Mayonnaise looks icky. It comes in pale plastic jars that bounce. Rachael Ray says it’s gross. It must have the worst reputation of any condiment. I used to refuse it on grounds of general creepiness.
But I have been reading up on the history of sauces and mayonnaise is turning into my Top Sauce. For starters, it is so ludicrously simple to make at home that no-one should ever be bamboozled into buying it in a store. You can make a batch from scratch in five minutes and you can prepare just enough for the sandwich you are making or the fish you are grilling.
Take one egg yolk, preferably an organic one from a chicken raised outside, within 50 miles of you in a nice green sunny pasture. Add a little lemon juice and a little vinegar. Exact quantities irrelevant. Stir. Start whisking with a fork or an actual whisk and drop some olive oil (preferably organic extra virgin) in, drop by drop. Do not just dump your olive oil in — you will drown your egg yolk and it will sulk and refuse to perform. Whisk and add olive oil until you have the consistency and volume you want (exact quantities irrelevant) or until your arm hurts. Stop whisking. Consume.
If you do not plan to consume your mayo instantly, use a vegetable oil other than olive oil because olive oil will divorce itself from your egg yolk in a few hours. And by vegetable oil I mean an oil made from an actual identifiable vegetable, not Acme Vegetable Oil. No matter what, eat your mayo within 3 days and refrigerate it in the meantime.
If you want to get gourmet, you can add mustard seed. If you add garlic mush, you have aioli. If you add pickled cucumbers and onions, you have tartar sauce. If you add ketchup, pickle relish, herbs and spices, you have Thousand Island dressing. If you add buttermilk and minced onions, you have Ranch dressing. If you add tomato sauce, cream, and brandy, you have the delightful Marie Rose sauce.
Commercial mayonnaise, on the other hand, is made in blenders. If you put an egg yolk in a blender, however, you will blow your egg yolk to smithereens (recall that it sulks when mistreated). So food companies use whole eggs and the albumen in the egg white buffers the delicate yolk from the blender. Food companies also add things not on the list of approved ingredients for home-made mayo: sucrose, corn sugar, citric acid, thickeners, emulsifiers, “sequestrants” and “crystallization inhibitors.” This means industrial mayo does not spoil if you do not refrigerate it, and even in the refrigerator it can last for centuries. Like I said, creepy.
Other fun facts:
The sauce is from the Mediterranean where butter and cream are uncommon but chickens and olives are.
It was named after Port Mahon on the island of Minorca. There is tons of bologne on the Internet about how it got its name, but that’s the real answer.
The Catalonian name for it is “mahonesa.”
The British ran into it for the first time (apparently) in 1756, when they were defeated on Minorca by the Duke of Richelieu.
Chile is the world’s third largest consumer.
Japanese mayonnaise is made with apple cider or rice vinegar and a Japanese mustard called karashi.
The mayonnaise lobby is the Association for Dressings and Sauces (on Facebook at Condiment Circus).
FDA gets upset about “undeclared eggs” in mayonnaise. That’s like the “contains peanuts” warning on your bag of peanuts.
FDA says “all the ingredients from which [commercial mayonnaise] is fabricated shall be safe and suitable.” Comforting.
FDA allows commercial manufacturers to prepare mayonnaise “in an atmosphere in which air is replaced in whole or in part by carbon dioxide or nitrogen.” Not comforting.
FDA allows you to make your mayo with “[a]ny spice (except saffron or turmeric) or natural flavoring provided it does not impart to the mayonnaise a color simulating the color imparted by egg yolk.”
So if it turns your mayo yellow, it’s not allowed. I’m sure there’s a reason for that. Aren’t you?
Kim Egan is Partner in the firm DLA Piper LLP
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