, I’ll probably skip the saffron-soaking. And I’ll probably just use Hellman’s/Best Foods mayonnaise with a little garlic and lemon juice mixed in instead of making my aioli from scratch. If, for some reason, you really want the aioli to be a vibrant yellow (not that you can tell anyway if you’re mixing it with egg yolks), you could always add some turmeric. Of course, then what you’ve got is just plain old deviled eggs. But there’s probably a reason the same basic preparation has been around for possibly as long as eggs and spices have been consumed.

I should have done half saffron aioli and half Hellmann's and seen if anyone could tell the difference.

According to The Food Timeline, recipes for boiled eggs topped with spicy sauces appear shortly after the Ancient Greeks and Romans domesticated egg-laying birds. There are recipes for spicy stuffed eggs in a 13th C. Andalusian cookbook, 15th C. Italian cookbooks, and 16th and 17th C. British cookbooks. Sometimes the recipes call for the yolks to be pounded with raisins, cheese, and spices like cinnamon and cloves, which might have produced something similar to mincemeat. However, mustard, onion, parsley, and cayenne are also common flavorings, and would probably have produced something virtually indistinguishable from the way most people “devil” their eggs today.

The association with the devil is apparently an 18th C. invention. As a culinary verb it was used for other hot & pungent preparations too— “devilled biscuits” referring to shortbreads spread with anchovy paste, mustard, and cayenne and then grilled (doesn’t that sound fantastic?) and seafood preparations that usually sound something like a curry. At least one cookbook suggested “devilling” or broiling meat with cayenne as a way of dealing with “relics of poultry or game.” None of them, I should note, involve saffron, and in retrospect if there’s anywhere you could expect saffron to shine, a dish specifically noted for being devilishly spicy is probably not it. So here’s a very foolish recipe if you want to waste some saffron, too. Or just skip to the egg part:

Recipe: Deviled Eggs with Saffron Aioli (makes enough aioli for about 2 dozen eggs)

Ingredients:

For the aioli:the water-solubility of the pigments is one of the reasons it's traditionally used to color/flavor grain dishes, becasue if you diffuse it in the liquid first it dramatically changes the appearance of the dish

  • a large pinch of saffron (about 20 threads)
  • 1 1/2 T. warm water
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 t. white wine vinegar
  • 2 t. lemon juice (plus more if needed)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 t. mustard powder
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of white pepper
  • 1/2 c. canola
  • 1/4 c. olive oil

For the deviled eggs:saffron tea

  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 1/2 cup saffron aioli
  • 1 T. Dijon mustard
  • 1 t. celery salt (or celery seed + salt)
  • 1/2 t. ground white pepper (or black pepper)
  • pinch of cayenne (optional)
  • paprika to garnish (optional)
  • pimento slices to garnish (optional)

Method

For the aioli:

1. Place the saffron and warm water in a small bowl and let soak for about 20 minutes

2. Immersion blender method: Put the saffron tea, and all of the other ingredients except for the oils in a 2 cup measure or the beaker that came with the blender and then place the blender flush against the bottom. Carefully pour the canola oil into the container so that it sits on top of the other ingredients and let the contents settle for a minute. Without lifting or moving the blender at all, begin pulsing it. A cloud of emulsified dressing should begin to bloom up from the bottom. Keep pulsing for about a minute, until at least half of the mixture is emulsified. Then, begin to slowly rock or rotate the blender to incorporate more of the oil. Once almost all of the mixture is emulsified, plunge the blender vertically through the mixture once or twice until the texture is homogenous. Then, whisk in the olive oil by hand. Do Not use a blender to combine the olive oil or substitute olive oil for the canola—blending olive oil releases bitter-tasting compounds that will ruin the aioli.

everything but the oil goes in the measuring cup immersion blender flush against the bottom of the measure pour the oil in after putting the blender in so it sits on top of the other ingredients pulse to gradually incorporate and emuslify the oil

Food processor method: Put the saffron tea and all the other ingredients except for the oils in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. With the processor running, add the oil slowly—start with just a few drops at a time, gradually working up to a thin stream. Once the emulsification has formed you can add the oil more quickly. After all the canola has been emulsified, stop the processor and whisk in the olive oil by hand.

Whisk method: Combine the egg yolk, vinegar, lemon juice, and spices and whisk together until the yolk begins to lighten in color. Whisking constantly and furiously, begin to add the oil one or two droplets at a time. Once the emulsification begins to form, you can add the oil a thin, steady stream. After all the canola has been added in and emulsified, whisk in the olive oil and the saffron tea.

3. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Let sit at room temperature for 4-6 hrs to help kill any unwanted bacteria. Then, refrigerate and use within a week.

this was slightly more liquid than the mayonnaise I've made before, I assume because of the 1.5 T. water required to soak the saffron

For the deviled eggs:

1. Place the eggs in a pot with enough cold water to cover by at least 1”.

2. Bring to a rapid boil and set a timer for 6 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, prepare an ice-water bath. As soon as the six minutes is up, drain the eggs and plunge them into the cold water.

4. When the eggs are cool enough to handle, peel them and cut them in half. Squeeze gently to remove the yolks.yolks out the aioli was actually almost exactly the same color as the yolks, so it's hard to discern here

5. Combine the yolks with the aioli (or 1/2 cup prepared mayonnaise combined with a clove of minced garlic and 2 t. lemon juice), mustard, and spices and stir until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

6. Fill the whites with a rounded scoop of the yolk mixture. Or, if you’re feeling fancy, pipe the mixture back into the whites with an icing bag and tip.

7. Garnish with a sprinkle of paprika and slice of pimento, if desired.

early 20th C. American cookbooks often suggest serving them on a bed of chopped cresses or cabbage, so that's always an option for presentation as well

Benedictines and Pimento Cheese Sandwiches for Derby Day

not, perhaps, filled as neatly as possible, but I'd rather have the filling go all the way to the edges. you can definitely pretty them up more if you have the time and inclination. some people even cut little hearts and flowers in the bread with a cookie cutter. 

The Great Crust Contradiction

Given that a chewy crust is the main distinguishing feature of expensive, artisinal breads, it’s sort of ironic that when people want to make sandwiches “elegant,” they often cut the crusts off entirely. And it’s even more ironic that many of those crust-less sandwiches are filled with some combination of cheese and/or mayonnaise, the hallmark ingredients of un-refined midwestern, church-social, Jell-O and macaroni “salad” cuisine. Especially given the Wonderbread-style bread, the ingredients on their own say something like “trailer park,” but turn them into little crustless triangles filled with cool, tangy spreads and you conjure images of dainty tea parties and women in be-ribboned hats. They’re perfectly-suited to the kinds of events where you plan on sipping mint juleps while you watch horses with names like “Make Music For Me” and “Devil May Care” dash around a track in the most potentially-lucrative two minutes of their racing careers.

These two sandwich spread recipes contain both cheese and mayonnaise, but I promise you that despite the low esteem that many people hold the primary ingredients in, they will generally consider these sandwiches classy and delicious. I know I’m posting them too late for this year’s Derby (I made them for a Derby party and it’s difficult to explain how something turned out or post any pictures of it before you’ve actually made it), but they’re also perfect for any other spring or summertime event. And pimento cheese is also a great appetizer or burger topping. I’ll post the recipe for the sourdough-risen, soft, white sandwich bread I used sometime later this week, but if you’re not up for making your own bread, store-bought loaves will seem just as fancy when you remove their crusts. And if you’d rather not waste the crusts, they’re perfect for making homemade croutons

if you're in a hurry, it's just a basic sourdough bread recipe: 1 c. starter, 1 c. water, 3-4 c. flour, 2 T. melted butter, 2 T. sugar, 2 t. kosher salt per loaf, knead until a smooth ball, rise until double, shape and place in loaf pan, rise again, bake at 350 for 35-45 min or until golden and the bottom sounds hollow when tappedI usually try to check my snark about processed foods because to each her own, right? But I admit to being totally flummoxed by those frozen pb&j pockets called "uncrustables." I mean, how much time does it really save you if you have to defrost or toast the thing? And you give up the ability to choose the kind of nut butter and jelly you want. AND the crimped edge may not be dark like a crust, but it's still a harder bit without filling. What the hell is the point?

Cheese and Mayonnaise Sandwich #1: No, Not that Benedict

Benedictines are essentially a variation on the classic cucumber sandwich in which the cucumber is shredded and drained and then combined with the cream cheese and mayonnaise to make a spread. They’re usually flavored with onion and tinted a pastel green with food coloring. The main difference between the many different Benedictine recipes out there seems to be how the onion flavor is added. The simplest way is just to add onion powder. Yumsugar uses scallions. Saveur’s recipe calls for grating an onion and squeezing the juice into the cream cheese mixture and then discarding the onion flesh. Other recipes, including Paula Deen’s, include the grated onion in the mixture—as much as an entire onion or as little as 2 tablespoons (all of them call for just one 8 oz. package of cream cheese so it’s not a question of scale).

I have no real fidelity to “authenticity” (a term that’s usually meaningless anyway), but I decided to try to find out whether there was an “original” recipe out there somewhere and how it incorporated the onion. The sandwich shares its name with monastic orders that follow the teachings of Benedict of Nursia  and the herbal liqueur originally produced at the Benedictine Abbey in the Normandy region of France, but apparently isn’t related. Nor does it bear any relation to the classic brunch dish composed of a split English muffin topped with ham, poached eggs, and hollandaise sauce, which is apparently named after either Lemuel Benedict, a 19th C. Wall Street broker, Commodore E.C. Benedict, an early 20th C. banker and yachtsman, or Mr. And Mrs. LeGrand Benedict, who were regulars at Delmonico’s (my money’s on Lemuel—I expect I’ll have the occasion to look into it more another time).

Classy but accessible: Benedict's restaurant in a photo published in The Louisville Times November 13, 1969, from  http://www.littlecolonel.com/Places/Louisville/Benedicts.htmThe sandwiches have a much more recent and less contested namesake—one Miss Jennie Carter Benedict, who studied at the Boston School of Cooking with Fannie Farmer and then worked as a caterer and restaurateur in Louisville from 1893-1925. She’s been credited with shaping the tastes of the Kentucky elite and the emerging middle-class. She catered weddings and other special events for many of Louisville’s most prominent families, whose tastes were broadly influential. And given her Boston School training, which emphasized the kind of cooking that came to be seen as “American” in that period (inspired by British/New England traditions, distinguished on the one hand from the French food associated with aristocrats and on the other from the foodways of recent immigrants), she and her eponymous restaurant were among the pioneers of a new kind of middle-class entertaining and dining.  Benedict’s and the kinds of food popularized by “Miss Jennie,” as she was known, were seen as genteel and respectable, but not aristocratic. Benedict’s was part of the emerging middle-ground between the pubs and cafeterias that catered to the (mostly male) working class and fancy restaurants that catered only to the wealthy. Miss Jennie’s food was a newly “respectable” version of recognizable, “American” ingredients and techniques within reach for families who couldn’t afford the kinds of ingredients or brigade of servants required to prepare elaborate French meals.

Despite the fact that she and her restaurant were so famous for their dyed-green cucumber sandwich spread that people referred to it by her name, she didn’t include a recipe for it in The Blue Ribbon Cook Book she wrote, first published in 1904. The omission was so glaring that when the University Press of Kentucky decided to re-issue the cookbook in 2008, they added one provided by Louisville-area cookbook writer Ronni Lundy. Like Saveur’s recipe, it calls for onion juice. But unlike any of the other recipes I’ve seen, it also jettisons the cucumber pulp. You grate and drain the cucumber, but reserve and add just the juice to the spread.

I want a little more than cream cheese in my sandwiches—I actually prefer entire slices of unpeeled cucumber when I’m not trying to be Derby-appropriate. Also, while I have no personal any objection to food coloring, I was afraid other people might (I wouldn’t have any qualms about their response to truffle oil or “natural” flavoring, but consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, right?). Since my favorite thing about classic sliced-cucumber sandwiches is the dill, which Benedictine recipes usually don’t have, I tried to give it a little more green coloring with a puree of fresh dill and a little of the cucumber water.

the dill juice was quite green... but barely noticeable once stirred in

All of which is to say, the recipe, as with most things I post, is a set of general guidelines at best. I don’t think you can make a bad sandwich with cream cheese and mayonnaise and cucumber and onion.

Cheese and Mayonnaise Sandwich #2: A Better New-Bacon Contender

pimento cheese is coming for you, bacon!

One of Subway’s current commercials claims that pepperoni is the new bacon. I don’t actually think anything’s going to replace bacon as America’s favorite icon of dreaded/desired food, but if it ever caught on big time, pimento cheese might have a better shot than another cured meat. Recipes almost invariably mention something about how fattening and diet-busting and artery-clogging and waistline-expanding it is.

It’s the kind of dish that should come with its own treadmill—The Amateur Gourmet

And even people who aren’t afraid of fat often cringe at the idea—Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s, who’s  an ardent defender of things like butter and bacon, made the mistake of dissing pimento cheese at the Southern Foodways Alliance because he thought it was a processed, “flavorless” food (as if lack of flavor is really the problem with processed food). He’s since made up for it by putting pimento cheese all over the Roadhouse menu, where you can get it as an appetizer or in a mac & cheese dish and sometimes on a burger. They also sell it at the deli and online ($20 for 12 oz!).

Given that this really is composed almost entirely of cheese and mayonnaise, when you put it on a sandwich it’s basically the Anti-Subway Diet since emulating Jared requires you to get your subs without cheese or mayo.So, the reason I think it could give bacon a run for its money is that not only does it have the same OMG Fat transgressiveness, it’s also got OMG Americans-and-their-awful-cheese-and-mayo-food transgressiveness. Like bacon, it’s great on its own but can also be used to enhance a wide variety of dishes, including the all-important burger. And if anyone wrinkles their nose about the ingredients, you can gesture to how authentically Southern it is and imply that if they don’t like it, they’re racist or something. (If that’s not “exotic” enough for you, you can gesture to the virtually identical dish called Cheese Pimiento that’s popular in the Philippines or one of the similar family of dishes in Europe that go by the names Liptauer (Austria), Liptau (Germany), Körözött (Hungary), and Šmirkás (Slovakia)). 

It kind of reminds me of a culinary version the Kelly Clarkson song, “Since U Been Gone,” which even indie-music fans and hipsters were abnormally devoted to despite its mass-culture taint—or perhaps because of it. Pimento cheese would be the perfect new obsession for foodies looking to prove they’re not snobs who hate America.

I decided to make my own mayonnaise, which I had tried doing it by hand before, but the emulsion didn’t hold. This time I used an immersion blender, the way Herve This recommends. Instead of having to add the oil droplet-by-droplet and then in a thin stream while trying to whisk madly, you just put the yolks and vinegar in a 2-cup measure, stand the stick blender in the cup and then pour the oil on top so it’s a separate layer.

crepes and benedictines 047 crepes and benedictines 049

As you pulse the blender, keeping it flush against the bottom of the measuring cup, the oil gets gradually incorporated and you can actually see the emulsion bloom up from the bottom of the measure. It takes less than 2 minutes and is supposedly foolproof—it certainly worked like a charm for me. However, despite everyone else’s protestations to the contrary, I don’t actually think it’s that much better than Hellman’s/Best Foods. As with all homemade things, it does give you the chance to adjust the saltiness and acidity level and flavor as desired, but I think the real reason people bother is bragging rights.

Recipe: Benedictine Sandwich Spread (adapted from YumSugar and Saveur)
fills 30-40 slices of bread, or about 2 standard home-made loaves—depending on how thin you slice the bread and how thick you spread the fillinglike a cucumber canoe

  • 1 English-style cucumber 
  • 16 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 4 T. mayonnaise
  • 1/2 t. Tabasco or other hot sauce
  • 1 small-to-medium white or yellow onion
  • 4 green onions
  • 4 T. fresh dill (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

1. Peel the cucumber, slice it lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a small spoon. Grate it either by hand or in a food processor, toss with a pinch of salt and drain well in a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth-lined or paper-towel lined colander, pressing to remove as much excess liquid as possible.

2. Place the cream cheese, mayonnaise, and Tabasco in a bowl and stir until smooth and creamy. Add the drained cucumber.

the salt helps the vegetables drain more liquid I think I liked this method, which involved lots of onion flavor but no big chunks of raw onion

3. Grate the onion either by hand or in a food processor, toss with a pinch of salt, and wrap in cheese cloth or paper towel, and drain into the cream cheese mixture.

4. Finely chop the green onions and the dill if using and add them to the mixture.

5. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as desired.

Recipe: Pimento Cheese (adapted from the Los Angeles Times and Amateur Gourmet)
fills 30-40 slices of bread or about 1 1/2-2 loaves of homemade bread, again depending on how thin you slice the bread and how thick you spread the filling

For the mayonnaise:

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 T. white wine vinegar
  • large pinch kosher salt
  • large pinch ground white pepper
  • 1 t. mustard powder
  • 1 c. canola oil (or any other neutral-flavored oil)
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • 1/2 c. olive oil

For the pimento cheese:

  • 10 oz. sharp cheddar (I used a mix of white and orange, which several recipes recommended; some people use Velveeta, some use part Monterey Jack)
  • 1 4 oz. jar of pimentos (some people substitute roasted bell peppers)
  • 1 t. cayenne pepper (less if desired)
  • 1/2 t. ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • salt to taste

1. Separate the yolks into a 2-cup measure, or the beaker that came with the immersion blender. Add the vinegar, salt and pepper, and mustard powder. Place the blender in the measure or beaker, flush against the bottom. Gently pour the oil in so it sits on top of the other ingredients.

2. Pulse until most of the mixture is emulsified (less than 1 minute). Then, begin to rotate the blender a little so one edge is always touching the bottom but it can grab a little more of the oil. Once most of the mixture is emulsified, plunge the blender a half a dozen or so times until the mixture is creamy throughout.

finished blending after the lemon and olive oil have been mixed in

3. Transfer to a bowl and whisk in the lemon juice and olive oil—you should not use olive oil for the first part or the emulsification won’t hold and the blending will release bitter-tasting compounds.

4. Let sit at room temperature for 4-8 hrs, which is the temperature at which acid is most effective at killing bacteria (per Alton Brown). Then refrigerate for up to a week.

5. Drain and mince the pimentos and grate the cheese (I used a food processor for both).

is it really pimento cheese if you use bell peppers?  I cannot believe the big Z charges over $1/oz for this. Seriously...it is cheese and mayonnaise. WTF.

5. Combine all the pimento cheese ingredients. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving to allow the cheese to break down a little and the flavors to meld.