By Zack Northcutt
Photography by Jenna Noel
Creating basic condiments is an easy way to cater to your own taste and impart flavors in an often-overlooked area. Making them is easy, and once you get a knack for it, endless flavor profiles will be on hand to pair with any meal or snack. Here are some basic recipes and a few easy ways to modify them to make them your own.
See video on how to make your own Mayonnaise below!
The first thing to understand about mayonnaise is that it’s an emulsion requiring the right balance of fat, protein and acid to create stable results. The egg yolks in the recipe are the protein, the lemon juice is the acid, the mustard is the stabilizer and the oil is the fat. For spreads for sandwiches or burgers, or mixing into potato or tuna salads, I like my mayonnaises nice and thick. For dips, I like them a bit thinner (use a bit of water to get the desired thickness).
When pairing mayonnaise with foods, think about the acids. Cooking Mexican? Ditch the lemon juice and go for lime juice. For a tangy zip that I’m sure is under copyright, substitute the lemon juice with red wine vinegar and a teaspoon of paprika, or substitute the lemon juice with six tablespoons of malt vinegar for a British “chip”-style dip. Want something sweeter? Substitute a combination of two tablespoons of orange juice and two tablespoons of sherry vinegar for the lemon juice. I’ve found this works very well for seafood salads.
Also consider the oil when pairing mayonnaise with food. People usually choose oils based on health reasons; I go for flavors. Sunflower oil is one of the most neutral-flavored oils on the market—that’s why I use it in the basic recipe. Olive oils carry a lot of flavor and health benefits with them—these are great to use if pairing the mayonnaise with Italian-style foods.
Now let’s talk about fancied-up mayonnaise, such as aioli. To make it, use the basic recipe and add two tablespoons of raw garlic. (The word “aioli” has been abused over the past few years. Once, in a store, I saw “Garlic Aioli” on the shelf…I had to just walk away. People call any sort of flavored mayonnaise aioli nowadays, so why stop them?) To mix it up, replace the raw garlic with half a cup of roasted garlic—perfect for calamari!
Or consider adding herbs or peppers to dress up mayonnaise. Use fresh or roasted peppers, though, because dried ones will be hard to incorporate smoothly. If you choose to use dried peppers, rehydrate them with warm water before placing them in the food processor. Add one cup of roasted bell peppers, a quarter cup of toasted pine nuts and two cloves of garlic to the basic mayonnaise recipe to create the French classic rouille—great for seafood stews. Or add a quarter cup of fresh dill to the basic recipe to create a great spread for cucumber sandwiches or a base for potato salad. Any herb can kick off the basic mayonnaise; just choose one that pairs well with your dish. When incorporating anything into the mayonnaise, remember to always do a good rough chop on it and add it to the food processor before adding the oil. This helps break it down nice and smooth and makes it easier to incorporate the oil.
Click here for the Basic Mayonnaise recipe.You can also watch this video below to see Zack Northcutt of Swift's Attic making his own batch.
In this basic recipe, the flavors come from the tomatoes, sugar and salt; the vinegar helps preserve the catsup; and the pectin helps thicken it. My favorite way to fancy up catsup is to add some heat to it—blended habanero, chipotle or Hatch chiles (if in season) are always great. Play around with ratios per your heat-comfort level. A milder pepper will need about a one-to-one ratio with the tomatoes, whereas it will only take one or two habaneros to kick it up a notch or three. Or consider adding a cup of smoked tomatoes from Farmer Larry at Boggy Creek Farm or Farmer Glenn at Springdale Farm. Smoky catsup goes great on bacon burgers.
The sugar in this basic recipe helps bind everything together, but also balances the bite of the mustard and the acidity of the vinegar. The vinegar helps preserve the mustard, as well as transfers the spices. For a fun spin, try adding aromatics, but remember that strong spices are needed—go for cardamom, clove or Szechuan or pink peppercorns. It won’t take but two tablespoons of these fresh-ground spices added at the beginning of the recipe to come through. I also like to use fruits in mustards—a cup of peeled pears or apples, or even cranberries, will really make mustards pop, and the mustard pairs great with sandwiches or a grilled pork chop.
To make the hot Chinese- or French “Fallot”-style mustards, simply add some mustard flour. If you can’t find mustard flour, ground yellow mustard will work, but it’s not as fine. Add either one a teaspoon at a time (both are rather potent) when the base is still warm, whisk until smooth and give it a quick taste. Keep adding the flour or ground mustard until your desired flavor is reached.