The cost of things

It’s become apparent that I think a lot about the cost of things. I write about the cost of water, bitch about the cost of opening a restaurant, and needle people about the cost of their cookware. I know it’s unseemly to inquire about the cost of things in conversation. I know that the phrase  “Nice! What’d you pay for that knife/camera/boathouse?,” is a bit of a turnoff to my friends who a more firmly and comfortably ensconced in their middle class position, but I don’t care. You see, the cost of a thing is the key data point that determines it’s value. Every value proposition has one variable that always matters: price.

Of course, there are plenty of other variables that are much harder to measure, and some of those may be unmeasurable. We could put the price of the boathouse in the numerator’s position over the number of of vacations taken in hotels and resorts over a lifetime to derive one facet of the value proposition. Of course some data points, as Visa informed us, can’t really be given monetary values. One might say: “I taught my son to fish here in this boathouse, and some day it will be his,” with a haughty bourgie voice. I’d reply: “You can’t really relax in a place that you own, because you constantly have to look around at all the cleaning and upkeep required. And you have to either do that work, or pay for it.” In other words, you’re throwing your money at the bourgeois illusion of great wealth, at the fantasy that money doesn’t matter. To be sure, there are people for whom money does not matter, for whom the value proposition might not even be interesting as an intellectual exercise. Because for them money is not only not an object, it’s not even a data point. I don’t think that I know any of those people.

Which brings me to cookbook writers, some of whom I imagine do OK in that vastly overcrowded literary field, but I can’t imagine that many of them ever get “money isn’t even a data point” rich. Yet they somehow always buy “the best ingredients,” and insist that their readers do the same. You know: the best olive oil, the best balsamic vinegar, the very best salt, the best cut of meat and on and on. Sometimes the very best makes a difference. Sometimes it’s just the laziness of lifestyle aspirational food writing.

Case in point: Tamar Adler’s mayo. She worked at Chez Panisse. She’s written for the New Yorker and Harpers and Food and Wine. She’s a big fucking deal. But if I could just whisper something in your ear here, over here where she can’t hear us in this dark little corner of the internet. You see this part here where it says in the ingredients list: “2 cups best olive oil around, plus more on hand”? Don’t listen to that. That’s nothing but bourgie aspirations talking.

You know the olive oil she’s talking about: comes in a 500 ml bottle, costs $20 for that; is bitter (“spicy,” as the chefs describe it). 500 ml is just over two cups, making that a $20 small jar of mayo. And you know what? Really expensive olive oil—the kind they give you a precious little dish of, for to dip your two measly slices of crusty bread at fancy restaurant—makes terrible mayo. Especially when you combine it with the requisite lemon juice, you get an unpalatably bitter spread that overwhelms the flavor of just about everything you put it on. How do I know this? Because of mayonnaise mistakes I’ve made in those fancy restaurants.  Use the cheap stuff that comes from a gallon can. This stuff is generally fresh, and buttery, or vegetal, or grassy—anything but bitter. And cut that by at least half with a neutral oil, like Wesson or whatever cheap stuff you use to cook with. You only have spicy, expensive EVOO? You’re reading the wrong blog.

I haven’t read Mrs. Adler’s cookbook, but I wonder if she has you brine with fleur de sel, or pickle vegetables in authentic aceto balsamico bought by the precious milliliter directly from some Modena grandfather’s attic? I wonder if “when it’s gotta be tender,” in her rarified world, “it’s gotta be tenderloin”?

I’d like to be able to tell you, as I was originally planning, that you can make a decent mayonnaise with soybean oil, commodity eggs, white vinegar, and yellow mustard, and this will make a fine fatty sandwich spread, provided the oil is fresh. However you may as well just use Best Food’s mayo in this case. They have some “natural flavorings” that make it better than what I can do on a budget.

mayonnaise bowl set up

That’ll stay.


Gangster of Food’s adaptation of Tamar Adler’s Mayo:

2 eggs see note

3/4 teaspoon salt  salt to taste

1/8 teaspoon dijon mustard or more yellow mustard if that’s what you got.

2 cups best olive oil around, plus more if the mayonnaise is too wobbly when your done 1/2 cup cheap virgin olive oil/ 1 1/2 cups neutral oil. If you don’t have the olive oil, just use all neutral oil. Oil must be fresh! 

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon room temperature water maybe a tiny bit of water

3/4 teaspoon (a squeeze) fresh lemon juice

1 drop red wine vinegar healthy splash white wine vinegar or a smaller splash of white vinegar.

splash of hot sauce (tabasco would be best)

I’m not going to keep up this charade of plagiarizing and needling my betters. Here’s the method:

Get a decent whisk (balloon whisk, preferably. Those weird spring whisks might have a hard time here), a damp towel, and a largish mixing bowl. You might also need another, smaller ceramic bowl.

What’s important is that the mayo end up thicker than what you want, so that you can adjust the flavor at the end with more vinegar or water.

Suck whisk.

Separate the eggs (use your hands; it feels good) and put the egg yolks in a large bowl, and put the bowl on top of a damp towel to stabilize it. Put the whites aside somewhere. Add the mustard and splash of hot sauce to the yolks and mix it all together with the whisk.

Mix the oils together in a liquid measuring cup, or anything with a pour spout so that you can control the flow into the bowl. As you whisk the eggs in the bottom of the bowl, start adding the oil in a slow drizzle. If, despite the towel, the bowl wants to careen all over the counter and spill, lay the towel over another, smaller bowl and put that under the large bowl. If you add too much oil at once, stop whisking, tilt the bowl so that the oil pools to one side, and whisk the egg mass separately, slowly incorporating the oil from the pool.

As the eggs get thick and want to stand up on their own, add a squeeze of lemon juice or a tiny splash of vinegar to keep things kind of loose. The water in the liquid is what really makes the emulsion and if it gets too tight, it will break. Keep going like this: oil for a while, then liquid, then oil, then liquid, until the oil is all used up. You want to end up with a mayo that’s much thicker than what you really want so that you can adjust the final product with more acidity or water, depending on what you need, and not end up with a loosey goosey sauce.

Season to taste with salt and vinegar or water, depending on how you like it.

mayonaise tamar adler

That’s thick!

A note on the raw eggs:

Lot’s of bloggers and aspirational food writers go on and on about the quality of their free-range (pasture-raised) eggs and claim that’s why they feel safe eating raw eggs. Maybe. I personally buy pasture-raised eggs most of the time, but that’s because I really believe that the American food production machine is all fucked up, and it’s worth a little financial pain on my part to help right those wrongs. Also, they usually taste better. Fact is though, even industrially produced eggs have a very low incidence of salmonella. About one in 20,000 eggs is internally contaminated with Salmonella, and even if you lose against those awesome odds, it’s unlikely you’d get sick if you follow good hygiene in every other way.





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