“Oh, God above, if heaven has a taste it must be an egg with butter and salt…”
–Frank McCourt, “Angela’s Ashes”
With the recent egg-related salmonella outbreak still fresh in our memories, not to mention people still maligning the humble egg as an unhealthy source of dietary cholesterol, perhaps it’s time somebody stood up and said a good word about eggs. I personally can’t get enough of them. Eggs are man’s most primal food, and easily the most versatile. Whether fried, poached, scrambled, shirred, whipped into sauces and meringues, or baked into custards and cakes, eggs give flavor, texture, and cohesiveness to any number of dishes. Only an egg can be used to batter coat a chop, also poached to rest atop, and emulsified into a sauce to drench the lot.
Which is pretty much what I’m going to do tonight, albeit without the poached egg: Panko-breaded pork chops with aioli. Fried pork chops really aren’t a challenge for any good Southern cook, even with the traditional flour and egg coating replaced by using panko (Japanese bread crumbs). What is less familiar is the sauce, which is what we’ll focus on in this post. The type of aioli I’m making tonight is a variation of traditional mayonnaise: an emulsion of egg yolks, a bit of Dijon mustard, and oil. To turn the sauce from regular old mayo into aioli, we’re going to have to sneak some garlic flavor in there somewhere, and the best way to do it is to make garlic confit. Confit is the method of storing something in fat in order to preserve it, so garlic confit is garlic stored in fat – in this case basic canola oil:
We’ll put that on the stove on very low heat for about 40 minutes. If you’re making this, you certainly don’t want to fry the hell out of your garlic – just give it a little stir every once in awhile and keep the heat down – if the bubbles get beyond Don Ho levels, then things are too hot.
What we’re left with is some nice, soft cloves of garlic and some wonderful garlic-flavored oil. I’m going to put the cloves aside for another time – but some of the oil is going straight into our aioli. I’m going to mix 1/2 cup of the garlic oil with 1/2 cup of unflavored canola – this not only brings the temp of the oil down nicely, it also tempers the garlic flavor to a milder level. If you want a stronger garlic flavor, use a full cup of oil from the confit and let it cool down for the next step.
For our next step we have to turn that oil into creamy aioli, which means forming an emulsion – basically forcing oil and water to mix. In addition to our oil, we’re going to use three egg yolks, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a tablespoon of lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a dash of red pepper. The egg yolks and mustard are really our stars here, as each acts as an emulsifier and will help us blend the oil and liquid into something excellent to smear on things. The other thing we need is something to do the mixing – and if you’re making a classic aioli, that means a mortar and pestle. I do, in fact, have one of those, but I’d really rather use something else. Something like this:
I’m honestly not even sure what this thing is called. Jess’ mom gave it to us, and we just refer to it as “The Boat Motor.” I think it’s intended to mix fruity frozen drinks in a glass or pitcher, but it’s also an excellent tool for anything requiring the formation of an emulsion (like our aioli) because it combines the power of a blender or food processor with the mobility of the old fashioned pestle or whisk. It also fits nicely in the hand.
So, let’s get blending. Or rather, emulsifying.
Separate three egg yolks from their whites. If you’re a thrifty cook, take those whites and make a meringue. If you’re me, pour them down the sink. There’s an egg separator tool available in the world, but I just gently slide the yolk back and forth between my hands and let the white run out between my fingers. And I know you’ve been watching a hundred talking heads on television yammer on about salmonella…but room temperature yolks are really better for this process than cold. This also isn’t something where you actually cook the eggs involved, so I suppose I should mention how unsafe and horrible it is to eat raw eggs. It’s also delicious, so yeah, totally up to you.
Take your egg yolks (room temperature, natch) and add to them your 1/4 tsp. of salt, 1 tsp. of Dijon mustard, 1 tbsp. of lemon juice, and dash of red pepper. Blend ’em up! Traditionally, your yolks should take on a buttery color, but with the red pepper they’ll have a bit of reddish-orange tint to them. Just get them good and blended
Now comes the hard part. We need to slowly – SLOWLY – blend our oil with the egg yolk mixture in order to form the aioli. Using the boat motor, this means dribbling a bit of oil into the mix and blending like crazy. In a food processor, you’d keep the mix moving and drizzle the oil in a bit at a time. By hand, you’re in for an excellent upper body workout. If the oil is added too fast, you will end up with a soupy, greasy mess. If it’s added just right, you will end up with a flavorful, creamy spread:
Let the aioli rest a bit in the fridge; it will get thicker, and the flavors will mingle nicely. If you do happen to break your aioli (it looks like an oily glob), don’t fret; whisk a couple more egg yolks together and slowly blend the broken aioli into them until the whole thing gets creamy. This isn’t a fast process, but it is very much worth it. In addition to making a great sauce for meat or fish, it also makes a great base for salad dressing – for green, pasta, egg, or tuna salad.
Without the wonderful egg, none of this is possible, and exploring the uses of the egg is a foodie adventure by itself. Good luck with your emulsions, and happy cooking!
An excellent post about how to fix a broken mayonnaise here.