Mayonnaise is almost as important to sandwiches as bread. It’s automatic that we spread mayo on that bread, or incorporate it into a salad filling: chicken salad, tuna salad, ham salad, …
Mayo from the store is a good product. It’s nothing like home-made mayo. Nothing. But, if you are whisk-challenged, or simply do not have the time, then there is an easy and delicious way to step up that store product.
Adding some vinegar and sugar — it’s all about balance — can transform that mayo. Here’s the basic recipe:
- 1/4 cup mayo
- 1-3 tablespoons of vinegar
- 1-2 teaspoons of sugar
Put everything in a bowl and stir to mix. Actually, this is a place where that whisk would be handy.
What kind of vinegar? Any kind. I first saw this idea in The Texas Cowboy Kitchen cookbook, where mayo and malt vinegar are combined in these proportions for a cole slaw dressing. That’s just the beginning. Today, I used honey vinegar, with only a teaspoon of sugar, to create the spread for a ham sandwich on toasted bread. Ham and honey are a natural pairing. Doing it via honey vinegar was culinary fun.
You’ve got a shelf with more than one bottle of vinegar, and that means you have several ways to apply this technique: for sandwiches, for salad dressings, for dips. It’s rare to find something so deliciously easy and tasteful.
If you mention the name “Jacques Pepin” to someone at random, you stand a pretty good chance hearing, “That’s somebody I’ve heard of, although …” Foodies, of course, can pinpoint this name of one of the world’s top chefs. But non-foodies galore will look at you and struggle to answer. They have heard the name, but they just are not sure where. “Jacques Pepin” has become a phrase that has permeated our culture. From books, television shows, and all kinds of media presentations, Jacques has been on the American landscape for decades.
His latest book, Essential Pepin, describes itself as “more than 700 all-time favorites from my life in food.” With his remarkable life, you know that this book is filled with exceptional ideas.
How do you approach a book like this? It’s not really intimidating, but it is almost 700 pages long and it’s heavy enough to press a chicken. With this book, the starting point is you. What do you have in your refrigerator, what do you need help with. Whatever your need, somewhere in this book there will be solution for you. And, it will be a Pepin solution, a recipe you know is tried and true.
Of course, you can start with easier things, dip your cooking toe into the water, and over time work your way up the ladder of recipe complexity. In fact, over the next months, Suzen and I will be trying recipes from the book and posting ideas here. There are many signature recipes here to share with you.
Where did Suzen and I begin? With this salad. On a cold, rainy day, our fridge held a steak ready to cook and a head of Boston lettuce. What could we do with that lettuce. We turned to Essential Pepin as a reference book, knowing that even “simple” things would be sumptuously offered here.
“My God, it’s the first salad recipe in the book,” I said.
“Let me see,” Suzen said. She read, she thought, she uttered. “Look’s perfect.”
We took our first bites, and smiled. “Perfect” was an understatement. This dressing is the ideal match for buttery Boston lettuce. With cream as the dominant ingredient, the dressing is, naturally, very creamy to the palate. But there is spice from red vinegar and dashes of salt and pepper. The salad is a lovely complement to the taste and texture of a great steak. That’s a starch-free menu for those of you working on those New Year’s resolutions. You remember those, right?
Essential Pepin offers some features to make your recipe search and preparation easier. Each chapter, like Salads, offers its own table of contents so you can easily scan the wonderfully long list of recipes in each chapter. Secondly, the book comes with a CD where Jacques walks you through several dozen basic techniques. You’ve heard about home-made mayonnaise? You’ve never tried it? Then you need this CD to experience a brief moment of creamy nirvana.
Boston Lettuce Salad with Cream Dressing
Yield: serves 6
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- 4 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- 6 tablespoons heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 heads Boston lettuce, leaves gently torn into bite-size pieces (8-10 cups), washed, and dried
Combine the salt, white pepper, vinegar, and cream in a large bowl. Beat with a whisk for about 20 seconds. The mixture should be foamy and creamy in consistency; it will thicken as you beat it. Add the oil and mix with a spoon to blend it.
While the dressing can be prepared ahead of time, it should only be tossed with the lettuce just before service. The dressing will wilt the lettuces leaves if left standing.
Source: Essential Pepin by Jacques Pepin [Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt]