or Emulsional Instability
Last month Shaogo posted a recipe for Roasted Red Pepper Aioli, and it caught my fancy. Some years ago I managed to make a little mayonnaise from scratch a couple of times and had actually wanted, in the back of my mind, to find a reason to try it again. It's just me and my spare-tire these days, so I don't do much exotic cooking and I avoid the richer frills even more (fairly easily). But I've roasted a pepper or two before and the rest of it sounded good, so I gave it a whirl. (uh huh huh huh)
I used the Black & Decker food processor for the first batch, roasting the red pepper on the gas stove, mellowing the 8-10 garlic cloves over a low flame, etc., following Shaogo's clear instructions to the best of my ability. I ended up with a runny orangish liquid that tasted pretty good but wasn't the intended result. I chilled the concoction while I searched on the web for ways to rescue a broken sauce, for that is what I had. I opted for starting with another egg yolk and some lemon juice in the powerful blender on hand and SLOWLY adding the broken sauce. Shaogo later /msg'd with the same advice. The sauce emulsified and the blender went from a shrill whine to a resonant whirr as the mayonnaise-like mixture flowed in the blender in an altogether stately fashion.
I felt redeemed, plus, it tasted fantastic. I crossed out 'food processor' in my printout of the recipe, leaving 'or blender'. I diligently tasted and retasted over many hours as the flavors developed. For the next few days I had all kinds of ideas for what to try it with. They were all good.
A few days after the inaugural batch was gone I decided to make it again. When the mood struck I didn't want to go to the store for a pepper and was thinking that I wanted to give it a little more kick anyway. I have these cubes of Chipotle Pepper seasoning that I buy at the Carniceria down the street. They're basically like bullion cubes except they count as a couple of Chipotle chiles instead of a cup of beef broth or whatever. Very convenient, especially for altering the flavor of a standard recipe. I decided to make Chipotle Aioli.
I did all as before, using my plastic egg separator to separate 3 medium eggs (instead of the 2 large in the recipe). The medium eggs had enough body that I used a fork to tease the whites down into the little bowl to 'reserve for other uses'. I actually have a few of those 2-3 oz. glass bowls you see on cooking shows, for holding portioned ingredients prior to assembly, and I have to say using them makes a big difference. Also, three egg whites plus one whole egg makes a damn fine omelet, if you put enough cheese, avocado, or other fatty stuff inside. When I mashed the slightly cooked garlic cloves into the few tablespoons of oil they'd cooked in, I added two Chipotle cubes and mashed further.
I started out with the blender this time and the process was very similar to the first time - no emulsion from the start, cooling the broken sauce (for a couple of hours, in the blender container, in the fridge, so less washing) and a couple of egg yolks and acid to rescue it later. Again that audible change that was so satisfying when it emulsified, early on, and the patient addition of the broken sauce in a thin stream. The blender is somewhat heavy-duty, but I'm not sure it is really meant for the duty cycle of adding 1.5 cups of olive oil in a thin stream. Whatever.
This Chipotle Ailoi was even more amazing! Not 'hot' by any stretch, but piquant to just the right degree. Again, I sampled diligently and brainstormed, with restraint. I'll admit to having it with a beef frank rolled in a flour tortilla and a couple of jalapeno slices.
But I was troubled by how solitary this pleasure was. A little. I considered giving some to someone who'd appreciate it. But I didn't have enough.
Then came the news early this week that a hang gliding / paragliding friend's wife had caught a 100 lb. Mako Shark in the ocean off of Oceanside (she's done that before, fishing with her Dad). Earlier this year some pilots started a 'Wednesday Glass-Off' flying gathering, where pilots meet in the LZ late Wednesday afternoon and carpool up the mountain to fly in the very smooth late-day air and then have an informal pot-luck with snacks and beverages as the sun goes down. This was instigated by a pilot couple who live up the mountain and happened to both be working (he's a contractor) in the valley for a while, so they both had to go up the mountain at the end of the day anyway. This means a bunch of trucks full of pilots and gliders can go up the mountain and the owners are assured of a ride back up to get their vehicles after all is said and done. It has turned into quite a thing, what with flexible schedules and reduced work demands in this economy. Plus, most hang glider and paraglider pilots are over 40 these days, so we know the value of stopping and smelling the roses. I still like to fly in the earlier air, which is rougher and more interesting, but I've hung around or gone back out to the LZ (I live a few miles away) a number of times for the banter and a nibble. I haven't eaten or drank much because I haven't brought out anything.
I decided that Chipotle Aioli would be great as a vegetable dip, might go well with shark, and enough of the wives were semi-foodie enough to appreciate it, so I'd make some to take out there, this time. I know 'the wives' sounds sexist but the truth is that there are few female hang glider pilots. Very few. I used to be married to one, but we won't go there. There's a very slightly higher percentage of female paraglider pilots, but again, we're talking 3 out of 20 instead of 1 out of 30. Not to say my male cohorts can't appreciate a good sauce; they're beer guzzlers but they can tell a fricasee from a flambe. But still. How the hell do I get out of this...
So Wednesday came and I decided I'd do this for sure. I flew in the middle of the day because my Dad wanted to come to town to have lunch and volunteered to drive for me and take some pictures. It's been at least 15 years since he's seen me fly, so it was cool. There was, unusually, almost no lift at 1 PM on an August day, so I landed before he got back down the mountain. Three times in 24 years he's been out and he hasn't seen me land yet. Oh well. We had lunch at the Thai Place and parted at 2:30. I left my glider on my truck, planning to make the Chipotle Aioli, throw it in the ice chest, take a big bowl from home and stop at the supermarket for celery sticks etc., then fly with the crowd before unveiling the sauce from heaven. Presentation would be the sauce in a bowl in an ice-bath in the steel bowl (raw egg yolks and SoCal summer heat, don'cha'know) with dipping veggies around it, plus the suggestion to take some to try with the shark. I killed some time; meet-up at the LZ is typically 4:30, landing between 6 and 7, then food and socializing. So I read and stuff until 3:15 or so.
One modification this time was that I would cook the garlic well beforehand and chill it, to lessen the chance it would break the sauce when added. I started that cooking, separated eggs, poured out 1.5 cups of olive oil, measured mustard, etc. I fired up the blender with egg yolks, mustard and vinegar in it and started adding oil in the thinnest, most interminable stream I could manage. Really, drop drop drop stream drop drop, and so on. It was still a loose fluid down in there, and peering down in I kept getting droplets of vinegar and egg yolk in my eye. Slowly slowly slowly. Finally, with about 2/3 cup of oil in, that heavenly tonal shift rang out and the liquid became this smooth emulsion with a hole in the middle that you could just perceive to be flowing from outside-in. I felt a profound satisfaction that you just don't get in simple assemble-stir-time cooking.
I got to having about half the olive oil in, which is time to add the 4 tbsp. oil with the cooked garlic and mashed Chipotle. I kind of dumped it in and the sauce promptly shattered, rough garlic bits flying in and out of view, mocking the earlier smoothness. I think I heard angels weeping.
I threw in my last egg yolk. No joy. I decided to chill the blender container in ice water and run to the store for more eggs. It was about 4:15. I could have just abandoned the whole idea and gone flying, since I'd told no one of my plans. But I wasn't going to let this sauce beat me. I opted to emulsify instead of fly.
At the carniceria I bought a dozen large eggs (instead of the mediums I usually buy) because, dammit, needs more yolk! When I got home I thought I'd start with that one egg yolk and some lemon juice, drizzle some olive oil in, and into that emulsion add the chilled broken sauce. The broken sauce hadn't actually chilled much, but the very thick blender glass had, so I poured the contents into a thin-walled container and dropped IT into the ice water and washed the blender container. The fresh-start sauce didn't emulsify. I broke the largest remaining egg and opened it onto the egg separator. The whole thing fell through like water. Same with the second largest egg. I had a brief salmonella fright, then decided pilots are tougher than that. The third-choice egg I cracked and opened carefully, opting for the in-the-shell yolk separation technique. No dice. A sharp edge of the shell pierced the yolk and all was lost. I must say that at this point there was no reserving of egg white for other uses; straight down the drain. The fourth egg cracked cleanly and the white poured off. I fired up the blender and poised the egg-half over the large opening in the lid, peeking in to assess the situation. The egg slipped from my fingers and fell into the gaping maw, shell and all. I uttered an oath, then powered down the blender.
This was disaster. Another 2/3 cup of virgin olive oil needlessly defiled. I poured it all out and cleaned the blender for the second time in 35 minutes.
I managed to separate 2 eggs, more or less, added lemon juice, and started the blender again. The metal base was rather warm to the touch. I added a little oil, dripping it from a spoon instead of the big measuring cup. Droplets. When the depth got above the blades it made that nice deep sonic shift and I held my breath (and blinked due to splatters). A tad more oil and all held together. I grabbed the chilled Mason Jar and dared a thin stream. Bliss! That little pool of oil sat on the surface and got sucked down to the blades and all was uniform again. Over and over. Time stood still.
Then the surface no longer seemed to be moving, though the blender was screaming. The oil pool just sat there on top. I dabbed the rubber spatula down through the blender lid and it disrupted the surface just enough that things flowed again. Here was a new cycle that went on for another 2/3 cup oil, at which time I decided it was all getting too thick, the blender was getting hot enough to blow out, or cook the yolks, or something. It was almost 5 PM.
The Chipotle Aioli tased great, but I had to scoop it out with the rubber spatula - it most definitely would not pour. We're talking, what, six egg yolks? Seven? Can you say rich? Can you say cardio-pulmonary thrombosis? Never mind.
At the first supermarket they no longer had bags of pre-cut celery, carrots, etc. They used to have bags that were about two-handfuls, but now they had only little half-handful portions for several dollars a pop. The second supermarket had 'veggie trays' for ten bucks that were celery, carrots, cherry tomatoes, and broccoli, plus a tub of Ranch Dressing. That would have to do.
So I got to the landing zone when pilots were about to start landing, the BBQ was being set up, and generally timing was good and atmosphere was gelling. I told Kathy, the shark-catcher, what I'd brought and etc. and she was very pleased. I shot the shit with the landing pilots, emphasizing that I'd flown earlier, and as the buffet was set up got in there and arranged the veggies over the ice and gave out some samples. The shark was awesome, there were salads and even a little sushi, plus one guy brought his wife and kids and a pot of Chile Verde that was a real treat. I had a number of people sincerely compliment the Chipotle Aioli and one (married) girl requested a vat of it to bathe in.
A hard-won success. I've never worked so hard over food, even in that year working at the steakhouse when I was 17.