Hold the mayo

Steve Peters / Photo

Steve Peters

There’s something about mayonnaise that’s always bothered me. Mostly, I think it’s the consistency. Mayo is offputtingly gelatinous, and whether it’s being scooped out of a jar or is dripping off a sandwich, it always manages to present itself with the most unappetizing of glops.

On the other hand, I have no problem with homemade mayonnaise, which in my experience is much thinner, fresher, and far less questionable. It’s nothing like the stuff in the grocery aisle. In fact, in stores, you have a choice of the real deal or something even worse — an imitation mayo dressing that has had some of the oil replaced by corn syrup. Just in case it wasn’t bad enough.

There are two places where I can stomach mayo. First, is on a BLT. I don’t know why, but it works. Second, is in baking. Considering that the condiment is mostly egg yolks and oil, it makes sense that it would prove beneficial in baked goods by contributing a ton of moisture. Also, you would never know it was in there.

Where I can’t stand mayonnaise this time of year is in summer picnic salads. Potato, macaroni, chicken and egg salad all come to mind. Think about the last barbecue you attended. What did the sides and salads look like? Various shades of beige? Unidentifiable, perhaps?

Folks, it’s possible to make a delicious picnic dish without piling on the mayo. There are options. Yogurt, mustard, and various oils and vinegars do a much nicer job, in my opinion, of tying everything together. I’d argue that not only are these alternatives healthier, they’re likely tastier too.

I know many people also question the safety of mayonnaise-based dishes sitting out in the sun and heat for periods of time. From what I’ve found, you don’t have to worry too much specifically about the mayo going bad, even though there are raw egg yolks involved. Due to the addition of lemon juice or vinegar, commercial mayo is relatively acidic and that helps prevent the growth of bacteria. Nevertheless, you really shouldn’t let any foods, mayo-based or otherwise, sit out in warm weather for very long. Certainly not meat.

Last weekend I made a potato salad with a mustard-and-vinegar-based dressing that was a welcome reprieve from the traditional mayo. But I was more excited about a chicken salad I tried out just the other day. Called Coronation Chicken, this dish was served at the coronation banquet of Queen Elizabeth in 1953. I’ve replaced the mayo here with Greek yogurt, and with curry powder in the mix, this salad won’t go unnoticed, whether you’re bringing it to your next gathering or serving as a simple cold dinner.

Coronation Chicken Salad

Serves 4, as a main dish

• 1 tablespoon butter

• ½ of a medium red onion, chopped

• 1 bay leaf

• ½ teaspoon curry powder

• 1 tablespoon tomato paste

• ¼ cup white wine

• ¼ cup chicken broth

• ½ cup dried apricots, thinly sliced

• 1 small red pepper, chopped

• 1/2 cup Greek yogurt

• 1 ounce cream

• 1 ounce lemon juice

• ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

• 1 pound cooked chicken, cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces

• ¼ cup toasted almonds, chopped

• ¼ cup parsley or cilantro, chopped

• Salad greens

In a small saucepan melt the butter. Add the red onion and cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the bay leaf, curry powder, tomato paste and cook another few minutes. Add the wine and let cook off for a minute or two before pouring in the broth and apricots. Continue cooking until the mixture has reduced and thickened slightly.

Let the mixture cool about 5 minutes, then stir in the chopped pepper, yogurt, cream, lemon juice and salt until well blended. Pour the mixture into a bowl, and toss in the chicken until well combined. Transfer the bowl to the fridge to let the flavors blend for at least an hour. Overnight would work fine.

Before serving, taste and add more salt if needed. Stir in the almonds and herbs and serve over a bed of greens.

Steve Peters

Steve Peters is a cook, gardener and baker living in Rutland.

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