Mayonnaise is an immensely important sauce and if I had to choose a single 'Desert Island' sauce, this would be it. It pairs perfectly with many different ingredients.
Some books will terrify you with words of warning before you start making the sauce. Others are perhaps a little casual in their approach, all I will say, is to be a bit careful, take your time and just remember the important rules, as stated below.
Once you have made it once or twice, making it won't cause you a second thought and by then you will realise that there is simply no substitute for the real thing.
Let us be clear: there is no comparison whatsoever between mayonnaise from a shop bought jar and the real thing. If you use good eggs and oil, this sauce can transform the foods you serve with it.
- 2 free-range egg yolks
- ¼ tsp French mustard
- 1 dsp white wine vinegar or lemon juice
- 250ml oil, ie, 50ml olive oil and 200ml sunflower oil
- A pinch of fine salt and freshly ground black or white pepper
Use free-range or if possible organic egg yolks for the mayonnaise. The egg whites, which are not used in the making of the sauce, can be stored covered in the fridge for two weeks or they freeze perfectly. Some very organised cooks like to freeze the individual egg whites in ice cube trays. This makes life easier when using them later.
Otherwise, you can weigh the whites, which take about 2 hours to defrost at room temperature, allowing 25g for each white. Defrosted egg whites make perfect meringues and whip up perfectly for mousses and soufflés.
Try and find good quality French mustard and white wine vinegar. A lot of vinegar is poisonously sharp and if that is the case with yours, use as I often do, lemon juice to sharpen the sauce.
Good quality oil is crucial for a good mayonnaise. The combination of oils is also important. If you use all olive oil, you might find the taste too strong, so many people find that a combination of a 'bland' oil such as sunflower, grapeseed, rapeseed or corn oil, mixed with a smaller proportion of the stronger-tasting olive oil gives them a balance that they enjoy.
However, mayonnaise made with grassy green, new season olive oil is truly fabulous - something I look forward to and am willing to splash out on at least once a year.
Mayonnaise is a cold emulsion sauce. The 'emulsion' refers to the joining together of two liquids. The liquids, in this case, are egg yolk and oil. There is only a certain speed at which the emulsion can be formed, so if you add the oil too quickly to the egg yolk, the yolks cannot absorb the oil and the two liquids separate and curdle.
This is the most important thing to remember when making mayonnaise, so take your time adding the oil.
- Place the egg yolks, mustard, vinegar or lemon juice and a pinch of salt and pepper in a medium-sized Pyrex or glazed ceramic bowl. Place the oil in a jug. I use a Pyrex measuring jug as I can control the flow of the oil to a slow dribble.
- Drop the oil very slowly onto the egg mix while continuously whisking. Adding the oil slowly is the key to success and, other than using good ingredients, it is the only rule you need to remember. If your arm gets tired from the whisking, it is fine: stop and leave it for a minute or two before starting again.
- After about 3 minutes of whisking in the oil, the mixture will start to thicken slightly. You can start to add the oil a little bit more quickly now but do not get carried away by your success and continue to add the oil quite cautiously. There is only a certain speed at which the eggs can absorb the oil so that an emulsion is created. Caution is needed right up until all the oil has been whisked in.
- Taste and correct seasoning, perhaps adding another drop of vinegar or lemon juice.
- Occasionally, the mayonnaise may be a little too thick for your liking. This might be caused by an extra large egg yolk. If this is the case, whisk in a teaspoon or two of water to bring it to the required consistency. The small amount of water will have virtually no effect on the flavour of the sauce.
- Store the mayonnaise covered in the fridge.
- If the mayonnaise curdles, due to the oil being added too quickly, it will start to look grainy and when left to rest for a few minutes will become quite thin and oily on top. If this happens, it is not a disaster. Put another egg yolk into a clean bowl and slowly whisk in the curdled mayonnaise, a teaspoon at a time, until it emulsifies again. Continue and finish the sauce as above.
- Store the mayonnaise in a covered jar in the fridge where it will keep happily for a week or more.
- Mayonnaise can be made in a food mixer or processor.
- The food processor will yield the thickest mayonnaise which you may wish to soften slightly with a few teaspoons of water. The food mixer-made mayonnaise is less thick. Handmade mayonnaise is the softest of all.
- If using either of these machines to make the mayonnaise, I suggest you make twice the recipe so that the larger quantity of egg yolks is enough to grip to the blade or whisk of the machine.
- A hand-held electric whisk can also be used to make the mayonnaise.