On a trip to Spain about a decade ago, I encountered a pillowy white condiment that no matter how I describe here won't sound nearly as exciting as it was at that moment: the sauce was a mayonnaise made with milk and oil and not a trace of egg. It was silkier and lighter than regular mayonnaise, more like a glossy Italian meringue that tasted like olive-oil-whipped cream. I put it on my mental "story ideas" list, where it lived for the next ten years, happily buried between "Morton vs. Diamond Kosher Salt" (don't even think of touching this matter of national import!) and "Vietnamese minced chicken salad" (which was recently "scooped" by Julia Moskin at the New York Times).
I hadn't bothered to write about the milk mayonnaise because I hadn't a clue how to make it, and apparently getting out some milk, oil and a blender was much too taxing to do on my own. Just a few days ago, I heard that David Leite, the founder of Leite's Culinaria, had a recipe for the sauce in his book, "The New Portuguese Table." (And soon after, he informed me that Kathleen Purvis at the Charlotte Observer was planning to write about it; you can read her fine story here.) Ugh!
Like a good(ish) sport, I sucked it up and made David's recipe. Four times. (I'll save you the painful details: don't go off-road here, use an immersion blender or a blender, like he says.) And on that fourth try, I had something reveletory: sauce that had the texture of buttercream and the clear flavor of an infusion. There was fragrance from garlic, tang from lemon juice, and silkiness from the butterfat emulsifying with the oil.
David learned the recipe from Ilda Vinagre, a chef in Portugal (who, in turn, had learned it from a cook in Brazil). Following Ilda's lead, David likes to mix in green olives; ginger; sun-dried tomatoes; and smoked paprika. I'm happy with it plain.
And although I wish I were less of a procrastinator, I'm happy that David wrote about the mayonnaise first. For one thing, I would have never figured out the technique. And for another, Leite means milk. And Mr. Milk should own the milk mayonnaise story.
Milk "Mayonnaise" (Maionese de Leite)
Adapted from "The New Portuguese Table" by David Leite
Makes about 1 cup
Combine the milk, lemon juice, garlic, and pepper in a 2-cup glass measuring cup. Using a handheld blender (or a blender), buzz on high for 30 seconds until frothy. With the motor running on high, slowly pour in the oil a few drops at a time, and gradually increase this to a fine thread, moving the blender up and down, until the mixture thickens lusciously and resembles a soft mayonnaise. You may need more or less oil. Season with salt to taste. The mayonnaise will last up to 1 week in the fridge.
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