You Can Make Your Own By Hand in Under Five Minutes
Homemade mayonnaise is quick and easy to make. Yet the thought of doing so scares the pants off most of us.
And anyway, we don’t have a lot of incentive. After all, when it comes to mayo, we can just pick up Hellmann’s, Miracle Whip, or a store brand. All of these get the job done, and reasonably well. But would you say that any of them have flavor you’d call memorable? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Well, if you can hold a whisk in one hand while dribbling oil into a bowl with the other, you can make your own mayonnaise — and its flavor will be tons better than anything you buy. Plus, you’ll know exactly what’s in your mayo: no preservatives, “stabilizers,” or other weird ingredients. (You can also make mayonnaise in the food processor, and I’ll include instructions for that in the Notes.)
Oh, and making it in under 5 minutes? I lied. The actual active time — by hand! — is two minutes or less. I’m spotting you 3 minutes to amble into the kitchen, find an egg and some oil, measure out ingredients, and so forth. You can handle that, no?
Recipe: Homemade Mayonnaise
To make mayonnaise, you just whip egg yolk and an acid (like lemon juice) until it’s foamy, then slowly beat in oil — drop by drop at first, then in a slow stream as the egg yolk and oil form an emulsion. It’s like making Hollandaise Sauce, except you substitute oil for butter. But it’s easier because (unlike with Hollandaise), you don’t need to heat the mixture as you’re making it. And although you can make mayo in the blender or food processor (details in the Notes), it’s actually less trouble doing it by hand (less stuff to wash).
So what scares people off? Well, many of us not are used to making emulsions — and we’ve heard they can easily go wrong.
It’s true that emulsions do fail (though only occasionally). But I’ll provide tips for correcting that problem. And anyway, if you add a secret ingredient to your mayonnaise, you’ll virtually never fail to form an emulsion. I learned about this in a May 22, 2012 New York Times article by Melissa Clark. The secret ingredient? Water.
Yup, a teaspoon of water “physically broadens the space between fat droplets, helping them stay separate” — a necessity when forming an emulsion. Plus adding a small quantity of water makes a lighter mayo. Win win. I also add a bit of Dijon mustard to my mayo, which helps the process of forming and maintaining the emulsion. Although not traditional, it’s awfully tasty, and it has become a very common ingredient in mayo recipes.
Still worried? Here’s another tip: Make sure the egg yolk and oil are both at room temperature. Things work better when you do. Just take an egg out of the refrigerator an hour before you plan to make your mayo. If you don’t have time to do this, warm the mixing bowl with hot water and then dry it. The warm bowl will take the chill off the egg yolk.
Virtually every mayonnaise recipe is the same, but this one is lightly adapted from Melissa Clark’s. Actual whisking time is 2 minutes or less (Clark says she can make her mayo in 58 seconds!).
This recipe yields a bit more than ¾ cup of mayonnaise. Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days. Let your fresh-from-the-refrigerator mayo warm up a bit before stirring it — see Notes for why.
- 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature (consider using a pasteurized egg; see Notes)
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (you can substitute wine vinegar, although I don’t think the flavor is as good)
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon cold water (optional, but highly recommended)
- salt to taste (start with 1/8 teaspoon of table salt, or double that if using kosher salt)
- freshly ground black pepper to taste (optional, but nice; start with 1/8 teaspoon)
- 2/3 cup of neutral oil (such as canola, corn, or peanut; extra virgin olive oil can be wonderful in mayo, but see Notes)
- Put out an egg to warm at least half an hour before you plan to make the mayonnaise (I sometimes put out two in case I break a yolk while separating the egg).
- Separate the egg (see Notes for the easiest way) and place the yolk in a medium-sized bowl. Squeeze half a lemon and add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice to the yolk. Add the Dijon mustard, a teaspoon of cold water, and a couple of pinches of salt and black pepper.
- With a whisk, vigorously stir the mixture together until frothy. (I often put the bowl on a damp towel so it doesn’t move around.) If you’re making this for the first time, I’d whisk for a good minute before you begin adding the oil (the main reason emulsions fail is egg yolk that isn’t sufficiently beaten).
- Whisk at a good speed without stopping while beginning to add the oil. Add it slowly at first (drops, or a slow dribble) until the mixture forms an emulsion (i.e., thickens). Then continue adding the oil in a slow stream.
- Taste, beat in more salt and pepper (or lemon juice) if necessary. Use right away, or refrigerate until you’re ready to use.
- Eggs carry a slight (but real) risk of salmonella, and this recipe requires raw egg. So I suggest using pasteurized eggs. Although it’s unlikely that the eggs you buy will be infected, why take the risk?
- Here’s the easiest and fastest way to separate an egg: First wash your hands thoroughly. Then crack the egg, open the shell into the palm of your hand, and let the egg white run through your slightly open fingers. I find that it’s fastest if I transfer the egg from one hand to the other once or twice during this process. When all the white has left your hand, put the egg yolk in separate bowl. If you have plans for the egg white, I always put that in a separate bowl, too.
- What to do with the egg whites? Make dessert! A good choice would be Homemade Meringues. You’ll need more than one white for this recipe — but you can freeze egg whites, and thaw them when you’ve collected enough.
- BTW, if you don’t separate the egg, the white provides moisture, so you don’t need the water. I find using whole egg a bit harder when making mayo by hand, but often include some when using the food processor.
- And if you make mayonnaise in the food processor, it’s just about impossible to screw up. The downside is you really need to make more — at least a double batch — because the capacity of the typical food processor is so large. I use a whole egg plus 2 yolks when making mayo in the food processor — letting egg white substitute for water. My food-processor mayo recipe (adapted from Julia Child’s The Way to Cook) requires 1 large egg (both white and yolk), yolks from 2 large eggs, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 2 to 3 teaspoons lemon juice (to taste), salt and pepper to taste (about ½ teaspoon salt, a bit less pepper), and 2 cups (or a bit less) of oil. Add all the ingredients — except the oil — to the bowl of the food processor and process for 10 to 15 seconds with the steel blade. With the machine running, begin adding oil in a thin stream. As the emulsion forms, you can add the rest of the oil a bit more quickly until it’s all incorporated. Taste, adjust for seasoning, and you’re done. Oh, and if the sauce is too thick, add a bit of water or cream to thin it.
- I think a food processor works better than a blender for making mayo, but you can use the preceding recipe and procedure with a blender, too.
- Machine-made mayo has a different “mouth feel” from handmade. I prefer the mouth feel of handmade, but try both to see which you like better.
- Most mayonnaise is made with a neutral oil — that is, one with little, if any, taste. But you can also use extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) — which has a very definite taste. You may find the flavor of the resulting mayo too strong, however. If you’re interested in using EVOO for mayonnaise, I suggest starting with a 50-50 mix of neutral oil and EVOO.
- Some people say that using a machine (like a food processor or blender) can turn extra virgin olive oil bitter. I haven’t experienced this, but you may want to make your first batch of EVOO mayo by hand just to take this variable out of the equation.
- There is a limit to the amount of oil that an egg yolk can hold in suspension in an emulsion. In my experience, the limit is a bit higher when making mayo by hand — I can incorporate up to ¾ cup. Using a machine, it’s hard to add more than 2/3 cup, and sometimes not quite that.
- The first time you make mayo by hand, you may want to use only ½ cup of oil — you may find it a bit easier.
- Sometimes mayonnaise turns — it doesn’t thicken, or it thickens and then (when you’re finished) the oil separates, causing the sauce to curdle. If this happens to you, don’t despair — there’s a remedy. Just rinse a clean mixing bowl in hot water and dry it. Add a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, and a tablespoon of the mayonnaise. Beat with a wire whisk until the mixture thickens. Then bit by bit — small bits! — beat in the rest of the sauce. Make sure each bit has been incorporated into the mayonnaise and thickened before adding the next bit.
- When you remove homemade mayo from the refrigerator, remember to let it warm before you stir it. Otherwise, the emulsion can break.
- You can add all sorts of herbs and flavorings to mayonnaise. Probably the most famous mayo variation is aioli — i.e., mayonnaise made with lots of garlic. Once you’ve mastered making mayo, experiment a bit by adding things that sound good to you. You may surprise yourself with the deliciousness you can create!
“Why do we even bother with store-bought mayo?” Mrs. Kitchen Riffs asked as she sampled a freshly made batch of homemade mayonnaise. “This is so much better. And no yucky chemicals.”
“Good question,” I pondered. “Maybe because we don’t use that much of it. So if we just need a tablespoon or so, it’s easier to get it from the jar rather than make it.”
“But we use it all the time during the summer!” Mrs K R objected. “You use it in Creamy Coleslaw, and in that great Summer Pasta Salad, BLT Salad, and in potato salad — both your Mustard Potato Salad and the classic American (Mayonnaise) Potato salad. Those would all taste better with homemade mayo!”
“True,” I said. “Maybe we use more mayo than I realized. After all, it’s also the base of our Blue Cheese Dressing and a major ingredient in Tuna Pasta Salad. Not to mention that chicken-and-lettuce salad with mayo that I’ll be making for the next post.”
“Right,” added Mrs K R, “and you yourself said homemade mayo is ‘magic’ in that dish! Your word — it’s right there in the post about the Moroccan Carrot Salad! Why wouldn’t it be magic in all the other dishes?”
“OK, OK,” I surrendered. “After all, it only takes a few minutes to make.”
“And it’s time well spent,” said Mrs K R. Emphatically.
What can I say? When she’s right, she’s right.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Summer Pasta Salad
Mustard Potato Salad
American (Mayonnaise) Potato salad
Blue Cheese Dressing
Tuna Pasta Salad