Saturday, December 12, 2009
Nikki and I were wondering about the origin of the word mayonnaise last week. I came up with the idea that naise must mean sauce in French. (See, i.e., bearnaisse.) So that mayonnaise was the sauce of mayon, whatever that is.
After consulting someone fluent in French last night, it turns out that aise means something like "of," not sauce, so he and I speculated that mayonnaise was simply "of mayon," maybe a town?
We consulted the The World Authority Larousse Gastronomique, the dusty old first American edition (1961) that has sat unopened on my shelf for many years.
The answer it provided was brilliant, complex, and satisfying uncertain.
From the Gastronomique:
Mayonnaise - A cold sauce of which the basic ingredients are egg yolks and oil blended into an emulsion. For recipes, see SAUCE, Cold sauces.
'Culinary purists," writes Careme in his Cuisinier parisien: Traite des entrees froides, 'are not in agreement regarding the name. Some say mayonnaise, others mahonnaise and others bayonnaise.
'I will admit that these words may be current among common cooks, but for my part, I protest that never in our great kitchens (and that is where the purists are to be found) are these three words ever pronounced. We always refer to this sauce by the name magnonaise.'
'But how is it that M. Grimod-de-la-Reyniere, a man of logic and wit, could not see at first glance that magnonaise, derived from the word manier (to stir), was the most appropriate name for this sauce, which owes its very being to the unremitting stirring which it undergoes in the course of preparation? I am more that ever convinced of this when I consider that it is only by working the liquid ingredients together (as may easily be seen from the detailed recipe for this sauce) that a very smooth, creamy sauce is finally produced; a sauce which is very appetising and unique in its kind, since it is totally unlike all other sauces, which are produced by reduction over heat.'
However logical Careme's justification for the exclusive use of the term magnonaise may seem, we are not by any means convinced that it should take the place of the usual form, mayonnaise.
Mayonnaise, in our view, is a popular corruption of moyeunaise, derived from the very old French word moyeu, which means yolk of egg. For, when all is said, this sauce is nothing but an emulsion of egg yolks and oil.
If all sauces stirred for a longer or shorter period, on or off the stove, required a name deriving from the word, manier, then a great many would come under this heading, for instance, Bearnaise and Hollandaise.