The other weekend, I had a bit of an adventure with a couple of crabs.
It ended badly for the crabs.
Their fate was to be picked over at great length and eaten with bread and a quite superb mayonnaise. The fact that the mayonnaise turned out quite well, or was edible at all, came as quite a shock to me.
The recipe came from that most dependable of sources, Norwich City’s chairman and sometime cook, Delia Smith.
Delia and me have such a tortured relationship….
She taught me the basics, and she taught me well. Her Complete Cookery Course has got me out of many a fix over the years.
Yet I’ve never really clicked with her style.
Too motherly and prescriptive for me. And then she spent ten minutes lecturing me on how to boil an egg and started to pass rubbish ingredients off as ‘shortcuts’, and it all turned sour between us.
But even after all that, I can’t deny that her recipes are first class, and this simple but characteristically precise way with an egg yolk and a bottle of oil is a solid example of that.
First, season two egg yolks with salt and freshly ground black pepper, adding a heaped teaspoon of mustard powder and a crushed clove of garlic. For the record, Colman’s are the only acceptable supplier of powdered mustard.
Now the prescriptive part.
Measure exactly 290ml of groundnut oil – that’s two hundred and ninety millilitres, people – into a measuring jug. Actually, I use half olive and half groundnut for a more robust flavour, but please don’t tell Delia.
Now, add one, single, tiny drop of the oil into the egg yolks and whisk it in completely. An electric whisk will save a lot of time and avoid that horrible dull ache in your bicep and shoulder.
Now add another drop and whisk again.
Then another, and another.
Continue in this way for a couple of minutes, very slowly introducing oil to egg.
After a while, the mixture will look a bit lumpy and unpromising. At this point, Delia allows you to let the eggs down with a teaspoon of white wine vinegar, which will make the embryonic mayonnaise turn a shade paler and relax a little.
The danger up to this point is one of splitting, that the eggs will reject the oil and that the whole thing will end up in a huge, unappetising, split to bits mess. By adding the oil a drop at a time, you’re avoiding the shock of the new and everything comes together more gently.
You’ve passed the danger zone, so you can chuck the rest of the oil in. This is a relative term, and actually means ‘drizzle it in very slowly in a thin stream whilst whisking all the time’, but put up against the previous single drop at a time, it may as well be chucking it in.
Once the oil is in, you can adjust the consistency by adding a tablespoon or two of boiling water, but you shouldn’t need to because thick mayonnaise is the absolute business.
Comparing this mayonnaise to its commercial cousin is like comparing chalk and cheese. This version is rich and creamy, with a mild heat and piquancy from the mustard. There’s a nice stab of garlic and a peppery vibe from the oil. It’s really very good.
Keep covered in the fridge for a week, and remember that its got raw eggs in it, so don’t let it outstay its welcome and remember not to give it to any passing pregnant women or small children.