Here’s a springlike plate to sharpen people’s appetites – fat, crunchy Kent asparagus, juicy Suffolk tomatoes plus Spanish jamon iberico de bellota. A seasonal delight – but what’s that dodgy-looking dollop on the asparagus? I’ll explain…
Last week a large and mysterious package appeared on my doorstep, carried aloft by my beaming neighbour who had taken in the Fedex delivery (no awards for the courier who didn’t bother to leave me notification). At first I thought the carton might contain wine (obsessively?), Portuguese perhaps – a souvenir from my recent visit to the Minho and Douro? No, said my wise neighbour, it’s not heavy enough. Oh – pity.
After taking it in gratefully, I looked closely at the label. Ah hah – so it was from California, land of free-thinkers, fresh fusion food, biotech and all other things tech. The penny dropped fast. Of course! it was a package of samples of ersatz mayonnaise. I ripped it apart, dug into the polystyrene cool box and out came a collection of chic little glass jars with black screwtops and simple logos. First impressions: excellent. As you can see below, the cat was also quite taken.
Now I’ll backtrack a bit further. A month or so ago I was emailed by this West Coast company that has embarked on replacing egg ingredients and asked if I would sample them. I was convinced partly after discovering that Hampton Creek has been identified by Bill Gates as one of three companies shaping the future of food in the US. Its mission? to make healthier and more affordable tucker for everyone… So far, so Californian.
But not everyone reacts well when you mention chicken-less eggs – I mean we like the clucky little fellows, and I’m a big fan of free-range eggs straight from the farm. Last weekend, while in Sussex, I naturally scooped up a few that were on sale by the road, as below.
But this project doesn’t mean all eggs and their feathered makers need disappear, just that industrial-scale egg production could become redundant. Think how many eggs are needed to make vast quantities of Hellman’s mayonnaise, all mass-produced cakes, ice-cream and umpteen other products. Here’s a visual reminder of battery hens in typically shocking conditions.
So watch your back you cruel billion-dollar industry! It’s the revenge of the chicken – or rather the chicken-less egg, let’s call it chicken liberation! A few years ago in the UK, massive campaigning from TV chef and writer, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, backed by the irrepressible Jamie Oliver actually stopped English supermarkets selling battery eggs. In the US, Hampton Creek is going further through lab experimentation to create egg replacements. I love the start-up company’s subversive wording of their mission: “particularly focused on disrupting the global egg industry”.
Just Mayo is not the first mayo to be made without eggs, but I have to say it’s more seductive than any other I’ve seen. And its source? Plants – 11 of them to be precise, and no soya. So that dollop of garlic mayo that I just turned through my smoked mackerel salad* (pics above) is completely cholesterol-free, zero trans-fat, gluten-free, carb-free, sugar-free, kosher-acceptable etc etc. Ethically five-stars and about 90 calories per tablespoon. That helps too.
And so we come to the gazillion-dollar question – what did it taste like? Actually – GOOD! Yeh! Less unctuous than Hellman’s I’d say, and without the oiliness but actually preferable if you haven’t been raised on the stuff.
Next I tried the garlicky aioli version with grilled salmon fillet and, on the side, a potato salad smothered in chipotle mayo (above). Both worked brilliantly, the latter with a nice bite of Mexican chilli – though my pic of the salmon less so, as the fillet fell apart. I just managed to resurrect a morsel for the image below.
My final dish to be treated with Just Mayo was another of my “dog bowl salads” (aka a quick but healthy salad to sustain the work-at-homer, all thrown together in one bowl from which it’s eaten). This time I tossed in some slices of smoked salad with mixed wild salad leaves straight from the community garden (mustard, cress, rocket & various others), plus juicy cherry tomatoes, leftover smoked mackerel and a celery stick. De – licious!
After years of making salad dressings either with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice, or a shot of mustardy vinaigrette, I’m now getting dangerously hooked on mayo. It’s a lot simpler to whip out a jar from the fridge, no doubt why it’s America’s national spread. BUT, and this is a major but, it does miss out on all the health benefits of olive oil that we know and love. So maybe we Brits / Europeans should just use it lazily from time to time, making sure that when we do, the mayo is without eggs. Cluck cluck.
* Salad of smoked mackerel with cherry tomatoes, baby spinach leaves, rocket and watercress