Sauces and Salsas The Book

134. Mayonnaise p.886

Surprisingly there’s no recipe on Epicurious for plain old mayonnaise.

This is The Book’s basic mayonnaise recipe, there are 7 other dressed up mayonnaises which use this recipe as a starting point, so I’ll be making it a bunch of times. As with most of the basic recipes in the book, it’s solid, but not exciting. However, that’s not a bad thing. I made the mayo recipe from the ’76 edition of The Joy of Cooking, and it was a disaster. Joy is often considered the home cook’s go to source for no-fail basic recipes, and you’d think they’d have a rock solid mayo method, but no. Mayonnaise is made by whisking an egg yolk with oil a drop at a time to get an emulsion started, then pouring in a staggering amount of oil in a slow stream while whisking madly. Once the mayo is thickened and the emulsion is no longer at risk of breaking, you can add extra flavourings. The crazy Joy method would have you add mustard, salt, cayenne, lemon juice, and confectioners sugar before you start the emulsion at all. The mustard is a common addition because it helps the emulsion form, but adding the lemon juice is just stupidity. The acid fights the emulsion you’re working so hard to build, why would you put it in there? I whisked for about 20 minutes before I could get a thin soupy consistency. It was an OK salad dressing, but a horrific mayo. The Book’s method is much more logical, and worked very well.

In this recipe an egg yolk is whisked together with Dijon and salt, then 3/4 of a cup of oil are added first by drops then in a slow stream. Once the mixture starts to thicken to the point that it’s getting difficult to whisk, and the emulsion is solid, you add a bit of white wine vinegar, and lemon juice. Then the remainder of the oil is added in a stream, and salt and white pepper are stirred in.

The mayo wasn’t quite as thick as I would have liked. You’d be better applying this with a spoon than a knife. But, it was silky smooth, and nicely glossy. I might have cut 1/2 a teaspoon of liquid somewhere to keep the mayo thicker. The flavour was pretty good, it had the eggy richness I look for in a mayonnaise, with a little bite from the vinegar and lemon juice, and a background body from the mustard. It was very nice spread on a sandwich, and quite a bit better than the the stuff that comes from a jar.

My only real complaint was the instruction to use either olive oil or vegetable oil in the recipe without further specification. Depending on your olive oil it can have a very pronounced taste, which is great for some applications, but it can make for a very weirdly flavoured mayonnaise. I made mayo at my brother’s place a few weeks back, and the only oil he had was olive, that mayo was edible, but none of us liked it much. It lacked the  mellow feeling I’m looking for in mayo, all of those grassy spicy flavours I enjoy in good olive oil where just unpleasant and distracting when they were so amplified. If you’re going to use all olive oil, I’d recommend using very mildly flavoured oil, preferably not extra virgin. I think the best tactic is to use a small amount of good olive oil for flavour, and then use a flavourless oil for the rest of it (canola, or grapeseed would be my first choices, using about 1 part olive oil to 3 parts other oil).

Mayonnaise is quite easy to make, and homemade has a definite edge over the store bought kind. I’ve always been disturbed by the fact that Hellman’s is made with real eggs, but keeps for months. Without all of the shelf-stable preservatives this mayo will only keep for two days. Since it’s really not much trouble to make, and it tastes better than the miracles of food science on the grocery shelf, I’ve been getting into the habit of making my own. This recipe uses a solid method, and it’s a jumping off point for a lot of interesting variations. It won’t blow your mind, and I’ve had better homemade mayo, but it’s worth trying at least once.