Halal Guys White Sauce


Don’t want to hear the backstory? 
Jump straight to the recipe. .

For the last six years, I have been obsessing over halal cart chicken and rice. I got my first taste of it at a cart in Arlington, Virginia and quickly was getting it for lunch multiple times per week. There was something that drew me to the juicy chicken and spiced rice, but it was mostly all about the white sauce. My standard order was chicken over rice with a side of chickpeas – extra white sauce with a little bit of harissa. People in my office became obsessed as well and home recreations were a pretty common discussion point.

I travel to Manhattan for work five or six times a year, and I always make it a point to get some late night halal cart. Each one is a little bit different in their own way, but they all serve the magical sauce. However, most people will tell you that the best in town is the original Halal Guys cart on 53rd St and 6th Ave. They always have a line, but they move quickly and always serve you with a smile and generous portion of their white sauce.

A few years ago The Halal Guys took their concept to a franchise and a store opened just a couple of miles from my house. I could now get the sauce whenever I wanted. One thing that I loved was that they would give you the sauce on the side, in a packet. The ingredients were definitely something that I was not expecting.

Ingredients from a packet of Halal Guys white sauce

You see, we had been trying to recreate the sauce for years. The best that we had found was the recipe from J. Kenji Lopez Alt that was a mixture of mayo and yogurt with parsley, lemon, and sugar. Obviously, there was no yogurt in this mix (it contains dairy, which is an allergen and must be listed). I remembered that Kenji had posted in a reddit thread that the sauce likely doesn’t actually have lemon and instead of a mayo/yogurt mix, they used Miracle Whip.

I made up a batch of Kenji’s recipe and it didn’t taste quite like I expected. It was good, but it wasn’t the halal cart sauce that I was used to. I started doing some more research and came up on the excellent food blog, Burnt My Fingers. They had come to the same realization that I did after looking at the nutrition facts of the white sauce over time – there are some shenanigans going on.

The white sauce nutrition label seems like a huge misdirection. An earlier version of the packets listed the sauce as only 50 calories per service with 5g of fat. They later updated it to 330 calories per serving and 36g of fat. A nearly 700% increase while maintaining the same product inside. The Halal Guys website now lists it as having a completely different number! Even better, their website lists a serving as having 17g of carbs where the packets list 0g. Either there are multiple different versions of the sauce going around, or some misdirection is at play.

The Burnt My Fingers blog did a breakdown and found that it seems like the sauce is just thinned-down mayonnaise with some black pepper added. I thought that there was no way this could be true, so I did a three-way test.

Halal Guys sauce (left), Burnt My Fingers Recipe (middle), Serious Eats Recipe(right)

I was totally shocked. The Serious Eats recipe, while delicious, was way off. The Burnt My Fingers recipe was nearly identical though. The pepper distribution, acidity, and color were missing a bit, so I set out to correct it.

Extra Heavy Mayonnaise

The first thing that I remembered was seeing a giant tub of “Extra Heavy Mayonnaise” at a cart one time. This is mayonnaise made with egg yolks instead of whole eggs. It’s typically sold at big-box and restaurant supply stores, so it’s out of reach for most of us.

Fortunately, I’ve found that there is a brand called Blue Plate that sells the closest thing that you can get to extra heavy mayonnaise at most grocery stores. I was able to find it at most grocers where I live in Virginia. Any mayo that uses egg yolks instead of whole eggs will do though.

Blue Plate Mayonnaise

The extra-heavy mayonnaise is a bit more yellow than your standard mayo and makes the color pretty much perfect. In fact, when I lined up the ingredient list between the Blue Plate and the Halal Guys packet, there was a HUGE overlap in ingredients.

Ingredient mapping from Blue Plate mayonnaise (top) to Halal Guys White Sauce packet (bottom)

The only missing ingredients are “spices”, xantham gum, and sodium benzoate. Spices can be a lot of things on a nutrition label, but according to FDA Title 21 §182.10 they must be “generally recognized as safe” and cannot be an allergen that would otherwise be undisclosed on the label. For the spices, I agree with the Burnt My Fingers consensus that it is just black pepper – and if there are any additional ingredients they are such a small quantity that they are not noticeable. The other two ingredients – xatham gum and sodium benzoate are to maintain freshness and the emulsion. We can omit them for home use.

Figuring out how much to thin the sauce was actually pretty easy. Since the same quantity of pure extra-heavy mayo would be approximately 400 calories, some simple math shows that to get to the 330 calorie target you need to add 3 tablespoons per cup of a low calorie liquid. Based on the results of other attempts I did three test batches on a small scale. All water for one test and all vinegar in another, hoping to eventually meet somewhere in the middle.

To my astonishment, the all water sauce was the perfect taste and consistency. It turns out that the white sauce is pretty much just mayonnaise, water, and black pepper.

I did experiment with the black pepper a bit. You want to make sure that you use something freshly ground as finely as your pepper mill will grind. Give the sauce about 30 minutes for the flavors to mix before using. I attempted a few other spices, but they were either throwing off the flavor or were not noticeable in the final sauce. Using lemon pepper made a really nice sauce, but it didn’t taste like Halal Guys.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of “Extra Heavy” Mayonnaise. Look for something made with egg yolks. Blue Plate brand is good.
  • 3 tablespoons of water.
  • ½ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper (fine)

Preparation:

Mix all ingredients together until smooth. Allow to rest for 30 minutes.

8 comments

  1. I honestly couldn’t believe that the recipe could be this simple so I went to the store and got some of their sauce and did a side-by-side comparison. Me and my family can’t tell the difference. My mind is blown!!!

  2. Thanks for your work. I wonder if you have explored the very popular Japanese “Kewpie” mayo. I think the ingredients list look very similar and promising. I will use it this weekend and try to make a good “halal cart sauce”.

    1. I don’t know how it compares to the sauce, but you can make your own “Kewpie” mayo using the Serious Eats Japanese-Style (Kewpie) Mayo recipe. It is SOOO good- much better than Kewpie.

  3. You need to be a part of a contest for one of the greatest sites online. I’m going to recommend this site!

  4. I am from the UK and Halal Guys opened up over here in London a couple of years ago. I live near their branch so i go there quite a lot. It was quite interesting reading this blog as i have just looked at the UK packets of the White Sauce that they give to you and the ingredients seems to confirm everything you have said.

    “INGREDIENTS: Mayonnaise (Rapeseed Oil (80%), Spirit Vinegar (8%), Pasteurised Chicken Egg (8%), Salt, Sugar, Calcium Disodium Ethylenediaminetetraacetic Acid (E385)), Water, Ground Black Peppercorn, Ground White Peppercorn, Guar Gum (E412), Xanthan Gum (E415).”

    But it is interesting to see that here in the UK there is no “Natural Flavouring” or “Spices” and that they list the full ingredients of it. I think we have stricter food laws and labelling laws so it is harder to hide things. But it does confirm pretty much what you have said about what the White Sauce contains. Maybe the UK and USA versions are slightly different to each other (as they are probably made by different manufacturers) but they both taste identical to me (i have been to New York City and eaten at Halal Guys there) so the White Sauce really is much simpler than what most people think.

  5. I have made this over 10 times now. This man has cracked the code. Indistinguishable from the cart.

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