The Best Mayonnaise for Dipping Asparagus—Or Anything Else, Really

Slate's Culture Blog
May 9 2012 11:30 AM

You’re Doing It Wrong: Mayonnaise

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Steamed Asparagus with Miso Mayonnaise

Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo for Slate

It’s asparagus season—or Spargelzeit, as it’s delightfully called in German. There’s very little to be said about how to cook asparagus. Granted, you can roast it, stir-fry it, or bake it into a frittata. But when you have good, fresh asparagus on hand, the no-brainer thing to do is to steam it and serve it dipped in mayonnaise.

L.V. Anderson L.V. Anderson

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

And there’s quite a bit more to be said about how to make mayonnaise than how to cook asparagus. Not to put too fine a point on it, but making mayonnaise is a pain in the ass. It takes several minutes of sustained, focused, persnickety work, and the threat of breakage (failure to emulsify) always looms: Even the best intentions and most earnest efforts sometimes result in a sour, eggy soup. But when it works—when the egg and oil magically transform into a thick, custardy sauce—homemade mayonnaise is the best dipping sauce for vegetables known to man.

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Since mayonnaise is an emulsion, and emulsions require serious force to stabilize, many cookbook authors recommend making it in a food processor. This is a great idea in theory. But making mayonnaise in a food processor is a mixed bag. Even if you add the oil through the tiny hole in the feed-tube plunger that exists for the sole purpose of making mayonnaise, you’re still liable to end up with the aforementioned oily mess. And though I would love to possess the general competence and upper-body strength necessary to make mayonnaise the old-fashioned way (by hand, using a whisk), experience has forced me to accept that I do not.

The best tools for people like me who wish to make mayonnaise are the immersion blender and the electric mixer, which split the difference between food processor and whisk: They require some attention and physical labor on your part (unless you’re using a stand mixer, which requires no physical labor on your part), but the task is far from Sisyphean. And either appliance will pretty reliably turn out thick, creamy mayonnaise, so long as you don’t add the oil too quickly.

Which is not to say that your mayonnaise will never break—it will, eventually, whether you’re a state trooper, a young Turk, or the head of some big TV network, to paraphrase Dylan. But when this happens, you don’t have to serve the devil or the Lord—you just have to start over with more yolks, mustard, and lemon juice, using your curdled mayonnaise mixture in place of the oil. (The mayonnaise pictured above was just such a second-batch attempt.)

When it’s done, your homemade mayonnaise will combine beautifully with a little white miso for a dipping sauce that’s smooth, rich, salty, and addictive—the savory equivalent of cake batter. But if you prefer a traditional, European-style mayonnaise, simply substitute a pinch of salt for the miso and use olive oil or a neutral oil instead of peanut oil.

Steamed Asparagus With Miso Mayonnaise
Yield: 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes

2 large egg yolks*
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup peanut oil
¼ cup white miso
Salt
2 pounds asparagus, peeled and trimmed

1. Put the egg yolks, mustard, and lemon juice in a large bowl and begin mixing at high speed with an immersion blender or the whisk attachment of a stand mixer (or a handheld electric mixer). Continue to mix as you drizzle in the oil as slowly as possible. When the mixture has emulsified and all the oil is incorporated, add the miso and continue blending or mixing just until combined.

2. Put 1 inch of water in a large pot and add a pinch of salt. Put a steamer over the water, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the asparagus, cover again, and cook until the spears are just tender enough that you can pierce them easily with a knife, 7 to 10 minutes.

3. Rinse the asparagus with cool water, then drain thoroughly. Serve the asparagus dipped in the mayonnaise.

* Since you'll be consuming them uncooked, use eggs from a source you trust. There's a slight risk of food-borne illness associated with the consumption of raw eggs.

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