The L train was packed to capacity by the time it got to my stop. Determined to get to work early like I’d planned, I squeezed my way in, foraging a little trail under outstretched arms and behind malleable bags. Unfortunately, the man on the platform next to me with the sweaty bald head and large backpack took advantage of my little pathway and slid in after me just before the doors closed. He found the last few inches of space directly behind me and roosted there, with sweat precariously inching down the back of his head toward the drop-off point. Each time he shifted his weight I moved a little too, since his backpack had settled in the curve of my back.
I could feel someone’s breath on my hand, leaving a warm, damp, probably germy film behind. The smell in the train car was a mixture of ripe human, too much Axe body spray, hot rubber and barnyard. Of course, I could have saved myself the agony and waited two minutes for the next train. But Chicagoans do this sort of thing. I think we just like to have stuff to complain about.
Funnily enough, all this sweaty discomfort and personal-space invasion had the unlikeliest of soundtracks: chef Daniel Bouloud describing how to make aioli from scratch–which is garlic mayonnaise from the south of France–to The Splendid Table‘s Lynn Rosetto Kasper. Here’s a little snippet of what I listened to during my morning commute. It started with why Daniel likes to add a poached egg to his aioli.
Lynn: You’re making a mayonnaise. Why do you poach the egg for the mayonnaise?
Daniel: Because, I fink, by cooking the egg white and by leaving the egg yolk half cooked, plus adding up another two egg yolks to it, I am going to get a very silky, fluffy, light and maybe a little bit more homogenous mayonnaise. And it’s maybe also the risk-free broken mayo! (Both laugh.)
Lynn: Ahhhh… Oh, so it won’t break, it won’t separate!
(Passenger gets up way before we arrive at the next stop and starts maneuvering toward the doors, throwing off the entire spacing arrangement of the aisle.)
Daniel: You can also add a little bit more water to it, which will even make it a little bit more fluffy.
Lynn: I see. That’s a great trick, because homemade mayonnaise can often separate and then you have a problem.
(Third cough in under 2 minutes from tall guy standing just over my head. I feel it puff through my hair.)
Daniel: So I am just placing that in the blahnder (blender). And to the blahnder, I add two more egg yolks. So now we are going to do sort of a basic mayo process. But again because it’s an aioli, there’s a little trick to that mayo.
Lynn: And that is…
Daniel: And that is I’m putting garlic. So here, inside, after my poached eggs and my two egg yolks, I’m adding sree (three) clove of garlic, who has been split in case you have a little green germ inside. That germ has been removed. The garlic was cooked in two water–basically we poached it until tahnder (tender).
(I realize I’ve been absently staring at a lady’s cleavage for the past few minutes and shift my gaze to the sign above her head, though I think the damage has already been done.)
Lynn: Why two water?
Daniel: I poach it first for two minutes. And after I change the water and poach it again until it’s tahnder so this way it’s a little bit less pungent and it makes it sweet. So I have the sree clove of garlic inside the blahnder cooked almost until tahnder and I am putting one clove of raw garlic, split and germ removed.
Lynn: Now why are you taking out the germ?
Daniel: Oh, because one time I worked in France for a chef and I heard his comment that the germ of garlic was giving a very vulgar taste to the dish. That means the germ is bitter.
Lynn: And we would NE-VER want to have a vulgar dish.
It was a weird out-of-body experience, listening to Boulud’s boisterous French-accented descriptions and the melodious Kasper swooning over the aioli’s creamy texture and mellow garlic flavor, all while I crouched under a stranger’s armpit and touched butts with a sweaty bald guy.
But it still made me want to make mayonnaise from scratch.