The best mayonnaise. May 29, 2010Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Cook's Country, Cook's Illustrated, Hellman's Mayonnaise, homemade pimiento cheese, pimiento cheese recipe, the best mayonnaise, Vegenaise
Silence Dogood here. Because I subscribe to Cook’s Country, my favorite cooking magazine, I receive an e-mail of cooking tips and ideas every week from its parent magazine, Cook’s Illustrated. This week’s featured a comparison of different brands of mayonnaise, and there was one clear winner in their taste test.
Being a native Southerner, nobody had to tell me what it was. It just had to be Hellman’s Mayonnaise, the only brand of mayo recognized as such in the South. All other brands are dismissed as sadly inferior imitations, and the presentation of Miracle Whip in lieu of mayonnaise is considered as egregious as the appearance of margarine under the guise of butter. Eeeewww! If Cook’s Illustrated didn’t present Hellman’s as the winner, they were going to hear from me.
Fortunately, they did. What they didn’t do was taste-test Hellman’s against homemade mayonnaise, something I’ve never tasted. I suspect it would taste quite different from any prepared mayonnaise, and that the texture would be different, too. I’d be interested to see what people raised on store-bought would make of homemade.
But for those of you who avoid mayonnaise because of its calories (in the case of Hellman’s, 90 per tablespoon), for health reasons (high fat and cholesterol), or because you’re vegan and don’t want to eat something containing eggs, there’s good news: I’ve found two alternatives that taste as good as Hellman’s, and they’re both widely available.
The first, for the calorie-conscious, is Hellman’s Low-Fat. At just 15 calories per tablespoon, it’s amazing how similar it is in both flavor and texture to the real thing. But don’t be fooled: Hellman’s also makes a Light Mayonnaise, which only has 35 calories per tablespoon but definitely does not taste like Hellman’s Mayonnaise. It’s easy to get confused at the store. I find it easier to remember to buy the jar with the bright green cap, not the pale blue cap.
One reason Hellman’s Mayonnaise may taste so good is that its ingredients list is remarkably free from additives and unrecognizable ingredients. The list is short and sweet, which is good news for those of us who prefer to recognize what goes into our food without having to keep a phone-directory-sized lab manual at our side.
But if you’d like to up the health factor while still enjoying the flavor and texture of mayonnaise, I recommend Vegenaise. It’s made from grapeseed oil, that much-touted healthy oil, rather than soybean oil like Hellman’s. (Hellman’s has canola oil and soybean-olive oil mayos as well, but I’ve never tasted them and can’t comment. Anybody tried them? What do you think?)
Vegenaise is also preservative- and cholesterol-free. It contains no eggs or dairy products, so vegans can enjoy mayonnaise that tastes like mayonnaise, unlike so many vegan substitutes for standard foods that bear scant resemblance to the original product. I love Vegenaise and am happy to put it on my sandwiches. The only downside: It, too, has 90 calories per tablespoon. You’ll also probably have to head to a health food store, or at least a supermarket with a big healthy foods component like Whole Foods or Wegman’s, to find it. But—thank God—these days, that’s no big deal.
Now that we’ve gotten the mayo review out of the way, let me share a recipe for a summer favorite where mayonnaise is one of the key ingredients. It’s an easy, perfect spread or dip to take along to a summer picnic or backyard barbecue. Mind you, if you grew up with adults serving pimiento cheese from a jar or a can, you probably feel, as I did, that it’s one of the nastiest foods on earth. But once I tried my father’s girlfriend Alice’s homemade pimiento cheese, I discovered that pimiento cheese can actually be, gasp, good. Even yummy.
I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit to make it even easier and, to our taste, better. The one thing I left in that we normally avoid is orange cheese (officially called “yellow,” but you know what I mean, that dyed orange color). Generally we go for the undyed (“white”) cheeses, but in this recipe, the mix of orange and white makes for a warm, inviting color, so I bend our house rules just this once.
Like so many spreads, this one is flexible. Our friend Ben and I love bold, sharp Cheddar flavor, but Alice prefers a mix of sharp and mild Cheddars and you might, too. You could add another flavor note with chopped scallions (green onions) or diced red or sweet onions (like WallaWalla or Vidalia). You could substitute diced red bell pepper for the pimiento for more freshness and crunch, or mix the two, or use roasted red peppers instead of pimiento peppers. Minced black, green, or kalamata olives are delicious in this. You could add matchstick or shredded carrots or radishes. You could go for the vegan version with Vegenaise, soy cheeses, and soy sour cream, maybe adding a splash of tamari or a tiny bit of miso for a deeper, more complex flavor. So be bold! Experiment and see what you like best. But trust me, the basic recipe is oh-so-good! It keeps well in the fridge, too.
Homemade Pimiento Cheese
1 bag shredded sharp yellow Cheddar
1 bag shredded extra-sharp white Cheddar
small jar chopped pimiento or roasted red peppers, 1/2 liquid drained, minced
splash hot sauce (we like Pickapeppa and Tabasco Chipotle)
ground black pepper or powdered paprika, cayenne, or chipotle pepper to taste
salt (we like RealSalt) or Trocomare to taste
1 tablespoon sour cream
Whisk together all ingredients, adding enough mayonnaise to bind everything together into a thick sandwich spread/dip consistency. Unlike storebought pimiento cheese, this version will have a lot of texture, especially if you add fresh veggies. (If you’d prefer a smooth dip, use your blender or food processor to smooth it out. But we love the texture of the whisked version.)
Let your pimiento cheese spread sit, covered, for at least 1/2 hour for the flavors to blend. Then use it as a sandwich spread on toasted multigrain bread with Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and/or bell pepper rounds (our favorite way to enjoy it). Or spread it on crackers (we like Triscuits and flatbreads), or as a dip with crudites like broccoli and cauliflower florets, bell pepper strips, baby carrots, celery sticks, snap peas, or radish slices. Or make rollups with Belgian endive or radicchio leaves stuffed with pimiento cheese and arugula or watercress.
This pimiento spread would be fantastic on hot dogs, burgers, and baked potatoes. It might make the ultimate mac’n’cheese, flavorful and full-bodied. There are wilder possibilities, too, like bacon-pimiento rollups, warmed pitas with pimiento spread and scrambled eggs, pimiento quesadillas, pimiento omelettes, even pimiento pizza. English muffins with this pimiento cheese spread and Canadian bacon, bacon, sausage, or ham.
Let me know what you try and what you think of it! And thanks, Alice, for a great basic recipe. If it weren’t for you, I’d have never tried pimiento cheese again.
‘Til next time,