There are a lot of people who will tell you that once you make homemade mayonnaise, you’ll never go back, selling its conversion properties as Damascene. And homemade mayonnaise is glorious, truly a class apart. But I love mayonnaise from a bottle, or a jar, spooned out liberally onto hard boiled eggs, smeared onto BLTs, or squeezed onto cold, roast chicken, straight from the fridge.
And I wouldn’t seek to replace it with the homemade stuff. Not just because I have a deeply held, almost Proustian love for it, but because – let’s be real – making homemade mayonnaise is a bit of a faff. It’s not on the same scale as soufflés or choux pastry, or even other egg-based sauces like hollandaise, but it takes a bit more effort that opening the fridge, and sometimes, that’s simply more effort than I’m willing to give. Those who try to convince you to eschew the shop bought jars either have significantly more time or patience than I do.
But the homemade version is markedly different and, when you have time and energy, it is absolutely worth both: the palest primrose, unlike the bright white stuff from the bottle, satin-smooth and wibbly, and simultaneously less brash and fuller of flavour than the alternative. It’s also immensely satisfying to make, one of those little examples of kitchen alchemy, where something transforms, implausibly, before your eyes.
The first, and indeed main thing, you need to know about mayonnaise is that it is an emulsion, and emulsions can break. This isn’t to scare you: as with most things, your chances of success rise exponentially if you arm yourself with the facts in advance. Its status as an emulsion means that it is formed of tiny droplets of oil suspended in an egg yolk and water base; it is the suspension of those drops of oil which can be tricky to achieve.
Ensuring all the ingredients are room temperature will help a lot; as will only using extra virgin olive oil to flavour rather than emulsify: extra virgin is less stable than its refined alternatives. For the mayonnaise novice, it’s best to begin carefully and patiently. Add the oil literally drop by drop, until the mixture noticeably thickens, at which point you can be a little more cavalier in your oil-pouring. Because this is an emulsion, the more oil you add, the thicker the mayonnaise will become, which can seem counter-intuitive. So if you prefer a thinner mixture, don’t add extra oil in the hope of loosening it!
You’ll know if your mayonnaise splits: first the mixture will fail to thicken, and then it will become streaky and greasy. If it does split on you, don’t panic, it is fixable: take a new egg yolk, whisk it briefly with a little more salt, and then add the split mixture one drop at a time as you would with the oil, until an emulsion is formed.
Once you’ve mastered the classic mayonnaise, the world’s your oyster: generally, you can bash up any flavouring you like and mix it through at the end of making the mayonnaise, but the following may provide some inspiration:
– Anchovy mayonnaise: chop two small or one large anchovy, or bash them in a pestle and mortar, and mix through.
– Taragon: finely chop 1 level tablespoon of fresh tarragon and stir through the finished mayonnaise.
– Saffron: soak a pinch of saffron strands in a tablespoon of warm water until it has released its colour and scent. Stir through the mayonnaise.
– Aioli: chop a clove of garlic as small as you can and stir through the mayonnaise or, for a mellower, rounder flavour, roast the garlic first in its skin, and allow to cool before peeling and bashing in a pestle and mortar.
Makes: 300ml mayonnaise
Takes: 10 minutes
Bakes: No time at all
2 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
200ml olive oil
50ml extra virgin olive oil
1. Leave the ingredients to come to room temperature. Whisk the egg yolks vigorously with the salt, mustard and vinegar.
2. Place the bowl you are using on a tea towel to stop it moving around. Beginning with the normal olive oil, add the oil drop by drop, whisking constantly; the mixture will begin to thicken.
3. As the mixture thickens, you can add the oil with a little more confidence, pouring it in a thin but constant stream, whisking all the time. When you have whisked in all the olive oil, whisk in the extra virgin olive oil. Check for seasoning and add salt, a little extra vinegar or even a squeeze of lemon as you see fit.
Note: homemade mayonnaise contains uncooked egg yolks, so is unsuitable for the pregnant, young, and other vulnerable groups.