How Not to Screw Up Homemade Mayonnaise
Can you spot the mistake above?
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
First things first: If you've never had homemade mayonnaise, hie thee to Jeannine's Bistro or Cafe Brussels immediately and experience for yourself what real mayo is supposed to taste like. (PROTIP: Eat it with fries.) It's slightly tangy from lemon juice, and a darker chamois color than the wiggly white stuff that comes out of squeeze bottles thanks to the golden egg yolks that form its base and a dollop of Dijon mustard to kick it off. It's rich with the flavor of yolk and creamy with the texture of perfectly emulsified oil.
Although it seems daunting, you can make this magical creation at home. I encourage you to do so, in fact, for two reasons: It tastes better than anything you'll buy at a store, and you'll always know exactly what goes into it. No hidden ingredients here. And as you become proficient at making mayonnaise, you can make your own fancy mayo infusions -- or aiolis, if you want to get real pretentious about it -- with things like roasted garlic or wasabi or lime juice and Sriracha.
Mayo in under five minutes.
I know that people tell you not to use a food processor to make mayo at home, but that's just splitting hairs. Yes -- the serious mayonnaise connoisseur uses a wire whisk and emulsifies the egg yolks and oil by hand. And yes -- the resulting concoction is better and will hold up longer before the emulsification breaks. But if you're just whipping up a quick batch of mayo for potato salad, for example, save your upper arm strength and pulse those yolks into oblivion.
People will also tell you that you need to add the oil drop by excruciatingly slow drop, or that you have to start the mixture with a tablespoon of water. But I've made mayonnaise successfully without adhering to either of these caveats.
No, the real mistake that you can make at home is using olive oil in your mayonnaise.
Side note: Stop buying egg separators. That's what spoons (or your hands) are for.
Unless you really, really love the flavor of olive oil, stick with a more neutral oil than EVOO. Because no matter how good your olive oil is -- and no matter how much lemon juice, salt, vinegar or sugar you add -- the entire concoction is still mostly composed of whichever oil you used and will resultingly taste of olive oil and not much else. And that's not why you make or eat homemade mayonnaise.
Still, no less an authority than The New York Times encourages the use of olive oil.
"The more olive oil I used, the better I liked the resulting mayonnaise when eating it plain," wrote Melissa Clark last year, although she admitted that "using all neutral oil makes a better canvas for adding flavors. Safflower, canola, grapeseed and peanut oil all do nicely."
I consulted my mother -- a chef whose dual profession is verbally smacking me when I've screwed something up -- and she scoffed at the idea that I'd used olive oil. Canola, she noted, was also too aggressive in large amounts and should be avoided for the same reason as olive oil.
"Dumbass," was her pointed reply. "You should have used grapeseed oil. Why did you do that?"
This potato salad is going nowhere without mayonnaise. (And, yes, that wooden handle reads "Detective Scrot." Long story.)
The short answer: time. The mister and I were busy making Japanese salmon burgers and wasabi potato salad for lunch like the nerds that we are, and found out too late that the mayonnaise I'd bought from Whole Foods a few weeks back tasted funky, to put it nicely. We needed mayo for both the burgers and the potato salad, but who wants to burn the gas needed for a trip to the store simply for a bottle of mayonnaise?
But we did have plenty of eggs, vinegar, lemons and oil. Just...not anything else other than olive oil.
The final product, which whipped up quite nicely in the food processor, looked and felt lovely. And it managed to work in the potato salad, although we ultimately left it off the burgers, because I am simply not proficient enough in a kitchen to make olive oil and Japanese flavors play nicely together.
On the other hand, I'm looking forward to restocking the oil portion of the pantry this weekend with some more appropriate oils. Next up: lime-Sriracha mayo, this time with grapeseed oil -- because nothing is allowed to trump Sriracha.
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