For my beloved Brother who introduced me to the art of cooking, who taught me how to taste and truly love food. Without him I'd never be able to be where I am today.

March 22, 2011

    The Mayo That Raped The Tonnato

A week ago my Dad came to visit me. Because my home is by now known as probably one of the best restaurant in town, I knew that my Dad expected to have a delicious meal together with me and my flatmates on the first evening. Once again, like always, I was banging my head against the wall to come up with something that I haven't already served him on some other occasion. Fortunately, I had it narrowed down to a pork fillet mignon that my flatmate had in the freezer. That's something I find very helpful, putting limits on my food related ideas, otherwise there's a very high risk of me sailing off into the wilderness of the wonderful world of tastes, never to be seen again.

So there I was with 500g of pork fillet mignon. What to do with it? Marinading it and cooking it in the oven – been there done that. Cutting it up to steaks and simply frying them in a pan with a tasty sauce – not exiting enough. Now what? No ideas? That's not possible. Think woman, think! A trick that I often use when I'm out of ideas of my own is that I take a trip down culinary memorylane and teleport myself to some of the exquisite Italian trattorias I've had the enormous privilege of getting acquainted with. Now, the essential idea with a trattoria is that the food is honest, simple,traditional and regional. There's no point in going fishing further than the sea, as we say in Finland. That's my kind of thinking right there! Use what you have, use what the season you're in gives you, don't overdue it, make food with love and care e basta!

A dish that I simply adore and that You can almost always get in a Piedmontese trattoria is Vitello Tonnato or Vitel Tonnà in Piedmontese dialect. I'm sure it's an Italian antipasto classic that needs no further introduction, but to make sure that none of You continue living Your lives after reading this post without knowing what it is, I feel that I owe it to my Piedmontese kitchen adventures to describe this mouthwatering cold veal appetizer with a few sentences. Alright, I admit that when You read “cold veal” it might not turn You on that much. My bad. Let me put it in another way. As all Italian dishes, also Vitello Tonnato is prepared with heaps of love and care from only and I mean only out of fresh ingredients. This dish like many others should be done at least a day in advance. Vitello, the piece of veal is first marinated in white vine. It is then braised along with the marinade until fully cooked. After that the veal is left to cool down and then cut into thin slices. Nothing fancy pansy, nothing complicated, simply a nice piece of veal with perfectly matching seasoning. Tonnato stands for the creamy tuna mayonnaise sauce/paste that is poured and spread on top of the veal slices. A splash of extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice, capers, salt and pepper sprinkled on top... Buonissimo! The ready made dish can refrigerate for a period up to a week to fully develop the exact right flavor.

By now You're probably thinking that what has a piece of veal got to do with my pork fillet mignon, right? You think I forgot my point with my story getting all excited describing an Italian antipasto. Not entirely, even though I feel I got a bit carried away. Any way, thanks to my personal kitchen God Jamie, I decided to make a pork tonnato instead. Perfect, I thought! Pork is as good as veal, isn't it? Alright it's not, but still, why not, so I went for it. With Jamie's back-up I did everything accordingly. I felt confident and knew exactly how the tuna paste ought to taste like. Because I wanted to show off a bit to my Dad, I even decided to make my own mayonnaise. Plus I hate the dreadful and nasty ready made mayonnaise found in supermarket. That stuff is so packed with additives and other bullshit that I wouldn't even go anywhere near it. It was also the perfect opportunity to try out my Brother's mayo recipe that he taught me a few weeks ago. Besides, I've always thought that people exaggerate the challenge and difficulty of making homemade mayo. I've done it a few times and it was really a piece of cake.

As I knew how delicious and close to perfection my Brother's mayo recipe is, I of course started bragging about it and my mayo making skills to boost the excitement level and tingle everyone's taste buds. “I mean, seriously, why on earth would anyone buy ready made, industrial mayo?! It's so easy to make it yourself and it's so much better. If you have to eat mayo than make it yourself...” I said, lifting my right eyebrow with an overconfident sneer.

One hour, SIXTEEN eggs and one litre of oil later, I was as low as low gets. By then I had made a few emergency phone calls to my beloved Brother: “Why is this happening to me? Why? I don't understand? Is this a conspiracy? I did everything right!”. Yes, very dramatic indeed. It sure was. The mayo simply didn't thicken up! I started over and over again and every time I ended up with this thin greasy liquid thing. The kitchen was a mess. A real crime scene of a violent egg massacre. I was devastated and tormented. Of course my Dad was sitting there trying to comfort me: “I'm sure it still tastes good...”. I guess I don't need to tell You what I answered to that, do I? Time was running out and my Dad was getting hungrier minute by minute. Even my flatmates started to walk around restlessly in the kitchen in the hopes of having dinner sometime soon. Usually people are smart enough to avoid stepping into the kitchen when I've screwed up soemthing. They know that it's best to just leave me there alone banging plates and pans in my frustration... So now what? 1. Serve the raped tonnato or 2. Call off the dinner and send my Dad and my flatmates to the pizzeria next door. Where's the third option when I need one? Merde!

I decided to try one more egg and hope for the best. I knew that once you get one egg going you can add some of the failed mayo liquid little by little and it should thicken up. It didn't really look like it should, but at least it wasn't totally liquid and it tasted like mayo. So I gave up (something I never do) and mixed the wannabe mayo with the tuna to prepare the tonnato. It looked like the real thing, but I knew it wasn't even close. Filled with shame I poured the tuna paste on top of the pork slices. When I called my dinner guests to the table I felt like crying. I was mortified! I didn't even want to taste it myself, it would've been so wrong. Luckily only one of my flatmates had tasted Vitello Tonnato before and even he was a good sport eating everything that was served to him.

After the dinner, I still wasn't over my mayo misery. I decided that I wouldn't stop googling before getting to the bottom of it. I checked all dos and don'ts, but I couldn't find anything that could've explained my failure. I was sure that it had to be some very easy and small detail. Something so evident that it must've just slipped my mind. And then I found it: “Make sure the yokes aren't cold. Take the eggs out on the fridge a few hour before.” What an idiot I had been! Of course! That's basics!

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