Home-made Mayonnaise is a Gift from the Gods. Home-made mayo is to bottled mayo what a live performance of Kathleen Ferrier is to a digitally remastered CD. The former is of course to be preferred, but not always readily available. The latter is not the best one can have, but you can bring it on any time you like. In due time, I will tackle the – delicate – question of how best to chose your bottled mayo. But today, I will merely instruct you how to be Divine in your own humble kitchen.
Unspeakable rubbish has always been written by those Grand Inquisitors of Cuisine, the cookbooks of repute and fame. For some dark reason they all want you to believe that creating a home-made mayonnaise is a difficult and dangerous endeavour. Some say that all the tools and ingredients (yes: even the salt shaker!) must be at room temperature (21º Celsius exactly) for the attempt to succeed. Some pretend that any bowl of home-made mayo is a lethal source of killer salmonella. Others yet again assure you that mayonnaise will never catch if a thunderstorm is threatening overhead, and that it will surely curdle if you reverse the motion of beating for even one thoughtless moment. Lastly there are those that insist you must set aside the better part of two hours to beat a decent mayo.
Forgive them, Lord, they don’t know what they’re babbling about!
Making a home-made mayo is easy (once you get the knack of it), quick (10 minutes), perfectly safe (is France depopulated?) and tremendously satisfying. Here is all you need to use, observe and do.
Ingredients and tools
One large bowl with a high rim
A medium size spoon
1 egg yolk
1.5 to 2 decilitres quality oil
1 teaspoon of medium strong mustard
Salt and pepper (to taste)
A tablespoon of lemon juice or mild vinegar
And that’s all, folks! The above ingredients will serve two peckish or three modest eaters (1 decilitre of oil yielding roughly 1.2 decilitre of mayo).
A word about quality. Of course, your mayonnaise will not taste any better than the ingredients you use. Free range eggs must always be preferred to Sing-Sing eggs. As for the oil: just about any quality oil will do: peanut-, soy-, maize-, or sunflower oil. Many people, with good reason, prefer olive oil. However, a true first pressing ‘virgin’ olive oil is far too strong for mayo, and should not be used alone. Mix it with another oil (1:5 max) if you must have the Mediterranean touch. Finally: the more oil you add, the less egg you will taste. So be discreet, and if need be do the smart thing and use two yolks.
Now what are we going to do? We are going to make an emulsion of the above, i.e. tiny drops of oil hanging on for dear life to tiny drops of egg yolk. This simply means that the oil and the egg yolk have to be whipped violently into tiny little droplets and gradually mixed together until the sauce is stiff. Necessarily this takes some time, care and effort, but we can stimulate the metamorphosis by tossing in a nice dose of mustard, which also adds taste, and some lemon juice or vinegar, which helps the process along while it kills off unwanted bacteria too. So here we go.
Stage 1: Put the egg yolk into the bowl. Add salt, pepper, mustard and some of the lemon juice (to make sure that the mixture will “catch” in the beginning, go modest on the juice). Stir a little until all these are properly mixed.
Stage 2: Now, as you stir, start adding the oil. At first this should be done drop by drop, so that every bit of oil gets mingled evenly through the yolk. First nothing seems to happen. Then, after roughly 3 tablespoons of oil, you will notice that the mixture gets a little thicker. It has “caught”.
Stage 3: Cautiously, you can now begin to add larger quantities of oil. The sauce will get thick. Then very thick. This is the moment to add the remaining lemon juice. It will make the mixture a little thinner again. From here on, you may add as much oil as you like, until the sauce has the thickness, texture and colour you desire. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. And that’s it. Your Mayonnaise is ready for the table!
Stage 4 (preservation): If your mayo will not be eaten within the hour, put it in the fridge. There it will keep for a week, but it rapidly loses taste and texture, so I do not recommend keeping it that long. Never freeze mayo, it simply will turn to mush. Also: if you make your mayo 12 hours or more in advance, it is a good idea to add one or two tablespoon of warm water at the very end of the process. It makes the mayo only slightly thinner, but keeps it stiff for a much longer period. And remember: roughly an hour after production, mayo should not again be stirred. It will disintegrate if you do.
Occasionally, because you added too much oil too early in the process, or for no apparent reason (thunderstorms, radio waves, the neighbours playing Herb Alpert music with an open window…), your mayonnaise will not catch, or it will begin to curdle in mid process (ugly little flakes of yolk floating in a sea of dirty oil). Pretty much all the cookbooks then tell you to put a fresh egg yolk in a fresh bowl, and start all over again, using the curdled mixture for oil. I also recommend that solution, if you want to end up with 20 litres of mayonnaise at the end of an exhausting Saturday afternoon.
If that idea does not appeal to you, use instead the Inimitable Mittington Method: get a fresh bowl. Put a dash of mustard into it. Slowly, ever so slowly, whip spoonfuls of the curdled mixture into the mustard. Before you know it, it will catch. Continue with stage 3 above.
Lastly, if you really can’t get it done, as a last and desperate resort, you may add dry mustard powder to the mix. This will make your mayo ‘catch’ immediately. Note however, that you must then add much more liquid (even water) to attain the right thickness of the sauce, since mustard powder absorbs fluids madly. If even THAT doesn’t work, do not use maizena, gelatine, wheat flour, mashed butter or agar-agar. Just get a rope and hang yourself in the attic. Your life is obviously doomed!
There are many, many ways in which you can destroy a perfectly good mayonnaise, and most of them are avidly promoted by popular cookbooks. So the unenviable task falls to this weary old man of warning you what never to do to your mayonnaise. That is, however, a herculean task, for there is no limit to the absurdities the proponents of bad taste will invent in their never-ending quest for self-aggrandizement, originality and health hype. The duty must therefore be postponed to the near future. Keep tuned in, ye readers of taste and sophistication! Alfred B. Mittington will be back!