A basic tenet of the sustainable food lifestyle is that your staples should be as freakin’ healthy as you can get it. Do you eat a lot of ketchup? Then you should either be a) buying a ketchup that is as natural, healthy, and componentially simple as you can find 1 or, b) you should be making your own ketchup.
Can mayonnaise be a staple? That sounds really weird. It’s like saying I make mayonnaise soup, or eat mayonnaise sandwiches. But it really is one of my staples. I use it in a lot of stuff, as a binder for tuna salad or fish cakes, or as the base for a variety of sandwich spreads, or a coating for baked fish or chicken to keep it juicy and delicious. 2 It is a vital building block in a veritable menagerie of foodstuffs. 3
AND IT’S HEALTHY. Because I make it myself. It’s almost all eggs and olive oil. Or canola oil. 4 Plus a little secret ingredient that makes it stay good for just about as long as any of the preservative-drenched commercial mayos out there.
Do you have sour cream? Better yet, have you made sour cream? 5 If you have taken a spoonful out of the sour cream and not mixed it up, you might see a clear liquid filling the cavity your spoon created. This is whey. 6 And it is teeming with bacteria that will care for and nurture your mayonnaise and keep it from spoiling for MONTHS.
These bacteria 7 consume whatever sugars and starches exist in their medium and emit lactic acid, which acts as a natural preservative in whatever food you happen to add the whey to. This is about to be mayonnaise, but it COULD be ketchup, salsa, curry paste, cucumbers 8, cabbage 9, sausages 10… Lactobacillus is what kept food edible before there were refrigerators. All of the food. 11
ENOUGH TALK! MAYONNAISE!
This is one of those times that questionable tools come into play. A food processor can be expensive. It can take up a lot of space. You probably don’t technically NEED one. 12 But you can find a perfectly serviceable used specimen on Craigslist or Ebay and keep it under the counter when you’re not using it. And it saves SO much time when you use it to batch your vegetable prep once a week, or you can use it to make ALMOND BUTTER 13, or… or… it makes mayo possible! 14 If you really wanted to, you could make mayo with a bowl and a whisk, but HOLY CHRIST, YOU DO NOT WANT TO MAKE MAYO WITH A BOWL AND A WHISK. Just take my word on this.
Mayo is really just an acid (vinegar and/or lemon juice), oil, and egg, beaten to hell and back until their immiscible nature is pummeled into bruised submission and the three form a smooth, glollopy colloid of deliciousness. One key here is the egg: just use the yolk. It’s the lecithin in the yolk that is the bridge between the watery acid and the oily… oil. Or you could look at lecithin as the prison warden who manacles the two together because they haven’t been getting along. Whatever ridiculous analogy you use, the stuff in the yolk is what keeps the whole mix from dissolving into a separatey, oily, watery mess.
I’ve used the whole egg before and gotten a smooth… sauce, I suppose. The emulsion took, but instead of a whippy, pillowy spread, I got something better suited to pouring. It tasted fine, but I expect mayonnaise to hold its shape at least for a couple of minutes when I mold it into a little Stonehenge on my plate. This stuff didn’t do that. If you don’t care, go for the Super Feral Wild Man™ points and don’t bother separating your egg.
There’s another key! I almost forgot! Add your oil slowly. Like, really. Really. Slo-oooo-oooo…………………ow……ly. Usually this involves carefully holding a measuring cup carefully above a whirling blender, maintaining a constant threadlike stream of oil, getting a hell of a tension workout, and ending up with oil droplets smeared all over your arm. 15 NO LONGER! If you’ll look at the bottom of your… plunger? Food… pusher? It’s… it’s the thing that fits into the lid of food processor and shoves the food down into the spinning blades of whirley death.
Anyway, on the bottom of your food bits shover there should be a tiny hole. THAT’S THE SECRET! You can just POUR ALL OF YOUR OIL IN THERE and the oil will drip out in a perfect stream, so you can just turn the thing on and forget about it until it’s done! One contingency and solution: If your mayo ends up looking like scrambled eggs suspended in oil, like some kind of oleaginous egg drop soup, your hole is too big. 16 Way too big. 17 Try wrapping the top of the spout… thingie… in plastic wrap, to slow down airflow. You could also stick something in there to partially obstruct the plunger hole, but I’ve had more luck with covering the thing with plastic wrap to restrict airflow. In my experience, that gives you a much more consistent oil stream.
Are you ready? Of course you are. Get your ingredients together. This could, as I said, just be oil, eggs, and vinegar or lemon juice. But I’ve tried that, and it… it leaves something to be desired. There’s no reason to put it on anything. So I’ve been looking at various recipes, and tweaking, and here’s what I’m currently using: 2 cups canola oil, 3 egg yolks, 1 Tbsp honey 18, 2 tsp white vinegar, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp whey, and the juice from 1 lemon. 19
That’s not very many things. Most of them you probably had before you even tried to start cooking regularly. I’ve added and subtracted and twisted and tweaked, and I’ve come to the conclusion that this is both the IDEAL and the MINIMUM number of ingredients you need for a perfectly balanced mayo, one that is both delectable and versatile. I am still tweaking the amounts, but I am fully convinced that you need EVERYTHING listed here. 20
This is stupid easy. You just… you just mix. Slice yer lemon.
Get yer food processor. 21
Juice the lemon into the food processor bowl. I set a strainer to catch the seeds and gunk.
Then throw everything else in there except for the oil.
A few seconds is good. You can stop now.
Then the tricksy part. Or it would be tricksy, if we were ever-so-carefully pouring the oil drop by drop into the emulsion. But we don’t have to worry about that, remember?
So get a piece of plastic wrap ready to cover up the opening of the food… pusher. This next part needs to go pretty fast. Start up the food processor. Pour all the oil you can into the food plunger, then immediately cover up the opening with the plastic wrap.
So the processor is whirling this whole time. The oil should be dribbling in a thin stream into the processor bowl. Just leave it to do its thing. If you weren’t able to pour all of the oil in, then wait until it’s almost gone, then take the wrap off, pour the rest in, and cover it back up.
The processor’s goin’ all this time. It keeps going and going and going.
And you just wait. Read a comic book or something. It’ll take five minutes or so, maybe less, for the oil to all drip out into the building emulsion. Once it’s all dripped out, stop the processor.
You have just made mayonnaise.
You might want to taste it and see if you prefer adding another pinch of salt, or a few more drops of honey or vinegar. Everyone has their ideal taste. But once you think you have it where you want it, glop it all into a jar or tupperware container, cover it, and straight up leave it on the counter for 24 hours.
That’s right. DO NOT put that stuff straight into the refrigerator. If you do, that stuff might last a week before it goes bad. But if you just leave it out at room temperature, those microscopic bugs in the whey will have their way with the mayo, converting free sugars into natural preservatives. This is the difference between having a condiment that lasts months and one that lasts days. 22 After it’s sat out a day, pop it in the fridge, where it will live quite happily for… well, a damn long time.
That’s it. Mayonnaise is easy, healthy, and delicious, and infinitely useful. Whey is the secret to homemade condiments that last long enough to actually be useful.
Make mayo, flourish and prosper!
- 2 cups canola oil
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 Tbsp honey
- 2 tsp white vinegar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp whey (from yogurt or sour cream)
- juice from 1 lemon
- Blend all ingredients except canola oil in food processor.
- With the processor still running, pour the oil into the processor's 'plunger' so that a thin stream drips out the hole in the bottom. If not all of the oil will fit, wait until the plunger has mostly drained then fill it again until you are out of oil.
- When the oil has all drained out, the mayo will have mounted. Put in a jar or other container, cover, and leave at room temperature for 24 hours to allow the bacteria in the whey to fully colonize the mayo.
- After the 24 hours, keep in the refrigerator. Mayo will stay good for several months.
- This recipe assumes your food processor's plunger/tampdown thing has a little hole at the bottom, which will regulate the oil delivery in a steady stream. If it does not, drizzle the oil into the food processor (while the processor is on) in a very thin stream from a measuring cup or squeeze bottle.
EDIT 02/12/2014: I have discovered that the whole plastic wrap thing is not necessary. The hole in the food processor’s plunger is small enough that it alone can regulate the flow of oil. So this recipe’s even easier than it was! : D
- That is, it doesn’t have corn syrup and thirty different ingredients you can’t pronounce. ↩
- The ONLY way I have ever NOT ended up with a dry, tasteless hunk of white flesh when broiling chicken has been when I slather the raw poultry with mayonnaise. It works PERFECTLY. EVERY SINGLE TIME. ↩
- How mixed can we get this metaphor? ↩
- I’ve come to my own conclusion that canola oil is healthy, based on the rationale that Wikipedia has my best interests at heart. ↩
- OH MY GOD WHY ARE YOU BUYING SOUR CREAM YOU CAN MAKE IT IN LIKE TWENTY SECONDS. ↩
- The answer to what you’re thinking is ‘Yes, whey.’ ↩
- mostly Lactobacillus sp. ↩
- PICKLES! : D ↩
- SAUERKRAUT!! : D …… OR KIMCHI!! : D ↩
- IF YOU TRY THIS DON’T SUE ME!!! : D ↩
- Probably not all of the food. ↩
- You need one. ↩
- : D : D : D ↩
- There’s also a kickass tomato soup I’ll be using it for now that the mercury’s dropping. ↩
- I used to do it that way. Not a huge deal. But the lack of convenience meant I didn’t make mayo very often. ↩
- I just… I just can’t… ↩
- Seriously, stop. ↩
- I’ve found a touch of sweetness to be essential to a delectable mayo. ↩
- I used to use lemon juice from a bottle, but then I tried the real thing and… it just tastes way, way better. Fresher, more floral. It turns food into something that you actually want to eat instead of something you have to. True story. ↩
- In one experiment with these ingredients, I came up with this OMFG INCREDIBLE tasting mayo that was so bright and fruity and delicious that I couldn’t even call it ‘mayonnaise’; I’m gonna dub it ‘sunshine sauce’. Its particular je ne sais quoi was lost when I tried to double the batch for the recipe attempt listed here, but rest assured, when I rediscover it: You Will Know. ↩
- A blender will also work, but you’ll have to do the whole tension pouring workout thing I referenced earlier. ↩
- Seriously, have you seen some of the recipes out there? You make a whole batch of mayo or ketchup or curry paste, and then at the end the recipe brightly tells you that this will ‘Keep for three or four days’. Well damn. I guess I’m eating a hell of a lot of ketchup this week. ↩