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Mayonnaise, How to Make Mayonnaise Homemade

Updated on November 22, 2011
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 There are a number of ways to whisk mayonnaise, including by hand, with the food processor, a hand held beater, an electric mixer...all of them work. They each give slightly different results however. The faster the whisking, and the more 'violent', then the more the oil droplets will break down, and the more air will be incorporated into the mayonnaise. Therefore, whisking by hand will lead to a softer sauce, and a food processor makes a stiffer one.

It's hard to imagine culinary life without mayonnaise. This simple sauce is a workhorse ingredient. It works just fine by itself; the rich creamy taste and texture graces sandwiches beautifully. It also serves as an ingredient for thousands of other dishes, from the humble and beloved potato salad, to crab cakes, to casseroles of all kinds. It can be altered or tempered with any number of additives, creating multiple other sauces.

Most of us reach for a jar off the shelf when we run low - store bought mayonnaise is relatively inexpensive, tastes pretty good, and has a shelf-life of up to six months in the fridge. However, homemade mayonnaise is a revelation. True, it needs to be used more quickly - within four days at most. But when you take control of the mayo, you can manage every element, tinkering with the tastes and textures to your heart's content. Change the oil, the acid, and the herbs and you can custom make a mayonnaise in minutes. Make only what you need for immediate use, and do it again when you have another flavor profile in mind. It takes so little time, and can be done so simply, you'll realize soon how truly creative this little sauce can be.

There's some argument over whether mayonnaise is or is not one of the Mother Sauces of French cuisine fame. Antoine Careme first named several sauces as 'Mother Sauces' in the 18th century. He called them this because of how readily adaptable these sauces were - learn to make the Mother Sauce, and you can make infinite variations. I absolutely agree that mayonnaise meets this criteria - get this one down and you'll have an amazing tool in your repertoire.


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Vive le Duc!

 There are numerous theories regarding the invention of mayonnaise, but the consensus seems to be that it was created by the chef to the Duc de Richelieu in 1756. The Duc defeated the British at Port Mahon, and his chef created a celebrory luncheon with chicken and cold sauce. The sauce was made with olive oil, since he apparently realized he had no cream. The chef named his sauce "Mahonnaise" in honor of the Duc de Richelieu's victory.

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Mayonnaise is a sauce, true. But it's more than that, and understanding a few little facts about it make it not only more understandable, but more easy to produce. Mayonnaise contains oil, water, egg yolk and salt in it's most basic form. Mayo can be a little bit cranky - it tends to 'break'. This just means that instead of turning into a rich, luscious semi-solid mass of gorgeousness, it becomes an oily, lumpy, soupy mess. This is far from culinary disaster though - not to worry. Read on...

Mayonnaise is an emulsion - that just means that something has been done to make oil and water mix. Normally the two have nothing to do with one another voluntarily. Something has to be done to make them hold together. In the case of mayo, the oil (can be almost any oil) and water (lemon juice, vinegar, wine) are brought and held together through a chemical known as lecithin, which is found in spades in egg yolks.

Whisking is the way to make the emulsion happen. Whisking breaks up the oil into tiny droplets, which stick to the end of the molecules in lecithin which like oil. The other end of these same molecules like water, so they'll hold on to the liquid. Think of two people who don't care much for one another, who are brought together by a mediator. Egg yolk is the mediator - egg yolk makes the oil and water get along and play nicely together. Emulsions happen at other times in the kitchen - other sauces and dressings such as hollandaise are a good example. In hollandaise egg yolk also binds oil and water - in this case the oil is butter and the water lemon juice.

The main trouble that people have with emulsions in the kitchen is that they tend to break. That means that they'll go from appearing rich and glossy to looking granulated, and the oil and egg yolk seperates. Several things can make this happen, but in a nutshell it means that the emulsion hasn't held. It's not a problem - and it happens to the most experienced cooks. The first trick is to make sure your ingredients are at room temperature. If they are chilled, the emulsion often won't take or hold. Secondly, whisk constantly, and make sure the oil is added to the egg yolks in an incrediblyslow stream. Add the oil drop by literal drop, while still whisking. My personal method is to use the food processor or blender for this - I like having both hands free (I'm a weinie about whisking for a long time too), and I find that having the whisking done for me allows me to have more control of the oil.

As a Mother Sauce...

Mayonnaise is the starting point for lots of other dishes. Add capers, tiny chopped pickles and lemon and you'll have tarter sauce. Garlic and herbs will give the uncomparable Green Goddess dressing. If you wish to make remoulade, add onion, garlic, celery, parlsey and mustard. Add lots of garlic and a touch more lemon you'll have the classic aioli. Ketchup, capers and Dijon mustard start off Russian dressing. Use canola oil and rice wine vinegar at the beginning, throw in a touch of sugar, and the result is Japanese style mayonnaise. There are loads of options here!

Other people prefer to whisk by hand, using just a hand whisk and a bowl. If you do this, place a towel under the bowl to hold it steady. There is no right or wrong way to whisk - just remember that the way you do it will affect the final product as to consistency.

If you are working on an emulsion that does break - not to worry. Get a second bowl, and another egg yolk. Start with the second egg yolk just as you did the first. Begin adding the broken sauce to the second yolk drop by drop. You'll almost always find the emulsion works perfectly this second time. Once the broken sauce has been fully incorporated, go back to adding the rest of the oil for the recipe. I read once where a chef had written "I've broken lots of mayonnaise the first time, but I've never lost a two-out-of-three with any sauce."

It also seems to be the case that mayonnaise breaks less if some of the liquid is added to the egg yolks as they are whisked. Add a half a teaspoon of the acidyou'll be using - lemon juice or vinegar - to the yolks before you begin to drip in the oil. After you've achieved an emulsion, add the remainder to taste. I've had more success this way than in waiting to add it to the end. You can also add a bit of mustard in some variations - a teaspoon or more of Dijon or Cajun depending on the flavor you like and how you'll be using the end product - and this also helps in forming and holding an emulsion. You don't have to though - for a clean, pure mayonnaise, a touch of acid is all that's needed.


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The Method!

You'll need:

1-2 large, fresh eggs - the fresher the better, and pasteurized in shell

1 - 1 1/2 cups of oil - olive oil is classic, but canola, sunflower, walnut - any oil will work - just think of how you wish to use the mayonnaise and the flavors you want in that dish

1-2 Tbs lemon juice or vinegar, depending on which you like

1-2 tsp fine kosher salt, to taste

1-2 tsp mustard, optional

  1. Begin with all ingredients at room temperature.
  2. Separate the eggs, reserving the whites for another use.
  3. Place yolks in a large bowl, and begin whisking. Add 1/2 tsp of the lemon juice or vinegar, the mustard if using, and after it is well incorporated, begin adding oil drop by drop. Do not under any circumstances rush this process! You want each drop of oil fully incorporated before you add more.
  4. You'll begin to see that the emulsion has started. You can begin to slightly increase the rate at which you are adding oil, but only slightly. You're looking for a smooth, creamy consistency. If you see the sauce becoming very, very glossy or if it separates, it's broken. You'll need to start with another egg yolk.
  5. Once you've incorporated all the oil, taste and add the remaining lemon juice or vinegar as you like, and the salt. All done!
  6. Make sure you store the mayonnaise in the fridge - it's fresh, and has no preservatives, so it won't last more than about four days. You can also add any additional herbs or savories to it now to turn it into something else lovely and delicious.


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