Monday, July 30, 2012

a girl, an egg, and a whisk

The first time I made mayonnaise, it was breathtaking. Creamy, fluffy, pale yellow, perfectly salted, and scarfed up within 10 minutes. I dreamed about this mayonnaise, the delicacy and deliciousness, prideful in my amateur chef-ly skill of completing a complex sauce with ease.

The next time I made mayonnaise, it was a disaster. Slimy links of yellow swirling around with olive oil that would simply not mix.  I tried to fix the broken mayonnaise, plumbing the internet for tips and tricks. Boiling water didn’t work. Neither did an extra egg yolk. I threw the sloppy mess out, glum and tummy-sad.

My personality doesn’t really allow for failure, however, so I got back on the proverbial horse and tried again a few weeks later.  Same deal.  A gross liquid that wouldn’t turn into solid no matter how hard I whisked and what sad eyes I gave it.  There was a good deal more anger this time, possibly a little foot stomp, and a minor tantrum in the egg yolk’s general direction.  I threw the sodden thing in the sink.

Everyone knows third time is the charm.  Except when it isn’t. The third time was the worst failure yet, a smelly, slimy, sloppy mess that was watered with tears of frustration. I was doomed to never make mayonnaise again, time to hang up my imaginary chef's cap.

Fast forward several weeks, and I was reading a cookbook that mentioned emulsions, an act of forcing two liquids together to form a more solid cream. Drops of oil and vinegar, substances that traditionally do not mix, are forced to co-mingle, improving one another. In mayonnaise, the egg absorbs and further improves the goodness of the mix, turning it into a creamy spread.

Understanding a thing from the molecule up lights a spark of pleasure and confidence in my gut, and in this case, it sparked me on to one more mayonnaise attempt. This time, I mixed the mustard (which is made with vinegar) and the egg yolk first, instead of adding it after I'd tried to mix egg and oil. I painstakingly poured the oil droplets as slowly as my wrist allowed, while whisking gently and steadily with my other hand, transfixing the oil and vinegar molecules into a more solid state.  And this time, the mayonnaise behaved, following the principles of science and nature and taste. Pure triumph and a happy stomach on the complete satisfaction of successful creation.

And my very simple recipe follows. 

Organic, free range eggs are the best for this recipe – the yolks are more muscular, whisk in to the olive oil much better, are a bright orange-yellow, and (in my opinion) have a richer taste.  Since you’ll be eating these raw, high quality eggs are a necessity.

The mayonnaise is very pretty with its mustard seed dotting, and I like to serve it with roasted vegetables, particularly sweet and white potatoes. Doubling the recipe is definitely possible, but the oil to yolk ratio will vary.

1/2 tablespoon whole grain mustard
Pinch of salt
Egg yolk
1/3  to 1/2 cup of olive (or canola) oil

Step 1:
Take the egg out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature, also allowing the bowl and whisk to come to room temperature.  The egg is easier to whisk if it's not super cold out of the fridge. It’s still possible to go from fridge to mayo, but to be completely foolproof, let the temperature rise a bit (approximately 45 minutes out of the fridge, depending, of course, on your kitchen's temperature).

Step 2: 
Plop the mustard, salt, and egg yolk in the bowl. Begin mixing gently. When the yolk and mustard become more solid than their original state (about 10-15 seconds), start pouring in the olive oil in a very steady, slow dripping trickle. Do not stop whisking. The amount of oil needed really does vary by egg, but once you see the solid forming, you can add a little more oil, but the egg-oil combination will become oily goop if you add too much. It should take about 1-2 minutes, depending on the moodiness of the egg, the quality of the oil, the time of day, etc. Mayonnaise is finicky. 

Two steps. That’s it. And once you've had homemade, you'll never go back! The taste, the color, the simple ingredient list, the absence of possibly harmful chemicals (google calcium disodium EDTA...) - all are good reasons to be a believer in the homemade alternative. 


  1. And it was delicious!!

    Also, I think this line is one of the best I've read in a long time: "My personality doesn’t really allow for failure, however, so I got back on the proverbial horse and tried again a few weeks later." Love that. Love you.

    Next time I visit, let's chat more about food and blogging and photography, yes?

  2. Thanks Brandi! It's now one of my favorite things to make, and I'm glad you got to eat some :-D And yes, a thousand times yes, to more conversations about food, blogging, and photography!

  3. Yo homie. I love mayo!! Keep up the whipping!!! *peace&love* Beans