In the name of all that is aioli…

Members of our quasi-iconic Facebook Group are all too familiar with the recent discussions and even debates about the application of mayonnaise as a post process coating. The use of this oil/acid/egg yolk emulsion to create a finishing crust on foods is not new. As far back as the 70’s recipes appeared on the packaging of well known brands advocating the use of mayonnaise and mayonnaise substitutes for assorted purposes. Long before that, Hollandaise sauce itself was used in classic French cooking to create the appearance of a crust, if not the crust itself.

Those familiar with the group have also witnessed the lengthy discussions about flavor infusion–or, rather, the lack of it. The idea that flavorings added to the sous vide bag could actually penetrate the surface of proteins has been long advocated by those who would benefit–spice companies, vacuum processing manufacturers and cook book marketers in particular. Many people still believe that some lemon, rosemary, garlic, and EVOO in the pouch might actually breech the tangled matrix of complex protein chains of which meat is comprised. Members of the group also know that the science strongly contradicts this notion–it is one of the basic assumptions of the group.

Okay, time for a gratuitous vessel shot. Pork chops.

Unfortunately, Pandora’s box has already been opened. Even though they may have abandoned the romantic notion of flavor penetration itself, sous vide enthusiasts are intrigued by the idea of effectively applying flavors to sous vide processed foods. By now, it doesn’t really matter if one can tell WHERE the added flavors originate–in the center, on the surface, whatever! Just tell me how to do it!

And so it was, without any prompting from me, members discovered that mayonnaise could be used as a crust component. It’s sticky enough to make flavors cling, but heat destroys the emulsion and the oil melts away, leaving behind whatever was sprinkled on the mayo before searing. So far, so good!

Why stop there?

Even for the neophyte, there isn’t much challenge to opening a jar of Best Foods and slathering a little dressing on a steak, pork chop, or piece of chicken. This makes the use of mayonnaise for this purpose even more appealing. People like easy things, and for good reason. Our lives are so harried and tread-milled that most of us don’t even know where we’re going until retirement is on the horizon, and then we wonder where it all went!

That said, most people can be convinced that there is time to leave the Hellman’s in the fridge and grab a couple of eggs instead. You don’t even have to separate the eggs from the whites! Fresh garlic is also an effective emulsifier, go figure. Margaritas and Daquiris are popular enough, most of us have some kind of generic blender. So, assemble these ingredients for the basic version:

  • Eggs, whole, 2 each.
  • *Red Boat Fish Sauce, 0.5 oz/12 ml.
  • White vinegar, 1 oz/25 ml.
  • Garlic, fresh, two heads, peeled. That’s right. NOT cloves. HEADS. At least 1 oz/28 g.
  • Rosemary, fresh, is almost impossible to weigh. No stems, put as much as you can bear to clean. Grams, not ounces.

Put everything in a blender and process until completely smooth. Then, on medium speed, process while you drizzle in:

  • Vegetable oil, 2 cups. Why not EVOO? Well, sure, if you want to–but remember–it’s going to melt away during the searing process. You will smell it while you’re searing your protein–but your guests will never know the difference.

*Members of the group have also fallen in love with Red Boat, and fancy that we are the only ones who know what it is and how to use it. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. There are thousands of versions of this Southeast Asian condiment that smells kind of awful but tastes really good. Sort of the equivalent of anchovies/worcestershire/Hondashi, etc. Umami. It’s a thing.

Cook something

Work on a piece of plastic or parchment so it’s easier to clean up. Dry off your sv processed steak, chicken, pork chop, lo ca sea, and season with S+P. Sprinkle with flour. Shake off the excess. Paint or smear the mayo/aioli on the protein, and sprinkle with something dry–more herbs, or even, er, um, okay, I will tell you–crumbs (not pictured).

If you use crumbs you get that sort of chicken fried steak/cutlet thing effect. Awesome. Give it a few minutes to cling, Then sear it in a MEDIUM pan with some oil to get the flow going. I don’t know why people want a 900F hot plate to sear, but well, it’s not necessary for this. Do your thing.


Okay, so what have we done? Well, why doesn’t putting all that stuff in the sous vide bag do anything in the first place? Not only are the molecules too large to penetrate the surface, it just doesn’t get hot enough in the sous vide bag to denature garlic, rosemary, or whatever. But if you put it in the mayonnaise, when it comes time to sear, okay, I think you know where I’m going. That pan gets pretty hot–hot enough to release all those flavors.

Close your eyes. Just imagine it. I’ve been holding out, I admit it. Honestly, after all these years, I have decided that the most important lessons that students learn are those that they stumble backwards upon themselves, while the teacher watches and smiles wistfully. If I told everybody this stuff up front, they would just shake their heads and walk away “Oh, that Norm, here he goes down the rabbit hole again.”

Wait just a minute, I ain’t done yet

Okay, there’s no reason to stop there either. Don’t like rosemary? Leave it out. The garlic kind of needs to be in there, it’s an emulsifier and compensates for the water based egg whites. Use parsley instead, I don’t have to tell people that, they know how I feel about parsley. Chives, sage, all good. Fresh thyme is a lot of work. Oregano, a little bit goes a long way.

Dijon mustard, er, uh, well, heck, French’s mustard, why not? Lemon juice instead of vinegar–did I really have to tell you that? Anchovies. Tamarind paste. Ketchup, thaaaaaaaat’s right, it turns it into sort of a BBQ crust. I haven’t tried cocoa powder, so I make no promises. Here’s how it looks on the pork chops up close, but like I said–this works on anything. Even fish.

I grew the nasturtiums, in fact, I’m growing a whole bunch of that edible stuff, the nasturtiums just came up first.