Oh mayonnaise. I love you. I do. But I abhor what has been done to you. Best Foods, Hellmans, Miracle Whip. If you like those items, fine. But don’t call them mayonnaise. They are not even poor imitations of the real thing, they are their own separate entity. What’s with the white for starters? Real mayonnaise is yellow, as yellow as the egg yolk that is used, as yellow as yellow was ever intended to be. I’ll just go ahead and say it, it’s as yellow and essential as warm and lazy afternoon sunshine.
So, food industry rants aside, let’s talk about mayonnaise and why making your own mayonnaise at home should be something you do every week. First, it tastes a bajillion times better than anything store-bought. Second, you can use whatever oil you would like to use. Olive oil is the classic and is my personal favorite, but sunflower seed oil makes a mild and creamy spread and I’m sure avocado or almond oils, for instance, would bring their own unique flavor to bear. Oil combinations are something you could play with. Third, assuming you have access to good egg yolk, you can reap the massive health benefits of raw egg yolk without having to go all Rocky and make yourself a glass of eggs before your dawn run through Philadelphia. Fourth, so long as you have access to a food processor that has an opening for pouring into, it’s fast and easy.
If you’re on board with the quality argument but not the quantity argument (fresh mayo every week, Riva, why?), hear me out. This stuff is good. So good that you will put dollops of it on your salad instead of salad dressing. So good that you will run out to the store just to buy bacon and tomatoes for the best BLT you’ve ever had. So good that you will start topping your soups with it. So good that you’ll eat the raw veggies you ought to eat, dipping them into mayo with each bite.So good that you will start thinking up mayo-friendly dishes just for an excuse to eat mayonnaise.
It’s expensive, I’ll grant you that. It’s mostly oil, and if you use good oil (and you should, read up on rancid oils and healthy vs. unhealthy oils) it will add up. We figure we spend about $5 a week making our mayo. But again, it’s worth it! Do the math, eat a spoonful (with, um, salad… or not…), and start making mayo.
If you have a recipe all set and you’re good to go, then go forth and mayo! If you’d like to geek out on emulsions with me, read on….
Mayonnaise is an emulsion. This is a stable combination of two things that don’t usually combine, like oil and water. Vinaigrettes are an example of this, although most vinaigrettes need to be shaken if they’re not used right after making so their stability is, well, not that stable. But mayonnaise when done right is thick, creamy, and almost fluffy. Mark Ruhlman has a great emulsion chapter in Ratio, and he talks a lot about the basic mayo ratio. And I gotta say, though I love this book and I enjoy this chapter for it’s academic nature, it is a bit overwhelming and I wouldn’t start here if you’re a mayo novice. Read the chapter then look elsewhere for a simple place to start. At their most basic, all recipes will have some amount of egg yolk (the emulsifier), some larger amount of oil (the body), and some kind of seasonings. This typically involves mustard or mustard powder (an emulsifier in its own right), some kind of acid (cider vinegar is my favorite, but lemon juice is a classic, and a good red or white wine vinegar would be lovely), and salt. Like garlic? The out-of-control delicious aioli is a garlic mayonnaise. And once you’ve got the basics down, you can dress it up any way you want. Add herbs, add a bit of heat, sweeten it up with maple syrup (this is actually a great idea if you’re used to Miracle Whip and like a slightly sweet version of a white non-mayo spread). I once had a molasses-ancho chili mayo on a killer turkey sandwich. Cranberries! Add cranberries or cranberry chutney to the mayo at Thanksgiving for the best leftover turkey sandwich ever!
Okay, I’m done rhapsodizing about flavor. On to structure. Making mayonnaise, though very easy, is very particular. You CANNOT just throw all the ingredients together and shake like you can with a vinaigrette. It is imperative that you follow these instructions, or whatever instructions come with a recipe you use (see below for the one I use):
- First, mix together your egg yolk, acid, mustard, seasonings, etc.
- Second, have the oil ready to go in a pourable carafe or container of some kind. It’s best to use a food processor with an opening or tube into which you can SLOWLY pour the oil, but this can be done by hand. Traditional aioli, for example, is made in a mortar and pestle. If you’re whisking by hand, use a big bowl secured on a damp towel so it won’t slip everywhere.
- Third, start the processor or start whisking and add a couple of drops of oil. You need to go super-slowly at first, especially if you are doing this by hand. I cannot emphasize this enough. Once you’re used to making it you can be a little more aggressive with your pouring but when you’re new to mayo-making take it slow. It’s like a first date with a really shy person who you know is amazing behind that shyness so it’s totally worth going slow and just buying them one drink in the course of two hours. You can add the oil more quickly as you get closer to the end – the more oil that is already in there, the more easily the emulsion will tolerate more oil. And in many recipes, including the one below, once the oil is blended in you add a bit of warm-hot water to stabilize the emulsion. I don’t get the science behind this one. I should probably re-read that chapter in Ratio.
So there it is. Literally it takes two minutes in a food processor. Longer obviously by hand, longer still with that whole mortar and pestle thing. Give it a try. Report back. And if you tell me you put it on ice-cream I will definitely not judge you.
*Special thanks to Barrels Community Market for letting me make my mayo with their food processor on my volunteer days in the kitchen!
1 egg (I know, not just the yolk – this is actually the whole reason I use this recipe!)
3 tsp vinegar or lemon juice
1 tsp mustard, I like dijon
1/2 tsp salt
1 scant cup olive oil
1 T warm-hot water