Jay Rayner is one of England’s most respected restaurant critics: acerbic and witty, his weekly column in the Observer every Sunday is required reading for me, and for thousands of foodies across the country. A good review from Rayner can put a restaurant on the map, and a bad one — and there are plenty of those — is the kiss of death.
Obviously, he is very knowledgeable about food, and often writes a column about foodie trends and themes, as well as about his own culinary prejudices. The other day, he wrote that life was too short to make sauces when perfectly good ones were available off the counter. Here I part company with Rayner: commercial products available in supermarkets are unlikely to contain the best ingredients. While I have been using mayonnaise from jars for years, I decided the time had come to make some at home, using extra virgin oil, free-range organic eggs, good white wine vinegar, and Dijon mustard.
Start by separating a couple of yolks and whisking them vigorously for a minute, and then whip in two teaspoons of mustard. Now, slowly trickle in the olive oil, stirring constantly. You can use a blender if you like. After the cupful of oil has been absorbed by the egg mixture, slowly add a tablespoon of vinegar, and then resume trickling in the oil. After another cup of oil has gone in, you should have a thick mayonnaise. Add salt and a little freshly ground pepper for flavour. The advantage of making your own mayonnaise is that you can add finely chopped herbs for colour and flavour. Another popular and versatile sauce is Hollandaise. While it goes well with all kinds of fried and grilled fish, you can also place a generous amount over poached eggs to produce Eggs Benedict.
Contrary to the common belief most sauces are easy to make at home
This is also very easy: again, you start with two separated egg yolks in a small bowl. Melt 100 mg of butter in a pan, and then transfer to a jug. Place the bowl with the yolks over a simmering pan of water, and whisk in a teaspoon each of lemon juice and mustard, and then introduce small quantities of butter, whisking all the time. A wire whisk is useful here. Once the butter has all been used up, you should have a thick sauce. Add a pinch of salt to taste.
Both sauces are simple and add flavour to whatever you use them with. You can refrigerate them for several days. While writing about mayonnaise, I was reminded about the first dish I prepared — ‘cooked’ would be a bit of a stretch. Living in Lahore as a young bachelor, I was taught how to make a tuna salad by an English friend in the late ’60s. Basically, all you need to do is get a couple of tins of tuna, a few tomatoes, a jar of mayonnaise, a few crisp leaves of lettuce and an onion.
Drain all the liquid from the tuna, and chop up the fish into bite-sized pieces. Chop the onion quite fine, cut the tomatoes into quarters, and rip up the lettuce into pieces. Mix everything into a bowl with a generous lashing of mayonnaise, add salt and pepper, mix it all up, and viola! You have tuna salad.
Another mayonnaise-based salad I have often made over the years, specially to accompany barbecued fish during the years I had a hut at the French Beach near Karachi is a potato-salad. You use diced boiled potatoes, tomatoes, chopped onions and lots of mayonnaise. Add salt and freshly ground pepper, and mix everything well in a large bowl and refrigerate. Lacking a fridge at the beach, I would let the salad sit in an ice-box for a couple of hours before serving.
As you see, some of the best things to eat are very simple to prepare. All too often, we are put off by the thought that sauces like Hollandaise are very hard to do at home. But when you get down to it, you will discover that most sauces and dishes are actually not that tricky after all.