I wish I had saved that "mon amour" bit from the previous post for this one, because while I like morels well enough, I really love mayonnaise. I suppose I could use a variation, like "Mayonnaise, je t'aime," but that would be weird, wouldn't it? Yeah, I guess it would. Not that that has ever stopped me before....
Learning to make a homemade mayonnaise is a milestone moment in anyone's cooking life, I think. When you learn to fix a broken one, then you really feel like a pro. The fact is, both making and fixing are easier than they seem; as with many, many things in life, confidence is key, and confidence comes with success, and success comes with practice. But even if you've never made mayonnaise before, and decide to try it, I urge you to go into it with confidence aplenty, be bloody bold and resolute, as a friend of mine used to say. While creating an emulsion of egg and oil in your very own kitchen might sound awfully daunting and technical, this is in fact one of those formerly everyday tasks that is simplicity itself once you've done it a couple of times. Well, a few times. And it helps if you're old enough that you don't really give a rip about that many things, like one used to, which I am, so my mayonnaise pretty much always turns out. Which I'm not sure is that great a trade-off for being in the over-50 set. But there you go.
I have not written much about mayonnaise here because the focus here is local, of course, and the main component of mayonnaise is oil. While I'm sure that there are canola and sunflower and corn oils made from reasonably local raw materials, these oils tend to come from large, industrial producers. I'll have to look around a little more carefully, see if there are smaller, local oil producers.*
For the moment, though, I'm going to forge ahead, because while my mayonnaise ingredients might not be notably local, it's going to be produced right here, and it's going to be flavored with herbs fresh from my garden, and used to dress a salad of trout I caught and watercress I plucked from a local spring. With a side of fiddleheads. This was much tastier than the photo might indicate.
The ingredients of mayonnaise are few and simple: egg, oil, a little mustard, prepared or dry, salt, lemon juice. Then flavorings as you please. (An important point here is that flavored mayonnaise is not "aioli," as many restaurant chefs seem to mistakenly believe; aioli is a quite specific Provencal preparation which could be called garlic mayonnaise, at least in some of its iterations, but aioli and mayonnaise are not synonymous by any means.)
Probably my favorite mayonnaise flavoring is fresh herbs, and in particular that combination that the French call fines herbes--parsley, tarragon, chives, and chervil. Chervil is a wonderful herb that hasn't yet caught on around these parts. If you want it, you pretty much have to grow it yourself, for I don't believe that I have ever seen it for sale in a grocery store or farmers market, though I have seen chervil plants for sale occasionally in the early spring. It's sort of like very, very delicate parsley with a lovely anise flavor, not too strong. It's not that hard to grow, except it really does not like hot weather, so in a hot dry summer it may wither and bolt if it's not kept a bit damp and cool. Currently I only have chives and tarragon in my garden, and that will do just fine.
The question of food safety often comes up in connection with any preparation using raw eggs. Supposedly raw eggs can contain salmonella. I have never heard of anyone getting sick from a raw or barely cooked egg. And I seriously would like to know, has anyone out there heard of this happening? Sometimes I think people get a little hysterical about things like this, spreading fears that have no actual basis. But if eating something that contains raw egg troubles you, do not make mayonnaise. Hellmann's is great, I love the stuff.
Here's my little mayonnaise pictorial tutorial:
You need a bowl big enough to move your whisk in briskly. The dish towel twisted into a rope, circled beneath the bowl, holds the bowl steady. I made two mayonnaises today, to see the effect of different oils and mustards. For the first I used some prepared dijon mustard, a scant teaspoon; the oil was 1/2 cup grapeseed and 1/4 cup olive oil--3/4 cup oil to one egg yolk is my standard ratio.
You whisk the yolk and mustard together until they're well combined and just a little thickened. (One advantage of using prepared mustard is that it is already an emulsion, which gets you off to a good start.) Now start adding oil, just a drop or two at a time. It's very important to go very slowly at the beginning. You want to whisk briskly and constantly, but you don't have to do it furiously. You'll get tired out and spew oil all over your kitchen if you do that.
By the time you've added a third of the oil, or less, you'll know if the emulsion is going to take. The whisk will leave clean streaks on the bottom of the bowl, you won't see any distinct oil droplets, it will feel thick as you whisk. If you've added a quarter cup of oil and this isn't the case, if instead it still seems very liquid and looks "split," with distinct pools of oil amid curds of egg, it's broken; see the note** below for how to fix it.
If all is coming together nicely, and you've added a third of the oil and things are thickening up, now you can add a couple of pinches of salt, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Then keep adding oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking as before, until all the oil is incorporated. If it becomes too thick to whisk comfortably along the way, add a little more lemon juice, or a tiny bit of water.
Canola-olive-dry mustard on the left, grapeseed-olive-prepared mustard on the right.
When it's done it will be thick and custardy. You can use it as a veggie dip, or to make a truly amazing potato salad, deviled eggs supreme. Homemade garlic mayonnaise stirred into mussels steamed in white wine is probably one of my favorite things to eat. Slather it on grilled bread. Eat it on a spoon. I do.
I wasn't that thrilled with the color of the first mayo, the one with prepared mustard and grapeseed oil. It seemed sort of dark and muddy. I made another using a quarter teaspoon of dry mustard and an oil combination that was 5/8 cup canola to 1/8 cup olive. It had a nicer color, to me. Both were delicious. You can use the mayo right away, but it's better if you let it sit, covered, in the fridge for a couple of hours, to let the flavors come together.
* (Dang me if I didn't just locate a source for Minnesota extra virgin sunflower oil; I have just ordered a bottle. Will report.)
** To fix a split mayonnaise, get a clean bowl and in it put two teaspoons of water. Start whisking the split mayo into the water, like a quarter teaspoon at a time. Soon you should see an emulsion forming, and you can add the rest of the split mayo, then the rest of the oil, as above.
Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw