In the Mel Brooks movie “The Producers,” a pair of fraudsters stage what they think will be a huge flop of a Broadway musical, replete with dancing Nazis. Instead, they wind up with something unexpected – a smash hit.
The makers of Cards Against Humanity, the unhinged, X-rated adult party game, might have pulled off a similar feat with a new product that seems to be a stunt – a clam-flavored mayonnaise dubbed Clam-o-Naise, packaged in jars that also contain sealed packs of playing cards with an undersea theme – that’s actually, improbably, quite good.
The company describes its offering as “deliciously tangy,” with a flavor profile based on clams casino, the classic dish of bivalves broiled with white wine, garlic and bacon. The ingredient list on the jar – which is available only at Target, and only to those who move quickly, since it was sold out at several nearby stores – looked like it might fill that bill, with garlic, lemon juice concentrate, and a clam base composed of clams and clam-juice concentrate.
But it was hard to know how seriously to take this new mayo, since its launch by the self-described folks behind the “party game for horrible people” was accompanied by a raft of bivalve-adjacent merch, including a pajama set printed with a clam pattern and a copy of a novel titled “Clammy Dick,” all of which seemed in pursuit of yuks more than anything else. Further casting doubt on its sincerity, its origins can be traced back to a stunt from last year’s Black Friday, when Cards Against Humanity paid people $5 each to tweet at Hellmann’s account urging the mayo giant to #BringBackCLAMONAISE, a product that never actually existed.
Jokes aside, here’s where I should note that I’m well aware that mayonnaise itself is a polarizing food. There are Reddit threads devoted to the hatred of the stuff, where it’s derided as “raw egg slime” and “mayo-nasty.” But I’m firmly on the pro side. I like it slathered on good bread and topped with ruby-red slices of tomato, dolloped onto a lacy-edged smash burger, and folded into briny tuna salad.
As part of the marketing around its new product, Cards Against Humanity offers several recipes that incorporate the mayo, including on a turkey-and-cheese sandwich, an accompaniment to a fried chicken sandwich, and a topping for clams casino. I decided to try it as a dip for fries, an application that would allow it to shine. I’m a fan of crisp frites with aioli, and I thought the Clam-o-Naise would be a decent stand-in for the usual garlicky stuff.
And as open-minded as I am, I was daunted by the concept and by the fact that Cards Against Humanity isn’t exactly known for culinary prowess, though its website offers the reassurance that “we worked with a team of chefs and food scientists to make it actually delicious.” When I asked co-workers to join me in sampling it, I couched my request as a plea for “anyone in the office who wants to join me/offer moral support.”
The first step was fishing out the pack of cards that were submerged in the jar, a process that only amps up the ick factor that the company seems to be going for. I washed my hands and pulled it out, rinsing the plastic envelope before opening it to find cards with seafood- and mayo-inspired phrases like “some kind of mayonnaise baptism” and “sneaking 700 steamed clams into a movie theater.” (For the uninitiated, the game involves one player throwing a prompt card and the others submitting an answer card they think best fills in the blanks.)
Hands washed again, and with only one brave colleague by my side, I finally dipped a fry, hesitantly, into the pale-yellow sauce, fearing even as I took that first bite that somehow I was being pranked. After all, could we really trust the twisted souls who conjured up cards like “kissing Grandma on the forehead and turning off her life support” and “Harry Potter erotica” (not to mention the multitude of naughtily depraved ones we can’t publish) to make a product fit for human consumption?
After I quashed my fears and chewed, I was pleasantly surprised. Salty, with a nicely acidic twang, the Clam-o-Naise proved to be a complex condiment that wouldn’t seem out of place in a smart bistro. If we weren’t well-aware of its signature ingredient, neither of us would have been able to guess it. Rather than screaming “bivalves!,” the Clam-o-Naise has the same briny umami as when you use a small amount of anchovy paste in a dish. We also couldn’t quite clock a discernible bacon flavor, though a touch of smoke added a little more depth.
It seemed counterintuitively versatile. I could imagine using it on BLTs and in deviled eggs, and as a zesty counterpoint to anything fried. Maybe alongside roasted vegetables? Why the shell not?
It’s unclear whether Cards Against Humanity will continue offering the product, or whether it will expand production, though it at least has a trademark on the name.
But at least for now, color me a clam-vert: Despite all the gags (and the gag-inducing marketing), this condiment is no joke.
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