On a recent trip to Barcelona, I was fortunate to perch beside the amazing El Quim stall in the incredibly vibrant Boqueria market and sample one of Spain’s most famous tapas: patatas bravas.
For the uninitiated, these are essentially fried potatoes topped with a spicy tomato and paprika sauce and aioli, a garlic mayonnaise. To say they are moreish is a vast understatement and it is a part of a very interesting gastromonic journey to sample them in every bar and restaurant you visit in Spain, as they are never quite the same. The potatoes can be deep or pan fired, cut thinly or into large chunks. The tomato sauce can be high with paprika: sweet, smoked or spicy and the mayonnaise can vary from a very thin, almost chemical-tasting sauce, to a rich, unctuous dip, heady with garlic.
At El Quim, they came piping hot, with a very subtle and sweet paprika drizzle and a fiery mayonnaise liberally smothering the potatoes. The mayonnaise was creamy, rich and almost whacked you around the face with the amount of garlic it contained.
As I ate, it occurred to me how long it had been since I made mayonnaise at home. There are so many good ones you can buy that I have been lazy, so I resolved to try out some new recipes when I returned home, starting with a garlic one.
When I made it at home, I was reminded of not just how simple it was, but how utterly delicious. It is completely different to any shop-bought variety, even if you choose an expensive organic one. Shop-bought mayonnaise has to be pasteurised and so will never have the unique, creamy delicacy of something homemade with fresh egg yolks and seasoned just to your taste. Homemade mayonnaise will also never have that acidic tang that many jars have, which sometimes reminds me more of salad cream.
Mayonnaise is simply an emulsion of egg yolks and oil with a few extra flavourings. The word ’emulsion’, can strike fear into the hearts of the most accomplished cook, as an emulsion always has the potential to split. This is certainly a possibility, but it not very common at all if you remember a few things.
Always have the ingredients at room temperature. The main reason that a mayonnaise splits is because the egg yolks are too cold. Always add the salt at the beginning; it is not only necessary for seasoning, but helps with the emulsification as well. If it still looks like it might split, vigorous beating of the mixture often solves this. If not, slowly add another beaten egg yolk until the mixture stabilises again.
Mayonnaise is about 80% oil, so the choice of oil is important for flavour and texture. My preferred mixture is a third extra virgin olive oil, to two thirds of a flavourless oil such as groundnut. This ratio ensures a lovely hint of rich olive oil, which does not overpower the mixture. The reason that you will rarely see a recipe using all extra virgin olive oil is that it makes the emulsion unstable and it is too strong a taste that is a bit overwhelming, but feel free to try it out if you so desire.
There is no reason why you cannot make this in a processor if you are feeling tired and emotional, but I find the control is better if you use a small whisk and bowl. If you find your mayonnaise is too thick, you can slowly mix in a few tablespoons of water. This also works if you want a thinner sauce rather than a dip.
I have added roasted garlic to this recipe. You can buy this for exorbitant prices at the supermarket or deli, or you can make your own by simply popping a whole fat bulb of garlic in a low oven for about 45 minutes until it is light brown and you can see the juices oozing out.
The varieties for mayonnaise are endless. Some of my favourites include anchovy and caper to go with fish, tarragon to match with chicken or chilli and smoked paprika to go with chips. You can be as traditional or as avant-garde as you like. This garlic one goes beautifully with crunchy raw vegetables such as french radishes, or indeed patatas bravas. But really, it is perfect with pretty much everything.
Roasted Garlic Mayonnaise
Makes enough for six greedy people
2 large free range egg yolks
75ml extra virgin olive oil
125ml groundnut or any other flavourless oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
5 large cloves of roasted garlic
squeeze of lemon juice
salt and white pepper to taste
Start with all your ingredients at room temperature. Squash the garlic cloves into a paste and add to a large bowl with the mustard, egg yolks and a pinch of salt and white pepper. Whisk until well combined.
Mix your oils together in a jug and add to the eggs, starting with a drop at a time, whisking throughly so that each droplet is combined before the next one is added. The mixture will start to thicken. Continue until you have added about a quarter of the oil. After that, you can add the oil a little quicker, in a thin, steady stream until it is all added.
Add a squeeze of lemon, whisk again and season to taste.
This will keep for a few days in the fridge in an airtight jar.