the idiot's guide to making mayonnaise

homemade mayonnaise
I have mentioned before that I think that every cook should have at least one good sauce in their repertoire. Actually they should have more than one - enough to create the building blocks for other sauces. One of the best of these is mayonnaise.
But most people I know would rather reach for a jar of the ready-made stuff than make their own. Why? Because there is a misconception that making mayonnaise is hard, prone to disaster and just takes too long. OK, maybe it is just me that thought that, but I was wrong. Mayonnaise is pretty simple and relatively quick. It just needs a bit of patience and a steady hand.

Most of my prejudices against making mayonnaise at home were based on one experience 20 years ago! (Yes, I can hold a grudge!) A friend of mine at university, who we shall call Jane, was from a family of Francophiles. This was in itself was not a problem. I, however, was brought up in the Far East and loved to explore all sorts of different types of food. I was also just learning to cook - well teaching myself. But even in those days I was not very fond of being hectored or lectured. Jane, who apparently knew everything there was about cooking, felt that all cuisines apart from French were inferior and believed that my skills in the kitchen were somewhat limited.

Frankly there is little that is more irritating than being patronised by a know-it-all 18 year old. I wanted to have adventures in food and was feeling thoroughly demoralised by Jane's pronouncements that everything I knew about food was wrong and could only be improved by Frenching things up!

She decided to take me in hand and insisted that we start with mayonnaise. I suspect this cooking lesson has blighted my opinion on French food ever since. It wasn't that the end result tasted bad. It did not. It was lovely. What drove me nuts was that the mayonnaise took nearly an hour to make. I kid you not. For those of you who have made mayonnaise before will know that this is ridiculous. For those of you who have been put off from making mayonnaise because you think it will take too long, this story just confirms what you had always thought.

This is because I am an idiot and was too unnerved by the bludgeoning of Jane's personality to argue that literally dropping each drop of olive oil in very slow and minute amounts into the bowl of egg yolks and whisking was a process that could be speeded up. Jane had taken the mantra that mayonnaise needs to be made carefully and patiently and translated it into some kind of strange slow-motion interpretative dance that took nearly an hour to complete.

I am the idiot because I couldn't be bothered to challenge her purblind view of how to make a simple emulsion of egg, acid, salt and pepper. I am also the idiot that as a result of this experience, and the fact that actually I just didn't like Jane very much, I didn't start making mayonnaise again for nearly 20 years.

Yes, we can definitely assume, for the sake of argument, that I am the complete idiot when it comes to making mayonnaise. But I have seen the light and put my prejudices aside.

You will need about 125 ml of vegetable oil per egg yolk, a little acid (lemon juice or wine vinegar), salt and pepper and perhaps some mustard. That’s it. It really is that simple. Just remember to go slowly, just at first, and you will be rewarded with a lovely yellow sauce that is delicious with just about everything.

Skill level: Medium

2 x egg yolks 

salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp mustard powder (or 1 tsp Dijon mustard)
1 tsp fresh lemon juice or white wine vinegar
250ml mild olive oil (or ⅔ olive oil to ⅓ sunflower oil)

boiling water (optional)

  1. Whisk the egg yolks, and then add the salt, pepper and mustard powder. Continue to whisk.
  2. Add a few drops of the oil and whisk. Continue to add a few drops at a time and make sure that the oil is well combined before adding the next drop of oil. The secret to good mayonnaise is all about patience!
  3. Once the mixture begins to thicken, you can add more of the oil – with a steady hand, hold the whisk in one hand and the jug of oil in the other hand. Very slowly pour the oil in a steady stream, while continuing to whisk. When the mixture becomes very thick, add the lemon juice or wine vinegar.
  4. Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary.
  5. If you want a lighter or thicker mayonnaise, then add a tablespoon of boiling water and whisk this in.
  6. If (horror of horrors!) the mayonnaise curdles, don’t worry. This can be fixed. Put a fresh egg yolk into a clean bowl and very, very slowly (drop by drop), add the curdled mixture. Then add any remaining oil if necessary. Remember your mixture probably curdled because you had put too much oil in at once. This is a time for less speed!
  • Egg whites freeze really well, so keep them for meringues.
  • Mayonnaise is the perfect vehicle for all sorts of good things – from herbs such as fresh basil, other citrus such as lime. You can make a prawn cocktail sauce (Marie-Rose) by adding a little paprika, tomato ketchup, brandy and Tabasco sauce. My favourite tartare sauce is basically mayonnaise with chopped gherkins, capers, lemon zest and parsley. And if you are having chunky homemade chips, don’t forget a garlicky mayonnaise.


Working London Mummy Working London Mummy said...

Home made mayo is so lovely. I am getting hungry thinking the many uses it serves!

Kavey said...

Crikey, Jane sounds awful and her tantric method of mayo making is ridiculous.
Glad you came back to it, albeit after 20 years!!!

Donkey said...

I am hoping that Jane is no longer friend, if you could call her that...

I was always apprehensive with making mayo and I couldn't believe how easy it was. I just no longer use a recipe, if I want a little I just use 1 egg and pour in the oil and lemon juice until I think it's done.

I've never been a fan of mayo, but since making my own I really enjoy it.

Love the article and I can also hold a grudge like you hahaha lol

o cozinheiro este algarve said...

The magic that is mayonnaise.Every time I make home made mayonnaise it always seems like magic that one of the all time classic dressings transforms itself so suddenly from that unexpected amalgam of ingredients-egg yolks lemon juice, vinegar,mustard, salt and pepper,to a glorious creamy colured emulsion.I have to confess that nowadays I use a processor.Mayonnaise is my "building block"for aioli.