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Turn mayo into your go-to secret ingredient

James P. Dewean
Chicago Tribune
Corn lightly spread with mayo and then grilled is mixed with lime juice, cojita cheese and ground chiles. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Granted, it doesn’t roll off the tongue like “Jimmy ‘the Greek’ Snyder” or “Vlad ‘the Impaler’ Tepes,” but, over the years I’ve acquired the sobriquet, “Jim ‘Won’t-Shut-Up-About-the Visigoths’ DeWan.” But, come on, who doesn’t love a bit of the old barbarian?

Like that time Alaric and his gang sacked Rome. You remember: The Visigoths had surrounded the Eternal City, but the residents felt secure inside its gated walls. That is, until some Rome-hating bellyacher went and opened the Salarian Gate and, well – how unexpected was that?

Like mayonnaise in July. Who would expect the coolest sauce in the hottest month? Tuna salad ‘neath the scorching sun? Bellyacher is right.

But, no, my friends, I’m here to tell you that mayo is just the thing for those boiling summer days. Read and spread, my people, read and spread, and we shall examine its many, many uses.

Why you need to learn this

Like drowsy Godzilla, dormant beneath the vast Pacific until a nuclear test blasts her from her slumber, that jar of mayo in your fridge is awaiting its awakening by the unscrewing touch of your hand upon its lid.

The steps you take

Oh, sure, the more showyoffy among you are all like, “I only make my own mayonnaise,” enunciating all three syllables like you’re Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward: “May-o-NAISE.”

And, look, if you want to make your own mayo, by god, don’t let me mess up your housecoat. Besides, it’ll be one more notch on your quarantine belt, next to the sourdough rye, the Byzantine trebuchet and teaching your dog French. Plus, it’s easy, like tripping on a root, and all you need is some vegetable oil, an egg, some mustard, and white wine vinegar or lemon juice.

Listen, though: If you are going to do this, let me make a couple of suggestions. First, use a pasteurized egg. Some – not all; phone first – grocery stores carry them, and they’ll decrease your chances of catching a touch of the salmonella. Second, if you’re going the lemon juice route, use fresh lemon juice, the kind you find inside a lemon. That bottled stuff tastes like angst. Anyway, here’s what you do:

Crack a chicken egg into a blender along with a tablespoon of lemon juice or white wine vinegar, a teaspoon of mustard, a quarter teaspoon of salt and a pinch of white pepper. Turn the machine on and, while it’s running, add a few drops of oil. As the emulsion forms, drizzle in a cup’s worth in a slow, steady stream. Add more salt or lemon juice if needed, but, as your dog now says, “Voila.” (See the recipe: How to make mayonnaise.)

Or, you could act like a normal person and hie on down to your local and pick up a jar. Regardless, with mayo metaphorically in hand, the world is your baloney sandwich. Behold:

What to do with mayo

1. Grilling. Use mayonnaise to coat meat before cooking. Yeah, it sounds gross. And, truth be told, glistening, raw chicken breasts slicked with mayo look like something that would fall from the sky during the last days. But, trust me, spreading a thin layer of mayo over your soon-to-be-cooked proteins is a terrific idea. First of all, remember that, between the oil and egg yolk, mayo is mostly slippery fat that’ll keep your protein from sticking to the grill or saute pan. And speaking of grilling, because it’s so thick, mayo is less likely to drip onto your hot coals and cause those pesky and flesh-blackening flare-ups. And finally, if you’re putting a spice rub on your meat – and why in the name of Pete Sampras would you not do that? – the mayo will help it stick.

Now, I know we’re talking about meat here, but, you could also brush mayo onto veggies, before or after grilling. Our Mexican neighbors eat cobs of corn slathered with mayo, chile powder and lime. Try it on other vegetables, as well.

2. Griddling. Spread mayonnaise on the outside of sandwiches – like the confusingly named grilled cheese. (Typically, they’re griddled or cooked in a skillet.) Granted, most people use butter for the grilled cheese. Or margarine, if it’s Permanent Lent and you’ve given up things that taste good.

I’m here to tell you, though, eschew the butter and use mayo instead for all of your griddled sandwich needs. Whether it’s the aforementioned grilled cheese, or, my favorite, the Reuben, or that hammy and luscious croque monsieur that your dog can pronounce, they’ll all work with mayo. Here’s why: First, and perhaps foremost, you know how cold butter tends to rend your bread like the garment of a spurned lover? Well, mayo will not. No, with even the softest of bread, your mayo-laden knife will glide along its surface like a black-footed albatross searching for squid.

Mayo also gives your griddled sandwich a beautiful brown crust that crunches nicely. Plus, because of the lemon juice and vinegar, mayo provides an acidic counterbalance to all the fat in the cheese. And, if we’re honest, isn’t that melty, melty cheese most of the reason we griddle sandwiches in the first place?

3. Sauces. Mayonnaise makes a baskillion simple sauces you can throw together in literal moments, delicious sauces that will fill your guests with justifiable self-loathing as they recall the many sad and sauceless meals they’ve served their own dejected charges. (Is it any wonder mayonnaise is known as “the cruelest condiment”?)

Mayo sauces are simple: Virtually any other sauce or condiment can be stirred or whisked in to create a wide variety of sauces to match any dish, whether fauna or flora. Simply consider the flavor profiles of your main and/or side dishes, then proceed accordingly.

Regardless of what you do, remember that you’re ultimately in charge. Add more or less of the flavoring ingredient to suit your taste. Start with just a teaspoon or two of each ingredient per half cup of mayo, then go from there. Also, if you want a thinner sauce, add a splash of water or canned chicken broth until it’s the consistency you want.

Finally, although I’ve made some suggestions for foods that these sauces will complement, really, they’re pretty much interchangeable. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Aioli: Whisk in crushed garlic and serve with grilled chicken or fish or be all Belgian and serve it with french fries.

Chipotle mayo: Mince canned chipotle chiles and add to mayo along with their sauce. Serve with grilled steak.

Ssamjang mayo: Add this spicy Korean condiment to mayo and use as a spread for grilled vegetable sandwiches of eggplant, peppers and portobello mushrooms.

Barbecue mayo: Add a bit of your favorite barbecue sauce to mayo along with a splash of hot sauce and serve alongside any barbecued meats. For a more complicated version of this idea, do some research on Alabama white sauce; you won’t regret it.

Wasabi mayo: Stir wasabi paste or powder into mayo, thin with water or chicken stock, and drizzle over roasted, steamed, boiled or grilled green vegetables and grilled fish.

Caper mayonnaise: In a food processor, combine mayonnaise with capers, a squeeze of lemon juice and some minced parsley. Serve it with deep fried or pan seared fish.

Tapenade mayonnaise: Stir tapenade, the chopped olive condiment, into mayonnaise and serve with crudites.

Pesto mayonnaise: Stir pesto into mayonnaise and spread onto a hoagie roll along with sliced deli meats for a delicious sub.

Indian pickle mayonnaise: Mince bottled Indian pickles and stir into mayo. Serve with boiled or grilled shrimp.

New Orleans mayonnaise: Stir in a teaspoon of Cajun seasoning mix and a drop of ketchup and serve with blackened chicken or fish.