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Such a simple recipe; such a magical result: Kunal Vijayakar on mayonnaise

Egg yolks, vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar, mustard and vegetable oil — that’s all you need to make mayonnaise. And it’s all you need to transform a sandwich or a salad.

mumbai Updated: Apr 19, 2019 16:22 IST
Kunal Vijayakar
Kunal Vijayakar
Hindustan Times
Maska Maarke,Kunal Vijayakar,Mayonnaise
A soft bread roll stuffed with boiled or roasted chicken, a crisp cold frond of lettuce tucked in sideways, and dollops of homemade mayonnaise: that’s all it takes to make the perfect mayo sandwich.

I’ve often extolled the virtues of eggs and the many-sidedness of this smooth and oval object. Talked about how the modest white and yolk, when artistically negotiated, can burgeon into a variety of dramatic forms, textures and tastes. One such gastronomic opera is performed when two seemingly straightforward and unassuming ingredients — vegetable oil and vinegar — have a bit of a skirmish with eggs in a bowl, to result in the most wondrous consequence: a luscious, bright, tangy and sweet emulsion called mayonnaise.

Mayonnaise in a jar, off a shelf, was difficult to procure in the ’70s, unless you had an uncle smuggling in foodstuff from abroad. So it was no big deal that my grandmother made mayo at home. It was just done. She would separate the yolks from the whites and drop them into a large Tupperware bowl. To that she’d add a bit of vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar and mustard. Even mustard, in those days, was sold in powder form. The most popular being Colman’s Dry Mustard Powder, and a local variant being Atlas Brand. Mustard powder is usually made of finely ground yellow, brown and black mustard seeds and needs to be mixed with cold water and set aside for the mustard to catalyse and erupt with that unmistakable kick. Of course that was then; today you can just inflict a few helpings of mustard straight out of a tube or a bottle.

So with three or four egg yolks, vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar and mustard in a bowl, my grandmother would instruct me to hold the basin at an angle while she simultaneously did two things. With a hand mixer in her right hand, she’d start blending the yolks and condiments, while with her left hand she’d start dripping measured vegetable oil from a large cup slowly into the swirling recipe. Lo and behold, as she got to the end of the oil, the vigorous liquid ingredients would start getting stable as if by magic and turn into a calm creamy emulsion of golden yellow.

The mayonnaise my grandmum made, and my mum after her, was unlike the white mildly sour mayo that you can buy ready-made in a jar or a bottle. This mayonnaise was bright yellow, translucent, sticky, gooey, and sweet, with a sharp slam of mustard. And with this sauce we made the most memorable chicken mayo sandwiches and rolls. A simple soft bread roll stuffed with boiled or roasted chicken, a crisp cold frond of lettuce tucked in sideways and dressed with this homemade mayonnaise that oozed out from the side of the bread and your mouth when you took a bite.

Paradise Restaurant in Colaba used to make these chicken rolls best, but now that Paradise is lamentably lost, the iconic J Hearsch and Co at Hill Road, Bandra, makes unarguably the finest chicken rolls on both sides of the sea link. There’s no lettuce in their chicken rolls, but they are stunning. Soft bread generously filled with both chicken and mayo, moist and fresh. Fresh is important, because unlike the mayo you buy in a bottle, this mayo needs to be made fresh and consumed fresh. If you ask Melvin D’Sa, who runs the bakery, anything about his mayonnaise, he suddenly goes coy and silent. Then, with a sly smile, he admits that the recipe is a huge secret and their mayo is clandestinely prepared in his kitchen at home and then brought to the bakery, so that not even the staff know how it is made.

Well, I don’t really want to know how he makes the mayo, as long as he keeps making it the way they do. Just across from Hearsch is a 60-year-old hole in the wall. It’s called A-1 Bakery. They too make chicken rolls and their mayo too is from a similar recipe. After you’ve stood in a sweaty queue, the man behind the counter freshly fills warm bread with chicken and mayo and serves it wrapped in butter paper, on order. A-1 Bakery’s mayo packs a substantial punch. It has a sharp mustard taste that cuts the sweetness of the sauce and is a joy to bite into.

But if you can’t be bothered to make the mayo yourself, and getting Hearsch to divulge the recipe proves hopeless, Ratan Tata Institute (RTI, as it is popularly known) often sell a tub-full. You can make your own sandwiches or dress old-fashioned salads, like a Summer Salad (lettuce, cress, tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, radishes, cucumber and mayo) or an old club-style Potato Salad (boiled potato, dill, celery, onion, mustard, pepper and mayonnaise) or a Russian Salad, also known as an Oliver Salad, originally invented by Lucien Olivier in Moscow in the 1860s (potato, carrot, boiled egg, French beans and peas in a mayonnaise dressing). Or just simply boil some eggs and smear them with mayonnaise! By the way, do you know what my favourite law is? It’s Cole Slaw!

First Published: Apr 19, 2019 16:22 IST