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Mayo Clinic

This is where I'm going to change the way you make mayonnaise and hollandaise like sauces. This is worth learning, because the way you've been taught - the way every cookbook and cooking school and television personality and professional chef has taught you - while not technically wrong, is inferior. There, I said it. How brash of me. 

I'm not supposed to lie in this section of the site, not that I have in any other, so here's the scoop: the French, while not the inventors of cooking, itself, are at least partly responsible for inventing French cooking, so how they codified their techniques and culinary lexicon became de rigueur for up and coming chefs and home cooks alike. We don't jump fry vegetables in a skillet, we sauté them. We're quick to hold the mayo, but gladly slather on the aïoli (which is a four syllable word, btw), and that's the egg yolk concoction we're here to question today. (Here I'm using the perceived notion of aïoli, which we take to mean fancified mayonnaise, rather than the literal garlic-oil sauce that it is.)

Aïoli, like mayonnaise and hollandaise and such, fall into a class of sauces the French call liaisons (presumably because they're very useful in lunch break massages). I once gave a lecture on molecular gastronomy to a group of students about this very subject - not the massages - and even created a superhero, Captain Lecithin, to help me explain. (These were kindergarteners.) Lecithin, a fat in egg yolk, is what's known as a hydrocolloid, a particularly handy one in that it is both hydrophilic and lipophilic, which means it digs both water and fat. When all the liquid droplets disperse, your watery ones like vinegar, and your fatty ones like oil, Captain Lecithin is there to make sure they hook up. The resulting orgy of flavor is called a colloid, an emulsion of happily dispersed particles suspended in a solution. Milk is a colloid. That bottle of Trader Joe's Italian Dressing you have for when you just don't feel like cooking is a colloid. Mayonnaise is a colloid. (I should mention that yes, I know mayonnaise is also French in origin, but here in the states we've co-opted the term, and we own it outright, dammit.)

But the French made a big boo boo when they stopped there. Sure, whipping that lecithin into a matchmaking tizzy was a great find, but leaving out the egg white - sacre bleu!  (sacred blue, because that's supposed to mean something) - was a nearly unforgivable offense. Egg whites, while mostly water, still contain about ten percent protein, and when you agitate these peptide chains, you expose individual amino acids, some of which are hydrophilic  - same as the lecithin - and others are hydrophobic, water shamers, if you will. Now as I begin to bore even myself, I'll cut to the chase. The hydrophilic amino acids and the water get along swimmimgly, but the hydrophobic amino acids, being third or fifth wheels depending on your chosen mode of transportation, just need to get away from all the PDA, so they reach out for a breath of fresh air (what all your whipping and shaking brought into the equation) and cling to it for dear life. What you're left with is a gently aerated emulsion with a sublime and velvety mouthfeel, that has none of the unctuousness of the classic French liaison. 

With some experimentation, I've found that partially cooked eggs allow for the best proportion of water to fat to air. Normally I like to use a microwave for this, as the recipes will show, but a simple poached egg, just barely cooked, will do just fine.

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