No one is agnostic when it comes to mayonnaise. Ketchup, mustard, relish - people may have their brand or recipe preferences, but rarely do those condiments elicit anything like the passionate partisanship or disgust that mayo does.
Go on - stroll up to a klatsch of co-workers or into the midst of a bar throng and say "mayonnaise." A few folks will just think you're being weird (and granted, you are), but take note of who physically recoils at the mention and who starts waxing rhapsodic about their favorite brand or recipe.
Kraft Real Mayonnaise has its advocates, especially when pitted against its audacious sister brand Miracle Whip sandwich spread - which must be mentioned, though it's categorically NOT mayo as it contains less than the Food and Drug Administration's standard of 65 percent vegetable oil by weight in order to bear the name "mayonnaise." Japanophiles may fancy MSG-laced Kewpie on their pizza (it's a thing) and health-conscious eaters across the nation flock to Hain or Hollywood safflower mayonnaise.
A smaller, but still vocal bunch swears by the homemade version. It is indeed almost comically easy to whisk up at home, and we'll get to that in a bit.
In many areas of the country, mayonnaise is not merely a sandwich lubricant, but rather serves as the cement binding the baroque salads, creamy dips and viscous casseroles upon which family dinners, block parties, church suppers and society itself are anchored.
Mayo haters would rather that it did not. They are legion, and they claim talk show host Jimmy Fallon, food world personality Rachael Ray and President Barack Obama among their number. The most revulsed of them will shudder, gag, weep or possibly flee at the sound of the word or the sight of a wobbling spoonful. Others will simply avoid the stuff at all costs. They join "I Hate Mayonnaise" Facebook groups, invoke bodily fluid metaphors and call it "salmonella pudding."
That'd be in reference to the raw egg yolk and oil emulsion at the heart of every mayonnaise. That's all it is, really. There's no Satan spleen or ghost vomit, just egg, oil, water, salt, and some vinegar, lemon juice, pepper or other seasonings if you feel like getting all fancy pants about it.
While some dishes, like a tomato and mayonnaise sandwich on white bread, or homemade pimento cheese, simply scream out for a store-bought mayonnaise, it's worth even the most avid mayo-naysayer's while to give the homemade stuff a whirl just once.
To make it by hand, bring one very fresh, pasteurized egg yolk and a cup of oil (could be vegetable, olive, peanut, canola, safflower or a combo of your favorites) to room temperature. Wash a mixing bowl in warm water and dry it out. Slide the egg yolk into the bowl, add a scant teaspoon of kosher salt and a teaspoon of water, and whisk that all together.
Then, while whisking, add a couple of drops - and only a couple of drops - into the mix and keep whisking. Use a spoon or a squeeze bottle if that steadies your flow. What you're trying to achieve is an emulsion, or a combination of two liquids that don't especially wish to play nicely together. The force of the whisking and the slow introduction of the oil allows the yolk's water, the added water and the oil to bind, with the lecithin in the egg yolk acting as the matchmaker. Hooray for science!
Keep whisking away, adding a few drops of oil at a time until the mixture starts to thicken. Then the oil can be added at a steadier stream, as can a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice or vinegar or even a pinch of mustard powder or prepared mustard.
When it gets to your desired thickness, don't feel obligated to use up all the oil. Just stop, stick in a spoon and give your creation a taste.
Could it convert a lifelong loather? It just may(o) indeed.
A bit more on homemade mayonnaise:
– Don't feel like whisking? An immersion blender or mixer will do the trick, and it's also a great fit for a blender or food processor. Just periodically stop the machine and scrape the blades to make sure all ingredients are melding at the same pace.
– If the emulsion separates, don't fret. Put a teaspoon of very hot water in a bowl and whisk in your broken mixture bit by bit. That should fix things.
– Make sure to refrigerate any unused mayonnaise and use it up within a week - a day or two if you haven't used lemon juice or vinegar in the mixture. You can always just make more.
– Once you've got the hang of it, try adding freshly chopped herbs (dill and tarragon work well), cayenne pepper, curry spices or different vinegars to make your own signature condiment.
– And just for fun, here are a few classic recipes from the excellent people at The Gutenberg Project. Volunteers digitize and archive books in the public domain, and they've got quite a sizable cookery section. Enjoy this slathering of mayo techniques from the 1800s.
The sauce Mayonnaise is made as follows:— Put into a small tureen the yolks of two beaten eggs, a little salt and Cayenne pepper, and a very little vinegar. Stir and mix it well; then add (a drop at a time) two table-spoonfuls of sweet-oil, stirring all the while. When it is well mixed, stir in gradually some more vinegar. To stir and mix it thoroughly will require a quarter of an hour. It will then be very delicate.
MAYONNAISE, a Sauce or Salad-Dressing for cold Chicken, Meat, and other cold Dishes.
INGREDIENTS.—The yolks of 2 eggs, 6 tablespoonfuls of salad-oil, 4 tablespoonfuls of vinegar, salt and white pepper to taste, 1 tablespoonful of white stock (recipe below), 2 tablespoonfuls of cream.
Mode.—Put the yolks of the eggs into a basin, with a seasoning of pepper and salt; have ready the above quantities of oil and vinegar, in separate vessels; add them very gradually to the eggs; continue stirring and rubbing the mixture with a wooden spoon, as herein consists the secret of having a nice smooth sauce. It cannot be stirred too frequently, and it should be made in a very cool place, or, if ice is at hand, it should be mixed over it. When the vinegar and oil are well incorporated with the eggs, add the stock and cream, stirring all the time, and it will then be ready for use.
Note.—In mixing the oil and vinegar with the eggs, put in first a few drops of oil, and then a few drops of vinegar, never adding a large quantity of either at one time. By this means, you can be more certain of the sauce not curdling. Patience and practice, let us add, are two essentials for making this sauce good.
(To be Used in the Preparation of White Soups.)
INGREDIENTS.—4 lbs. of knuckle of veal, any poultry trimmings, 4 slices of lean ham, 1 carrot, 2 onions, 1 head of celery, 12 white peppercorns, 1 oz. of salt, 1 blade of mace, 1 oz. butter, 4 quarts of water.
Mode.—Cut up the veal, and put it with the bones and trimmings of poultry, and the ham, into the stewpan, which has been rubbed with the butter. Moisten with 1/2 a pint of water, and simmer till the gravy begins to flow. Then add the 4 quarts of water and the remainder of the ingredients; simmer for 5 hours. After skimming and straining it carefully through a very fine hair sieve, it will be ready for use.
Put the yolks of four fresh raw eggs, with two hard-boiled ones, into a cold bowl. Rub these as smooth as possible before introducing the oil; a good measure of oil is a tablespoonful to each yolk of raw egg. All the art consists in introducing the oil by degrees, a few drops at a time. You can never make a good salad without taking plenty of time. When the oil is well mixed, and assumes the appearance of jelly, put in two heaping teaspoonfuls of dry table salt, one of pepper and one of made mustard. Never put in salt and pepper before this stage of the process, because the salt and pepper would coagulate the albumen of the eggs, and you could not get the dressing smooth. Two tablespoonfuls of vinegar added gradually.
The Mayonnaise should be the thickness of thick cream when finished, but if it looks like curdling when mixing it, set in the ice-box or in a cold place for about forty minutes or an hour, then mix it again. It is a good idea to place it in a pan of cracked ice while mixing.