D.I.Y. Mayonnaise (Berlin, April 2012)

As part of an attempt to enjoy food to the fullest extent possible on a graduate student’s budget, I will be teaching myself how to make my own condiments this year. For me, the take-to-a-desert-island can’t-do-without condiments include Tabasco, mayonnaise and some sort of salty, sambal-style chili paste, as well as pickles of all sorts. I’ve not tried to make my own version of Tabasco- some things probably just can’t be improved -but the chili paste and mayonnaise, general types of condiment rather than distinct brands, are suitable territory for experiment.

It is questionable, I know, whether or not the do-it-yourself approach is really time or cost-efficient when it comes to condiments. To make something like ketchup yourself, you’d need a slew of ingredients that you might never use again, resulting in a cluttered cabinet and a waste of money. Then there’s the time it would take for cooking and preserving the product. But if you want to lend a sense of personality and uniqueness to your cooking as well as to gain a sense of accomplishment in a simple, relatively cheap way, learning how to make your own condiments is a great way to do it.

There’s also another point to this venture. Look on the list of ingredients in your favorite ketchup, mustard or mayonnaise bottle and you’re likely to find sweeteners, preservatives and agents used to stabilize the texture of the sauce. Since I fall in the camp of heavily saucing some of my foods, such additives add up (for me, eggs, potatoes and tacos often end up serving as mere vehicles for the various condiments that go along with them). Making your own thing is an easy way to avoid these types of ingredients if they bother you.

Today’s condiment is mayonnaise. This is one instance where the home-made thing is totally different than the store-bought. The texture is slightly heavier, the taste is stronger and the color is deeper- a shade between mustard-yellow and olive-green. It’s definitely worth the trouble if it’s going to be a prominent part of a dish – e.g. a part of a dip or salad dressing, or in a potato salad.

There are hundreds of recipes for mayonnaise out there and the one I’m going to give isn’t substantially different, except in one aspect that I’ve found to be very important: the proportion of oil to egg yolk. Most of the recipes I saw called for one egg yolk and between 3/4 and 1.5 cups of oil. I tried making it with this amount of oil many times and consistently failed. After adding around half of the oil, the mixture “broke,” meaning that it lost the thick, spreadable texture that I had worked so hard to build up. I was left with a runny, yellow-green mess and an hour of my Sunday afternoon lost.

Then I stumbled upon a [ thread on food.com ] where Julia Child was quoted, explaining that most egg yolks in the U.S.A. could not absorb more than 3/4 cup of oil. Apparently, the same is true for German eggs. Child recommends not adding more then 1/2 cup of oil if you’re new to the process. I would say measure out this much oil but don’t even feel the need to use it all. Once the mixture becomes thick enough, just stop. If you need to make more than half a cup of mayo, use two egg yolks.

I do this by hand with a deep bowl and a metal whisk. I tried using a food processor and it was a disaster. The hand-whisk method is fool-proof if you are slow and patient, and stop when the consistency is right. It takes a good 30 minutes but it’s worth it for the taste of the final product.

This post is just about the method to make the condiment, but I will follow it up with an artichoke-related recipe tomorrow so you can put your amazing, hand-made mayonnaise to good use.

Note on the oil and acid: Definitely use a lightly colored and flavored oil. There’s no point in using a nice olive oil for this. I used a mix of equal parts sunflower-seed oil and low-grade olive oil. This gave it a nice color and flavor, but it would have been fine with just the sunflower-seed oil as well, I think. I prefer lemon juice to vinegar as I think it makes for a lighter-tasting product.

Basic mayonnaise

Ingredients (makes about 1/2 cup)

1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon dijon mustard

1/4 cup of sunflower-seed oil

1/4 cup of olive oil

Salt

Directions

After separating the yolk from the white, whisk it together with the lemon juice, mustard and a few grinds of salt in a large, deep bowl. Make sure it’s thoroughly mixed together.

Mix the oils together in a measuring cup with a good spout. You want to be able to carefully control the flow of the oil as you pour it into the egg-yolk mixture.

Pour yourself a drink and turn on either a good radio program or some music. This will take a few minutes and you might as well enjoy it.

Begin by adding one or two drops of oil to the egg yolk mixture. Whisk until it is completely incorporated. You know it’s fully incorporated when the mixture looks completely homogenous. Continue to incorporate the oil, 2-3 drops at a time. You can rest between additions, refill your drink etc. as long as you make sure to fully incorporate after each addition of oil.

Continue doing this until the mixture thickens to a point where it no longer runs off the whisk when you lift it up (see stage 3 below). At this point, you can add a bit more oil each time- a teaspoon or so.

When the mixture is thick enough to be spreadable you’re done (it will start to cling together and stick inside the whisk at this point) . You might have a bit of oil left over. Use it in a salad dressing.

Stages of mayonnaise mixing, documented:

Stage 1: The yolk mixture is fully blended and the first few drops of oil are added and fully incorporatedIt’s still a thin, fluid sauce at this point so you need to be patient and add the oil very slowly.

Stage 2: After incorporating around 1/3 of the oil, the mixture will begin to noticeably thicken and take on a sheen. You are still not ready to add whole spoons of oil. Continue to add just a couple of drops at a time.

Stage 3: The mixture has become thick and doesn’t run easily. When you raise the whisk, it falls off in clumps. Now you can add oil by the teaspoonful, but still make sure to incorporate fully between additions. 

Stage 4: Aaaand, we’re done. Once the mixture takes on the consistency of a spread, it’s fine to stop even if you haven’t used all the oil.

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3 comments
  1. Phil said:

    Adding a bit of boiling water (say a half teaspoon while whisking) once the mayo is spreadable will lighten the color and help set the emulsion so that it lasts longer before separating.

    • sabaladas said:

      Thanks for the tip! I remember that you used to make a mean mayo in the Cleaver Street days…

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