Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Salad dressing

Sequels written by somebody other than the original author lend themselves to the prospect of savage criticism by disappointed readers. The Bond books are a case in point. I have rather enjoyed the tradition of writers renowned for their own creations - Kingsley Amis, for example - continuing where Ian Fleming left off. It is particularly pleasing when such writers clearly know their original material so well that they do not merely repeat it but take it further.

In Fleming's "Moonraker", we learn that James Bond takes his own "mustardy" salad dressing to the secret service canteen for lunch. More exotically, in William Boyd's "Solo", Bond even insists on his own version in "the best steak restaurant in Washington" where he is brought a small lacquered tray with "all the ingredients necessary to make a vinaigrette to his own secret formula": these last two words a stock phrase beautifully pinched, no doubt with relish, from the archetypal spy novel. The ingredients are set out in the novel as follows:

a little carafe of olive oil;
a little carafe of red-wine vingegar;
a jar of Dijon mustard;
a halved-clove of garlic;
a black-pepper grinder;
a ramekin of granulated sugar;
a bowl;
A teaspoon; and
a small balloon whisk to mix the ingredients together.

The method for the authentic-sounding recipe is revealed in the only footnote in the entire novel:

"Mix five parts of red-wine vinegar with one part extra-virgin olive oil. The vinegar overload is essential. Add a halved clove of garlic, half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a good grind of black pepper and a teaspoon of white granulated sugar. Mix well, remove the garlic and dress the salad.”

We are told that Bond ended his meal with "half an avocado into which he poured what remained of his dressing". I must at some point try a similar demand in a restaurant.


I am told that I would make this when a small child: what I did not know was that, far from stirring olive oil into egg yolks, I was stirring tap water into custard powder. My mother would then dispose of my effort having made her own in stealth but I would receive the congratulation for having made it.

On another occasion when I was old enough to make "real" mayonnaise, I produced a post-Christmas supper for my parents: cold turkey, potato salad and dressed salad. My mother took one mouthful of salad and recoiled in horror. I had mistaken cherry brandy for wine vinegar and the salad was thus a disgusting sweet concoction. My mother thought I had done it deliberately. My father was more sympathetic.

Ingredients for real mayonnaise:

2 egg yolks
1/2 pint of Extra Virgin Olive oil OR combination of olive oil and sunflower or rapeseed oil
Tablespoon lemon juice or wine vinegar
Rock salt
Freshly ground black pepper


Ideally using a pestle and mortar, slowly beat the oil into the egg yolks, drop by drop to begin with, then, as it thickens, teaspoon by teaspoon. You will see after a while that when you add each amount of oil, the mixture floats on it for a period of time. Once it ceases to float, it is properly mixed and it is time to ad the next amount. If you dare, you can then let the remaining olive oil trickle in straight from the mug. Then add the lemon juice/vinegar (which will thin the mayonnaise), the salt and the black pepper.

If the mixture curdles, don't worry, provided you have a fresh egg yolk. Simply add the curdled mixture to the new egg yolk as slowly as you would add the oil.

Mixed with a little cream (which, like the lemon juice/vinegar thins it), this makes a sublime potato salad.

Sunday, 27 December 2015


I have two favourite literary accounts of the dish.

First, from the neglected children's book, Street Fair in such two American children, John and Anna, accidentally end up having to fend for themselves in the Riviera:

"The plates were full of mustard-coloured soup, and islands of various shapes rose out of the soup.

The first thing she took out of the soup was a kind of fish, and the next thing was another kind of fish, and the next thing was a tiny clam still in its blue shell.

'Would you say it was soup with fish, or fish with soup?'"

James Bond travels to Marseilles in On Her Majesty's Secret Service and asks his driver about the famous soup:

"Bond said, 'Now tell me, is the bouillabaisse chez Guido always as good?'

'It is passable,' said Marius. 'But this is a dish that is dead, gone. There is no more true bouillabaisse, because there is no more fish in the Mediterranean. For the bouillabaisse, you must have the rascasse, the tender flesh of the scorpion fish. Today they just use hunks of morue. The saffron and the garlic, they are always the same. But you could eat pieces of a woman soaked in those and it would be good. Go to any of the little places down by the harbour. Eat the plat du jour and drink the vin du Cassis that they give you. It will fill your stomach as well as it fills the fishermen's. The toilette will be filthy. What does that matter? You are a man. You can walk up the Canebiere and do it at the Noailles for nothing after lunch.'"

The first time I heard of Bouillabaisse was when my mother described it and said that fishermen had a regular prank they played on guests which was to put an excessive amount of salt into a ladleful of the soup and solemnly pass it round. The guests would be too polite to say anything and eventually one of the fishermen would say, "Perhaps a little too much salt", whereupon the ladleful would be discarded and the cork from the bottle of wind placed in the cauldron of soup. After being well fed, the guests would leave convinced that the cork had the property of desalinating the soup. My mother once tried the trick on my father; my brother and I were in on the plot. My father was not amused.

The first time I ate it in a restaurant was in St Tropez and I was disappointed: the broth was served separately to the fish, apparently more authentically than the description in Street Fair.