Homemade mayonnaise without tears (Basics)

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If there is one food that has defeated me over the years, it's mayonnaise. For the longest time I couldn't figure out how to make a good mayonnaise. I read the instructions in numerous cookbooks. I watched the Good Eats episode about it. I tried using a food processor, a stick blender, whipping by hand.

Every time, I'd end up with a mess - eggy globs floating in a sea of oil, sort of like a Chinese eggdrop soup. Eggdrop soup is delicious, but eggdrop oil is not.

Why would I even bother to make mayonnaise? All I can say is that once you've tried homemade mayonnaise made with real fresh eggs, the store bought stuff would just not be enough. Even my favorite commercial mayonnaise in the world, Kewpie Mayonnaise, pales in comparison.

But finally and completely by accident, I discovered how to make mayonnaise that is creamy, eggy, and smooth without fail.

So if you have had mayonnaise problems too, read on....

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The ingredients

You will need:

  • 2 large, fresh, organic or pasteurized eggs. The egg is not cooked so it must be certifiably fresh and/or pasteurized. This is not just to avoid any problems with salmonella and so on, but because fresh eggs emulsify much better. I use date-stamped eggs, or the fresh ones I can buy from a local farm.
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups of oil. The choice of oil varies based on what you intend the mayo to be used for. Normally I use a flavorless oil such as peanut or safflower, but for making a mayo for dipping vegetables in, or as a basis for aioli (garlic mayonnaise) I use either a mixture of safflower and extra virgin olive oil, or olive oil alone. If you use all olive oil, the predominant taste in your mayo will be olive oil. My usual preference is for the egg flavor to be more forthcoming.
  • 1-2 Tbs. lemon juice or white wine vinegar. Again, the amount of acidic liquid you add will influence the flavor of your mayo.
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp. salt, to taste.
  • Optional: 1/4 Tbs mustard powder, OR 1 Tbs. mustard. Again...the type of mustard and the amount will also change the flavor. I actually prefer no mustard at all, or just a smidgen of mustard powder, but this is a matter of personal taste of course.
  • Finally, all the ingredients (and equipment) should be at room temperature.

The equipment

  • I prefer to make mayonnaise with an electric whisk. You can use a food processor or a stick blender, but I find that both of those methods make a mayo that is very stiff. Whisks seem to make a lighter mayo. A hand whisk would work too, but electric is easier. The hand-cranked type of beater will not work because it requires two hands. One hand for your beater of choice, one hand for the squeeze bottle, is what you will need.
  • 2 small to medium sized bowls.
  • A moistened kitchen towel, to place under the bowls to keep them from moving about. This is critical since you will be using both hands as mentioned above.
  • A plastic squeeze bottle with a small nozzle. Mine is a $1 'dressing bottle' that I bought at the almost-everything-for-$1 store in Japantown in San Francisco.

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  • Optional equipment: an iPod. You'll be standing around drizzling oil s-l-o-w-l-y for some time so the iPod will keep away the boredom. (You may choose to substitute another MP3 player.) For maximum effect use noise-cancelling headphones to shut out most of the egg beater racket.

The procedure

Put your chosen oil into the plastic squeeze bottle. My pink capped bottle just happens to hold exactly 1.5 cups.

Separate the egg yolks from the whites; discard the whites or keep them for something else. Put the two egg yolks in the two bowls - one yolk per bowl. Why? You will see.

Add about 1/2 tsp of salt and the optional mustard to one of the bowls.

Start beating at low speed. In short order the egg yolk will look rather sticky. Add the oil, drop by drop, to the egg yolk mixture. And I do mean drop by drop. This is really critical to creating the emulsion that is the basis of mayonnaise.

Keep adding the oil, drop by drop.

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After a while you'll get tired and bored and start thinking, it's safe to add the oil faster now, and you'll squeeze that bottle a bit harder. It's human nature to do so, and besides, the books tell you that you can add the oil faster once the emulsion has started. Now, if you are lucky your mayo will still be smooth and cohesive. But in my case this is rare. Usually it separates into that icky eggdrop oil:

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This is where the second yolk comes in. Transfer your whisk or beater to the other bowl, the one with the second yolk. Beat this one like the first one until it looks a bit sticky. Now add the egg-oil mixture from the first bowl to this, one spoonful at a time, making sure to beat each spoonful in. Here you see the eggdrop oil mix going into the new emulsion:

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It's quite safe to add that partially emulsified but separating mixture in spoonfuls rather than drop-by-drop to the new egg yolk emulsion. Just be sure that each spoonful is incorporated. Keep adding until all the eggdrop oil is gone. At this point you can resume adding the rest of the oil in the squeeze bottle, in a thin stream - keep beating, and it will not separate.

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When all the oil is added, add the lemon juice. Start with 1 tablespoonfull, beat in, then taste. Add more if you want it a bit more lemony. The lemon juice will lighten the color of the mayo. Adjust the salt too, if needed.

You will end up with approximately 2 cups of beautiful mayonnaise.

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This is pure, preservative-free mayonnaise, so use it up within a couple of days. Store it well covered in the refrigerator.

Variations and uses

  • Add 1 to 2 crushed garlic cloves to turn mayonnaise into an aioli-like mayonnaise. (Note: 'real' aioli is quite a bit rougher. I'll try to post a recipe someday).
  • To make saffron aioli that is served with a bouillabase in Marseilles, soak a pinch of saffron threads in a tiny bit of warm water. Whisk this into the garlic aioli above.
  • For Japanese style mayonnaise a la Kewpie, use a sweet tasting apple cider vinegar (note: I used to think it was rice vinegar but perusing some manufacturer's sites, it seems apple vinegar is more usual) for the vinegar component, a neutral flavored oil such as canola or safflower oil, and add a little sugar (about 1/2 teaspoon) when you add the salt.
  • Add about 1/2 cup of finely chopped pickles to turn it into tartar sauce.
  • Add a bit more lemon to the mayo than you normally might, and use as a sauce for seafood like shrimp and other shellfish. (At a certain restaurant in Strasbourg, France, they serve a humongous assiette de fruits de mer (seafood platter with a variety of steamed and chilled shellfish) with home made mayonnaise that is almost green because of the use of extra virgin olive oil.)
  • To lighten up mayonnaise, mix with plain yogurt or totally emulsified (in the food processor) cottage cheese.
  • Add chopped hardboiled eggs, or even just the egg yolks, to make it very eggy. Incease the amount of egg to make it egg salad.
  • My stepfather loves to eat grilled himono (dried fish), especially dried octopus or squid, with mayonnaise sprinkled with a little red pepper powder.
  • Mayonnaise is used as a sauce for okonomiyaki - Japanese savory pancake, and takoyaki

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