For years, I’ve been reading food books in which homemade mayonnaise is described in rapt, nearly euphoric terms. I recently read an essay (did anyone else read this? Where was it? Thanks to Taylor, the story has been found.) in which a woman describes how her aunt was known for her pimento cheese sandwiches and brought them to every major event in her community. The first step in making these beloved sandwiches was whisking the mayonnaise together from scratch. The sandwich maker stated plainly that the sandwiches weren’t worth preparing if you were going to resort to Hellman’s or Duke’s.
Thinking about homemade mayo, I’m also reminded of an essay in Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte, in which she recalls picking up Julia Child from the airport in France and they eat oeufs mayonnaise together at a small countryside cafe. The description of Child happily eating freshly made mayonnaise on eggs, french fries, baguette and from the tips of her fingers has always delighted me.
However, despite all these lovely literary evocations, until tonight I had never before made mayonnaise on my own. I’ve been talking about it for months, mentioning it as a possible Fork You topic, without settling down and trying it in my own kitchen. I followed a recipe in Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat, as I’ve always loved the way she writes about food, her instructions made me feel calm instead of anxious. I also was comforted by the fact that she offered several variations on how to save your mayo if it broke.
Mine did break at first, primarily because I chose to be lazy and use my KitchenAid mixer’s whisk to do the work (Nigella does offer it as an option, but also states that she always does it by hand). As I incorporated the olive oil, my burgeoning mayonnaise couldn’t hold another drop and became gloppy and loose. I tried Nigella’s suggestion of adding couple of drops of boiling water, but that did nothing to reconstitute it, so I broke open another egg, separated it and slowly incorporated my broken mayo into that yolk, hand-whisking it in. That worked perfect and I was rewarded with gorgeous, creamy mayonnaise. I used some to make egg salad, which I ate on top of a pile of baby arugula for dinner (Scott’s away and so my meals have become less structured in his absence).
I now have a half-filled pint jar of really delicious, homemade mayonnaise in my fridge. I think tomorrow night I’ll stir some minced garlic into some and turn it into aioli.
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 cup peanut or sunflower oil
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- juice of 1/2 lemon or more, to taste
- salt and freshly milled white pepper (I hate white pepper, so I used black, giving my mayo character in the process)
- Fill the bowl you’re planning to whisk the eggs in with hot tap water and place the eggs in it (room temperature eggs should help prevent your mayonnaise from breaking). Let them sit for about 10 minutes.
- Remove the eggs, empty the bowl and dry it well. Separate the eggs, stashing the whites in the fridge or freezer for future use and putting the yolks in the bowl.
- Add the pinch of salt and begin whisking. After a minute or two, start adding the peanut/sunflower oil drop by tiny drop, making sure that each drop is incorporated prior to adding the next one. Keep going like this until it begins to look recognizably like mayonnaise and you have approximately 2-3 tablespoons in the bowl. You can begin to add the oil in slightly larger quantities, but still take it slow.
- Once all the oil is incorporated, add the lemon juice, more salt and a bit of pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning. And that’s it!
- If the mayo breaks, try adding a few drops of boiling water and then whisk vigoriously. If that doesn’t work, separate another egg and put the yolk in another bowl. Whisk it like you did the initial egg yolks and then slowly work the broken mayo into the yolk. Add a bit more oil to get it to the right consistency.
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s "How to Eat"