Monday, July 12, 2010

The mayonnaise wars

Ordinarily, I would consider it an act of unforgivable impertinence to disagree with Julia Child. But I like my recipe for homemade mayonnaise better than hers. So there. Let the lightning strike me, if it will. I have spoken.

Julia's recipe is widely available, like, all over the internet, so I don't feel that I'm violating any super-special secret by listing her ingredients here:

1 whole egg, at room temp
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice or white wine vinegar
1 cup olive oil, salad oil, or a mixture of both

Here are mine:

1 whole egg, at room temp (or place one egg in a cup of lukewarm water and allow to sit for 10 minutes)
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus an extra pinch or two
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup olive oil, but not extra-virgin; use the type that's called "lighter" or "light" or just plain "olive oil" for reasons I'll explain in a moment.

You may have noticed that the main differences between Julia's recipe and mine are the amount of salt (I think her recipe is bland) and the amount of lemon juice (I think her mayonnaise tastes way too lemony.) Also, I can't condone the use of regular vegetable oil or corn oil, but even canola oil gives homemade mayonnaise a taste that's....not quite quite. I find it difficult to describe, but false or cheap would probably be the best ways to put it. Canola oil just doesn't impart that rich, deep creaminess that olive oil does.

So my vast preference is for olive oil, although I don't like using extra virgin olive oil because it makes the mayonnaise taste too olivey, which, well, what else could you expect? I like to use the plain olive oil designated as "pure" or "lighter" or "lighter tasting" or sometimes even "for cooking," which has nothing to do with color or calories, but rather with what's left after the first pressing of the olives. The first pressing, of course, yields extra-virgin olive oil. The next grade is virgin olive oil and the one following is commercially graded as "pure." It's the pure olive oil that makes the best and freshest-tasting homemade mayonnaise, in my opinion.

I always use my food processor for making mayonnaise and it is foolproof, really. Just throw your egg, mustard and salt in there and whir them around until they're thick and foamy, around thirty seconds. Pour in your teaspoon of lemon juice and whiz around to combine. Follow that buy adding your olive oil with the processor running, just a wee drop at a time, to give the egg a chance to absorb the oil and emulsify. After those first few drops, you can pour the oil down the processor's spout in a slow, steady stream while the machine runs at top speed while thanking heaven that you don't have to accomplish this task with a bowl and a wire whisk. As the egg and the oil combine and thicken -- emulsify -- you should start seeing a lovely, creamy substance forming. You can see mine in the picture up there. You'll find that homemade mayonnaise is a bit more yellow than what you can buy in the store; that's not only because of the egg yolk and the mustard powder, but also because of the olive oil.

And that's your delicious, easy homemade mayonnaise with a taste that will make your tuna or chicken salad or turkey-tomato-and lettuce sandwich or your deviled eggs just stand up and holler "Magnifique!"

You might say, "But why would I want to go to all the trouble to make my own mayonnaise when it is so easy to buy at the store?"

My answers to that question are threefold:

1. Homemade mayonnaise is just a nice food. It doesn't have preservatives, so you have to use it immediately, but that's not such a bad thing because hello, preservatives? Do you ever wonder why a product made of eggs can stay in your fridge for months on end without going bad?

2. Homemade mayonnaise is very inexpensive to prepare, which makes it a great money-saver when you have to make, say, a bucket of potato salad for a picnic, or three-dozen deviled eggs.

3. Homemade mayonnaise tastes incredible, better even than Hellmann's, which is the only store mayonnaise I've tasted that comes close to the home version. You can tinker with it yourself to adjust it to your taste: maybe you'd like a pinch of sugar, or maybe you'd prefer white wine vinegar to lemon juice. You could use either less or more salt. You could make the recipe your very own and then make it whenever you need it. It's so fast and simple, why not?

I know I can be kind of preachy about mayonnaise, but I learned all this mayo-lore at my grandma's knee while we watched Julia together on television and then went out to the kitchen to play. I remember this mayonnaise best on bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches and it changed my life. I am an evangelist for homemade mayonnaise, although I'm sadly aware that most people, like my own mother, don't give a rip. "I can't taste any difference at all," she says frankly, looking bored by the whole thing.

Leave her and her feeble taste buds to the store brand, then, loaded with preservatives and with a shelf life of two thousand years, and let the rest of us experience creamy indulgence from real, pure mayonnaise. I will let her share my sandwich if she asks very, very nicely.


Anonymous said...

One swallow does not make a summer.............................................................

Katie said...

Excellent! I've decided I'm going to start making my own mayo after the current jar is gone (which won't take long with the way my husband eats it). I'll definitely try your recipe!

Kayte said...

I came over and read all this yesterday or the day before but it was being a little feisty and wouldn't let me leave a comment. So I'm back. Agree with you totally on mayo...everything but more salt, I think I am not as salty as you as I have noticed before our slight differences in salt factors. I have never held that against you, btw. Fun post, loved it all. Thanks for warning me about your mother and her taste buds, such a shame.