Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Grand Emulsion

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


Emily said...

there is also a sunflower oil at the wedge coop made by either harmony valley or featherstone. have you ever tried bacon grease mayo? apparently its like the best thing ever, but i have yet to try.

Emily said...

heres a bacon oil recipe-http://www.health-bent.com/proteins/pork/bacon-mayonnaise

Tom said...

I loved the part about restaurant cooks and aioli. Maybe aioli just sounds more magical than mayo?

Interesting tip about whisking into water to fix broken mayo; when I worked in a restaurant, I learned to whisk the broken emulsion into a new egg yolk.

angie said...

I make my own mayo but the recipe I follow says to temper it with a bit of boiling water at the end. Have you ever done that? It is an added step that I don't need, so I'm going to try your method. Thanks.

Trout Caviar said...

Hi Emily: Bacon fat mayo...OMG. Smear some of that on your BLT. Hog heaven. I don't know, I consider myself pretty fat fearless, but that might be a little over the top even for me! Thanks for the tip on the oils. Nice chatting with you at the market last Saturday.

Tom, yeah, the aioli thing, don't get me started. The worst was a "pineapple aioli" I somehow wound up ordering at a restaurant I won't be going back to...! The tip for fixing a split mayo with water came from Jacques Pépin. Of course you're right, you could use another egg yolk, but if you're just making a one- or two-yolk mayo, that makes it much eggier. Nice to see you and Martha at the market meeting last night!

Hi Angie: First, your homesteading-in-progress project sounds fascinating. I'm really looking forward to reading more about 3 Flat Acres. Re tempering the mayo, I had not heard of that before. But homemade mayonnaise can split after a while, even if it seems perfectly emulsified just when you make it. This seems to be more of a problem for me in hot weather. But the two mayos I made for the post are still nice and gloppy this morning. I should go eat some....

Thanks for writing~ Brett

el said...

You inspired me again Brett so I whipped some up last night to have with scallops of all things.

I tend to "fix" loose ones by putting the bowl into a hotter bowl of hot water just for a bit to get the temp. of your whipping bowl up & make things work. But that's only when I don't have eggs coming out of my ears, like now. If it fails now there's always another egg on the counter looking for something to do.

And as for chervil: voila! I will send you some seeds. I think the stuff is magical. It does bolt quickly like all umbelliferae but it loves to come back. Once it's happy in one spot you will always have it. A good thing.

Now, if you wouldn't mind digging up the actual real tarragon I planted in my herb garden on Grand Ave in Mpls... you would really be in biz for local fines herbes ne c'est-pas

and what about that potato salad with ramps and mayo? gotta make that man.

Trout Caviar said...

I'm happy to have provided some inspiration, El! I'm also surprised to hear both you and Angie mention heat or hot water as a tempering mechanism, as it's my warm weather mayos that tend to give me trouble. I should get out my McGee and refresh myself on emulsions.

I hadn't had to save a mayo lately, but last night I got a chance to try it again, re-emulsifying the two mayos from this post, which had started to separate when I combined them. It worked great, creating a thinner, lighter mayo than the originals. I left a dollop of that in the bowl, added some lemon juice, lots of garlic, and some grated parm. Tossed hearty baby garden greens into that--arugula, radish, kale, frisee, turnip, mustard. Damn good salad. Piled on my toasted sourdough, that could have been dinner on its own, but the steak was good too.

The ramp-potato salad, yes, I want to try it! But will we have new spring potatoes while we still have ramps, that is the question. Spring is on hold here with temps in the low 30s this morning. WTF?

Cheers~ Brett

Sylvie in Rappahannock said...

Very nice how-to post Brett.

Push come to show, you can always use the spit mayonnaise to bake salmon (a la russe). SPo there is no reason to fear failure, indeed.