Why Mayonnaise is Magic

SPECIAL SAUCE A combination of mayonnaise and blue cheese adds up to a rich topping that more or less makes itself.
SPECIAL SAUCE A combination of mayonnaise and blue cheese adds up to a rich topping that more or less makes itself. Photo: Kate Sears for The Wall Street Journal, Food Styling by Jamie Kimm, Prop Styling by Carla Gonzalez-Hart

The Chef: Alex Raij

Why Mayonnaise is Magic
Illustration: Michael Hoeweler

Her Restaurants El Quinto Pino, Txikito, La Vara, and Saint Julivert Fisherie, all in New York City.

What She’s Known For Regional-Spanish cooking that honors tradition while embracing creativity. Flavor over frippery.

ENDIVE IS the most elegant chicory. It has enough bitter bite to distinguish any dish it’s part of and sufficient subtlety to play well with other ingredients. In her third Slow Food Fast recipe, New York chef Alex Raij makes it the base for a beautiful fall gratin.

Ms. Raij calls for slicing the endive heads lengthwise so the leaves remain intact at the base, then spreading them across the bottom of a casserole. A thick topping of mayonnaise and blue cheese performs in an almost alchemical way in the oven. The mayonnaise puffs and sets in much the same way a béchamel would, fusing with the blue cheese, bubbling and browning on top while preserving the moisture of the luscious endive beneath. A final sprinkling of marjoram, parsley, red pepper flakes and lemon juice provides color and punch.

Store-bought mayonnaise will work perfectly well here, though Ms. Raij always makes it in-house. It’s integral to a number of the Spanish dishes on her menus. “Spaniards, in general, love mayonnaise,” she said. “One thing they are really good at is oil and fat.”

This recipe also happens to come together remarkably easily and quickly. A 15-minute high-heat blast in the oven ensures that the endive retains its toothsome structure and doesn’t collapse into mush, even as its flavor sweetens and deepens. And the mayonnaise helps to make the recipe foolproof. “I think it’s one of the most important sauces,” said Ms. Raij. “When baked, the emulsion breaks and it turns a bit custardy. It’s magical.”

TOTAL TIME: 25 minutes SERVES:4

4 large heads Belgian endive, outer leaves discarded

Kosher salt

1 cup mayonnaise

1½ cups crumbled blue cheese

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons marjoram leaves, roughly chopped

Juice and finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Trim bases of endive heads, making sure to keep stems intact so leaves hold together. Cut each head lengthwise into thirds. Season cut sides with salt. Arrange sliced endive, cut-sides down, in a baking dish large enough to hold slices in a snug single layer.

2. Spread mayonnaise evenly over endive and scatter cheese on top. Sprinkle red pepper flakes and marjoram over cheese.

3. Bake gratin on center rack of oven until bubbly and golden brown on top, about 15 minutes. Remove gratin from oven and sprinkle lemon juice, zest and parsley over top. Serve hot, with a green salad and sliced Serrano ham on the side, if you like.

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