I am not accustomed to being wary of food. My working assumption is that when I eat something in a restaurant it may, by accident or design, contain gross things that I don’t want to know about, but that I will survive. I know exactly how clean my kitchen floor is, but I choose to heed the five-second rule instead of this knowledge. Raw eggs, rare meat, venerable leftovers that still smell pretty much okay—none of these things has ever given me pause until now.
Before, the worst thing that could happen was a bout of food poisoning. Now I worry about harming my growing baby and reluctantly reverse course when I automatically lift a chunk of raw cookie dough to my mouth. Although I’m all for not taking worrying to extremes, recently baby did not kick for more than a day, and it was scary. She’s active again now, thank goodness, but it was horrible to wonder if something I did had hurt her. Because I haven’t been perfect.
Sometimes I have had the bite of raw cookie dough, telling myself that my Greenmarket eggs are probably safe. I’ve eaten rare meat and I’ve eaten hamburgers, pretty well-done and not at McDonald’s, but still. When Andrew and I went to Pearl Oyster Bar for a treat, I planned to order the Caesar salad but thought to ask if the dressing contains raw eggs; since it does, I skipped it. But I didn’t ask if the mayonnaise in the lobster roll is made with raw eggs because I didn’t want to know; I wanted my lobster roll. As I reviewed these incidents, I began to feel like a five-martini mom and started groping again for the sane middle position between guilt and indulgence.
Step one: guilt-free mayonnaise. The Greenmarket gives us many reasons to make mayonnaise at home in spring and summer (asparagus, deviled eggs, potato salad, cold roast chicken, and BLTs, for starters), and I get a nervous thrill out of watching the emulsion “take” every single time. Reluctant to skip it this year but unwilling, after baby’s quiet day or two, to take a chance on even a beautiful farm-fresh raw egg, I decided to look into cooked-egg mayonnaises.
This version from Julia Child asks us to whisk a raw egg into a hot flour-water roux. The mixture is then cooked for 15 more seconds before being worked up in a food processor with all the other ingredients. According to Child, that 15 seconds on the cooktop is long enough to render the egg cooked. She recommends this as a safer mayonnaise for any hot weather or picnic-type situation (but does not explicitly say that it is safe for people with raw-egg concerns—pregnant women, children, and anyone with a compromised immune system).
How does it taste? I have to admit that it seemed not quite as pleasingly decadent as regular mayonnaise. I could really taste the hard-boiled egg yolks, and the texture was somewhat grainy. Since I prefer the whisk, the food processor method was not entirely gratifying. But the product was still quite good with plain asparagus and in deviled eggs, and on a sandwich I imagine it would work very well indeed.
About the author: Robin Bellinger recently escaped a career in book publishing, which was cutting into her cooking time. Now she's a freelance editor and can bake bread on Tuesday afternoon if she feels like it. She lives in Midtown Manhattan with her husband and blogs about cooking and crafting at home*economics.
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 large egg
- 2 hard-boiled egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/2 teaspoons wine vinegar
- 2 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 cup excellent olive oil or other fresh vegetable oil (I use 1/2 olive and 1/2 vegetable)
- Several grinds of pepper, preferably white
- More seasonings as needed: salt, vinegar, lemon juice, etc.
Measure the flour into a 2-quart stainless-steel saucepan and, whisking constantly, gradually blend in the water to make a lump-free mixture. Whisking slowly and reaching all over the bottom of the pan, bring to a boil on top of the stove. Boil slowly 1/2 minute, whisking—beat in droplets more water if the sauce is stiff rather than very thick. Remove from heat, break the egg into the center of the sauce, and rapidly whisk it in. Put the sauce over moderate heat again and, whisking slowly, boil for 15 seconds. Scrape the sauce into the bowl of a food processor.
Add the hard-boiled yolks, mustard, salt, vinegar, and lemon juice to the machine. Process 15 seconds—long enough to be sure the yolks are well incorporated, so that they will create the emulsion. Then, with the machine running, begin adding the oil in droplets. When the emulsion is established (which should happen after about 1/3 cup oil has gone in), add the oil in a thin stream of droplets. When as much oil as you wish has gone in and the sauce is thick and glossy, taste analytically for seasoning, adding salt, pepper, etc. as you feel them needed.
Store the sauce in a covered container in the refrigerator; it will keep for at least a week.
Note: My mayonnaise broke almost immediately, when I tried to correct the seasoning. I ate it runny and then re-emulsified it the next day: Whisk up the broken sauce. Whisk a spoonful of it into a spoonful of mustard or of crushed hard-boiled egg yolk. When the spoonful of mayonnaise and mustard or yolk are smoothly combined, start whisking in the broken sauce bit by bit. Eventually it will turn thick and glossy and beautiful as ever. But, I discovered, it will still weep some oil and get a little grainy as it rests. (Harold McGee tells us that throughout time and around the world, versions of mayonnaise have been made with béchamel sauce, hard-boiled egg yolks, cooked potato, garlic, bread, and fresh cheese, but that “None of these ingredients is as effective at emulsifying and stabilizing as a raw egg yolk, so they will emulsify less oil and the sauces will tend to leak some free oil.”) If this happens—leaky oil and slight graininess, as opposed to a completely liquefied sauce—just whisk the mayonnaise before eating, and it should firm up nicely enough.