|Here's some shrimp snuggled under the sauce.|
I first had this strange sauce at a restaurant called Kampai in Mt. Prospect, Illinios, and I believe it also was served at the Benihana restaurants at one time. It may have migrated to or from other restaurants, but those are the two I'm familiar with.
At Kampai, the sauce was served on a shrimp appetizer and on a lobster entree, and every time I ordered it, I asked about the ingredients or I asked about technique. At first, I was convinced that it was a cheese sauce, but I was told over and over that there was no cheese - no dairy at all.
The most common answer I got to my many queries was that it was just egg yolks and oil. Okay, basically a mayonnaise. But it was orange and somewhat solid before it went onto the food. That's not your basic mayo.
Since they weren't willing to divulge the while recipe, I'd ask small, specific questions. Sometimes I'd ask about the eggs, and sometimes it would be about the oil. Are they chicken eggs? Are they treated some special way? What kind of oil is it? What makes it orange?
The answers were always vague. Regular chicken eggs, regular oil.
When I went searching online for the recipe, I saw a lot of people looking for it, and there were no good answers. There were a few people who'd experimented with the recipe and more than a few strange suggestions. I tried most of them, with varying degrees of success and a lot of eggs sacrificed. Scrambled eggs on top of shrimp isn't all that good. Over time, although I was getting closer to my goal, it was never right. For one thing, the orange color eluded me.
I recently decided to give it another try, and as I was assembling the ingredients, inspiration struck. The heavens opened up, a great light shone down, puzzle pieces shifted, and suddenly the whole recipe made perfect sense. I had cracked the code, found the grail, and solved the mystery of the Sphinx. This was it. This was the Egg Yolk Sauce I'd been looking for.
Over the years, I had tried a lot of different additions to the mixture, looking for the elusive flavor and color. I tried a few drops of toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, lemon, and a number of other things. Some of the flavors weren't bad, but they weren't right. And nothing gave me the bright color.
When the light bulb finally lit and I had my "aha" moment, it became obvious. I had originally thought the sauce had cheese in it, and my secret ingredient is common in cheese. It's not a huge flavor, but it was that elusive "something" that was missing in all the previous trials. When I tested it and it worked, I was dancing like a fool.
This is definitely a recipe for special occasions, since it really is little more (but a secret little more) than egg yolks and oil. I suppose it's not worse than mayonnaise, though. Much.
In previous attempts over many years, I tried a number of oils, different combinations of oils, and even some more exotic oils. In the end, the oil that best matches my memory of Kampai best is plain old corn oil. Others work, but since there's so much oil in play, the flavor does matter. Olive oil would be just plain wrong. Some others would be too bland. But feel free to experiment.
Technique also matters. Sort of. I read one comment about making the sauce that insisted that the key was a wooden spoon. There might have been a special bowl as well. Come on folks, it's not voodoo. I used a whisk.
I've also tried this in a blender, but since I was making such a small amount it wasn't very efficient. If I was making a gallon of the stuff, maybe a machine might be better. But one or two yolks at a time, a whisk does a fine job.
If you've ever made mayonnaise before, this will seem very familiar. If not, just follow the instructions. It's pretty simple, really.
Egg Yolk Sauce
|Mmmm... cheese! I mean Egg Yolk Sauce.|
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon salt (depending on your taste)
10 drops annatto cheese coloring*
1/2 cup corn oil (or more, as needed)
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, salt and cheese coloring until the yolks start to lighten. Of course it will now be very orange because of the annatto. But it should become lighter because you're incorporating air as you whisk.
Begin drizzling in the oil slowly, whisking all the while. You can also add in small amounts and whisk to combine in between additions. But you want to make sure the oil is only going in as fast as you can incorporate it.
Note: if you've made your own annatto oil, start with that and keep an eye on the color. You want to end with something that is a pleasant cheesy orange, and not neon orange. If it looks like it's taking on too much color, switch to a plain oil for the rest. It will change color a bit as it cooks, but you don't want it glowing.
Soon, the mixture will begin to thicken to a mayonnaise consistency. Keep adding oil and keep whisking. The goal is a thick, smooth shiny mass that's just a little short of the consistency of Velveeta.
This mixture can be refrigerated until you're ready to use it, and it will get just a bit thicker in the cold.
*Annatto is used to color many different foods including cheese. But it's not just coloring. Annatto also adds flavor. It's subtle, but it makes a difference. If you can't find the cheese coloring, you can make your own annatto oil.