Beefy forearms and emulsions
I don’t know about you, but I almost don’t eat a sandwich without a nice layer of mayo between the bread and whatever is in the middle. (Unless what’s in the middle is peanut butter, because that would be gross.) Now mayonnaise is terribly easy to buy in the store, and I’m even pretty satisfied with my two major choices–Hellmann’s and Kraft. (You didn’t think I meant Miracle Whip, did you? Miracle Whip doesn’t even call itself mayonnaise, so I’m going to take them at their word and insist that we’re talking about two different things.)
So why would I want to make my own mayonnaise? Well, I do have a column to write, and Alton Brown insists that homemade mayo is head and shoulders above the store-bought stuff. Mr. Brown has never steered me wrong, and I love anything that lets me do a bit of magic in the kitchen. With visions of conjuring white, fluffy goodness from an egg yolk, some oil, and some vinegar, I printed out Alton Brown’s recipe and prepared my whisk.
I started, as directed, with an egg yolk, salt, sugar, and dry mustard. Gordon Ramsay says that seasoning the mayonnaise at the beginning destroys the egg yolks, but that kind of sounded to me like exactly what I was about to do with the whisk anyway. According to Brown, whisking the yolk, seasonings, and a little bit of vinegar gives you a head start on your emulsion — that is, the magic process of coating the oil droplets with lipids from the egg yolk in order for the whole thing to mix together on a permanent basis. Also, using the phrase “head start” made it a pretty easy sell.
So I said “Screw you, Gordon Ramsay,” and started whisking. That is, I said it in my head. I would never, ever say screw you to Gordon Ramsay out loud. Not even when he’s probably on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
The key, apparently, to keeping the emulsion going once it’s started is to add the oil a little at a time, and to keep whisking no matter what. Some people will tell you that you can use a food processor instead of whisking. Ignore these people. Virtue and beefy forearms lie ahead for those who do their own whisking. Virtue, beefy forearms, and mayonnaise. Well, the people who use food processors get mayonnaise too, as do people who just go to the store, so maybe we should focus on the beefy forearms. Like Popeye. Did I mention virtue?
Anyway, after adding about half the oil, I added the rest of the vinegar, and had something that looked a bit like this:
At this point, supposedly, you can relax a bit, and add the oil a little faster. Personally, I kept it slow, and even set the oil aside from time to time to make sure everything was fully incorporated. Also to switch whisking arms. Before too long, I had a bowl full of this stuff:
I haven’t put it on a sandwich yet, but the first taste was pretty good. Even better, I used white vinegar instead of white wine vinegar, so the wife expects it to be a touch mellower next time. Either way, it’s definitely mayo and not Miracle Whip, so I’m very, very happy.
Will I use a food processor next time? Maybe. Will there be a next time? Definitely.
Gavin Craig is co-editor of The Idler. You can follow him on Twitter at @craiggav.