Ok…don’t look for anything creative here! But the big message is: I LOVE having mayo in my everyday life…it opens the door to so many of my staple yummies!
Now, I do understand that this essay must be something of a polemic; though a lot of people share my mayo passion, there are many who think it the devil. I call them “The Lost Mayonnaise Generation.” They mostly grew up in the 1980s & 1990s, often rebelled against the kitchens of their parents and, most important…they think of mayo as something that makes you fat without bringing anything exciting to the table.
The rest of this piece will address the latter point. As for the former, however…come on! Hellman’s mayonnaise has 90 calories per tablespoon! Do you know how many calories are in a tablespoon of olive oil? 119 calories! I know, I know…olive oil has better stuff in it. But that doesn’t mean mayo has BAD stuff in it. Will it kill you to slather 90 calories on your sandwich bread, or whip it into your salad?
Obviously…I think not! And obviously…I think the flavor makes it worth it!
1) Tuna Salad
The greatest go-to of my home kitchen life. Unfortunately, the quality of this treat at home has declined for most, because companies like Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea are now selling crap in those Solid White Albacore cans. But if you can find good canned tuna—like Dave’s, a little company in Santa Cruz, California (NOTE: they’re now based in Washington!)—the mayo will bring it to life as it always has! Spill most of the oil off the can, then dump tuna in a bowl. Mash mash mash with your fork until it’s approaching pastehood. Then add your mayo (oh, I go for about 2-3 tablespoons per can!), and keep mashing until the texture is very light, amalgamated, mousse-y! I then like this spread best of all on…fluffy white bread!…with a glass of milk! I think it’s all about “white,” here…the whole thing exudes a sense of snowy innocence, a bridal sandwich. The mayo, with its gullet-glowing flavor, cuts the fishiness and saltiness of the tuna…turning it from merely “lovely”…to absolutely “sublime!” Watch me make a tuna salad sandwich here!
2) Egg Salad
This is another interesting flavor synergy, the egg-and-mayo confrontation (and, once again, I’m really a purist here, no other stuff!). Somehow the egginess at the heart of a hard-boiled egg is magnified by mayo! I guess it makes sense, since mayonnaise is made from eggs. But really and truly…a hard-boiled egg mashed with mayonnaise tastes eggiest of all! I like to throw a half-dozen hard-boiled eggs in a bowl, then start breaking them up with a teaspoon! Don’t ask…but I have discovered that the back of a spoon works much better than a fork or knife. The goal is pretty big chunks, only partially broken down. Add mayo early or late, enough to bind and gild. I like to refrigerate for a few hours, because egg salad changes with the hours; it gets more eggy tasting, but usually needs more salt. Once again…I love it on white bread sandwiches! But I’m also great with egg salad on rye with thinly sliced onion!
Oh baby. Tomatoes and mayo together are good enough, but throw in some bread to soak it all up, PLUS some not-too-crisp bacon strips, PLUS the lightening crunch of good lettuce…is there a better basic American dish than this? I like the mayo to touch as many ingredients as possible, but I’m especially hot on the tomato and mayo making major contact! Also, a pretty new idea: since I like the flavor of toast, but don’t like a hard crunch on the sandwich’s exterior, I toast the bread under the broiler…ONE SIDE ONLY!…then put all the ingredients on the toasted sides of the two slices. Close it up and the outside of the sandwich remains soft!
4) Chicken Salad
Did my Dad ever make a mean one; about a dozen times a year I try to reproduce it. He would start with left-over chicken from Friday night’s chicken soup—dark and white both, skinless, torn into big shreds. Season well with salt and pepper. Blend in lots of mayo, stirring, mashing ever so slightly. The big Dad keys were two:
A) Instead of celery, he used finely shredded cabbage…moving the salad a bit into cole slaw territory.
B) This is reinforced by the sweet-sour touch in Dad’s dish: a little sugar, a little white cider vinegar.
Best use of all, for me? Rye bread double-decker with bacon, lettuce…and more mayo on the bread!
5) Shrimp Salad
And here’s the only use not headed toward a sandwich! In the summertime, I LOVE tossing cold boiled shrimp in a big bowl, then adding big chunks of various veggies: bell peppers, avocados, cucumbers, hearts of celery, etc. Mayo keeps it all together, and—as the French have known for eons—has a fabulous synergy with shellfish. I like tomatoes and hard-boiled eggs as well, but they get messy if you toss them in. Garnish! They look beauteous on top. And one creative tweak: my Dad used to love mixing the mayo with a little ketchup before mixing it in…basically a Russian Dressing Shrimp Salad. I approve!