Kitchen Intuition: Mastering mayonnaise

Authored By aliceodea

Last week in my column about french fries, I gave a shoutout to aioli in the final sentence. The reason is that I’m getting a little obsessed with aioli, along with its sibling, mayonnaise (the only difference between the two is that aioli contains garlic).

Tamar Adler, “An Everlasting Meal”

“The degrading of mayonnaise from a wonderful condiment for cooked vegetables or sandwiches to an indistinguishable layer of fat has been radical and violent.

“Mayonnaise is a food best made at home and almost never made at home. This has robbed us of something that is both healthy and an absolute joy to eat with gusto.”

I never was a huge fan of mayonnaise, but that’s because for a long time, I had never tried anything but the stuff you buy in the store, which can be rather bland (not to mention high in fat, calories, sodium, sometimes sugar and who knows what else). There’s a lot that has to be done to it to make it shelf-stable because authentic mayonnaise is prone to separating and spoils easily. Stabilizers and preservatives don’t improve the taste or the texture of the final product; they just make it easy to bottle and able to spend months on a grocery store shelf.

Homemade mayonnaise is such a completely different thing that the store version shouldn’t even be allowed to share the same name. Homemade mayonnaise’s texture is light and creamy, and the flavor is full and rich. Michael Ruhlman calls it “voluptuous” and suggests that the “flavor is so good that you could, and may, eat the mayo straight off the spoon.”

Making mayonnaise is incredibly quick and easy, though it can be a little tricky; you have to do things in the proper order. All you really need is a good egg yolk and some oil, but adding a bit of water and maybe a little salt, mustard and/or lemon juice can help. A few purists will argue that you should always make mayo with a whisk, but a lot of people agree that the process is much easier if you use a blender, food processor or handheld mixer. I like to use an immersion blender (which has the option of a whisk attachment).


How to make mayonnaise

The video at right demonstrates the basic technique. I like to use a light olive oil, but there are lots of other options. A sesame or nut oil will, of course, give you a different-flavored mayo than a more neutral canola oil. You’ll want up to a cup of oil per egg yolk, but the amount can vary quite a bit according to your tastes and when your mixture reaches the texture that you like.

A lot of people insist that the process is easier if you start with an egg that is at room temperature. Also, you obviously want a really good egg. As Ken Albala says, “If you’re going to eat raw egg yolk, you’d better be sure it came from a happy, healthy chicken.”

The very first aioli I made turned out perfectly. And then when I tried to make some mayonnaise, I found out what it means to have a “broken emulsion” that just won’t thicken, so plan to fail on the way to success, which is worth the effort. But if things do go wrong, don’t despair! You can fix it, either by adding water or another yolk. And once you’re satisfied with your emulsion, you can add seasonings and flavors for a real gourmet mayo, or you can use it as a base for other dressings, sauces and dishes (tuna salad, perhaps?).

Alice O’Dea has lived in Chattanooga for over 20 years, but was raised among the mucks and dairy farms in rural western New York. She didn’t really learn to cook until midlife. When she’s not puttering around in the kitchen, she enjoys running, cycling, traveling, photography and trying to get food to grow in the backyard of her Highland Park home. You can email her with questions, suggestions or comments at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not or its employees.