We have asparagus, let’s make some mayonnaise

The farmers markets and stands are opening up, and our season of ever-changing harvests begins anew. We have lots of local greens and sprouts, radishes, bok choy and herbs aplenty. Enough to make lovely salads, especially if you top it off with some beautiful locally grown mushrooms and call it a meal.

One of the things we look forward to the most is that first bite of newly picked asparagus. It’s like a gift from the heavens, and it is always best to eat when grown in our own area. I’ve learned disappointment is likely to follow if I’m tempted to buy corn on the cob or blueberries in the middle of winter. It’s just not the same.

We might only have these delightful sprouts for a month, but oh what a month it is!

We’ll eat these beautiful spears raw right from the patch, grill them, broil them, boil them, pop them in stir-fries and turn them into soup.

All that will happen as the season progresses, but the very first bunch is simply served — quickly steamed or grilled with just a touch of salt or a little dip of homemade mayonnaise. Nothing better.

Homemade mayonnaise is so much more delicious than the jarred, and it’s also healthier, having less saturated fat per serving (less than 2 grams) and absolutely no preservatives or additives. Of course, it only keeps for a few days, so plan its use carefully.

Photos by Dorothy Grover-Read. A platter of fresh, local asparagus will steal the show, especially if you serve it with your own homemade mayonnaise.
Photos by Dorothy Grover-Read. A platter of fresh, local asparagus will steal the show, especially if you serve it with your own homemade mayonnaise.

Although it may sound daunting, it is really one of the simplest things to make, whether or not you have a food processor. You just have to follow a couple rules. First of all, everything should be at room temperature. Second, the drizzling of the oil into the mayonnaise must be done very slowly, a few drops at a time at first. But even so, it doesn’t take that long to make, and the results are worth it.

Another thing to remember is that you need a neutral oil: organic canola or grapeseed work well here. This is not the place for your beautiful fruity olive oil. Learn from my foolishness. My first attempt at mayonnaise making, I used a lovely imported extra-virgin olive oil, not a cheap ingredient, and the result was quite harsh.

I have used local organic eggs for this and any raw preparation such as Caesar dressing. I know and trust my local farms, and the incidence of salmonella-contaminated eggs is quite low, like one in tens of thousands. However, if you have any concerns about using raw eggs, of if you are pregnant, please use readily available pasteurized eggs, or pasteurize them yourself. There are many easy instructions online.

Asparagus with chive mayonnaise

If you don’t have an asparagus bed in your own yard, we will soon have an ample supply at the farm stands and farmers markets. Choose a bunch with stalks that are firm and plump, with the tips closed tightly. Avoid any with yellowish or open tips.

Store your asparagus in the refrigerator. If you are not using it the same day, pop the spears in a vase or canning jar with a little water in the bottom, and keep refrigerated for a day or two.

Prepare your asparagus by snapping off the tough end where it naturally wants to break. When you buy local asparagus, you won’t have uniform spears, so it’s best to treat each individually.

If you are steaming, start checking after 5 minutes if you have some small stalks, and don’t be afraid to take them out when they are done even if the rest are not quite ready.

To grill, brush with a bit of olive oil and keep a close eye as these cook fast. An average stalk will take about 3 minutes per side, but check at 2.

Photos by Dorothy Grover-Read. Thick and rich, this homemade mayonnaise begins with fresh local eggs from chickens that roam and feed on beta-carotene rich grass. It’s easier to make than you think.

For the chive mayonnaise, have everything at room temperature.
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 rounded tsp. French mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 ¼ or slightly more, cups of neutral oil
2 tablespoons freshly snipped chives, minced
coarse salt to garnish

In a food processor, or with a stick blender, whirl the egg yolks, lemon juice, mustard and a couple of tablespoons of the oil for about 20 seconds, until well blended. Very slowly drizzle the first quarter cup of oil by little drops, very gradually increasing. As the mayonnaise thickens, you can pour in a little faster. Many food processors have a little hole in the insert to the feeding tube, and after the first quarter of a cup, it dispenses the oil just right. The mayonnaise will start to thicken all at once, completely changing texture and making a thick, gloppy sound.

Once thick, turn out what you need for the meal into a small bowl and mix in the chives and thin the sauce to desired consistency using a bit more lemon juice.

To make the mayo by hand, use a large bowl and a big whisk and proceed as above. It takes a bit more time, but is actually a quite satisfying a task, and you get to use that giant balloon whisk.

There are countless things you can add to this delightful mayonnaise. Roasted garlic to make flavorful aioli is a standard, as is a squeeze of sriracha.

Other great additions include horseradish, scallions, tarragon, smoked paprika, chopped hard-boiled egg, curry paste, dill pickle relish, capers, and my favorite, pesto. So many possibilities, let your imagination run wild.