Most people who like mayo find it to be a flavor enhancer. I've generally found that it does the opposite -- detracts from the other flavors with its goopy texture and unpleasantly mayo flavor (usually because there's too much of it). I do like the way mayo binds ingredients together, such as in chicken/egg/what have you salad, and the occasional sandwich when the person making the sandwich doesn't cake on the mayo -- then it truly serves as an enhancer to food. However, it takes a light touch, which most sandwich makers don't seem to care about (even if you tell them to take it easy on the mayo, they still put on way too much -- it's easier just to nix it entirely. For me, it's better to do without that small bit of enhancement than ruin the whole sandwich with too much mayo). And there's also the health benefits: it packs a lot of extra calories (being made of essentially oil and egg yolk), so why not just do without?
But I consider myself a foodie. And it always rankled a bit that this common condiment was not one that I found enjoyable. What did other people taste that I didn't? I wondered if perhaps, like so many things, it tasted better made fresh at home. Luckily for me, it was an easy experiment. If I failed, not much time or ingredients would be lost. The ingredients to mayo are few and inexpensive, and the process is simple (though very particular).
Egg yolk, apple cider vinegar, salt, and ground mustard ready to be blended. Ignore the fact that they're in a food processor -- pretend it's a blender or a bowl with a whisk, which are better methods.
The first time I made mayo was in a blender. It came together easily, with none of the problems other people online were lamenting about with regard to the emulsification process. The second time was in a food processor. I admit that my food processor is one of those bottom-of-the-line versions, but it has always served me well. However, the lower blade was not close enough to the bottom of the container (which perhaps would not be a problem with a better food processor), so the ingredients -- minus the oil -- weren't being touched at all. In my overconfidence (after all, I'd successfully done it my first time out), I just poured the oil right in, without first getting the yolk well mixed or doing the careful drop-by-drop procedure for the oil. You guessed it: disaster. The mixture didn't emulsify (of course), and was just an oily, yolky mess that was the consistency of water, instead of being creamy like mayo is supposed to be. I didn't feel like dragging my blender out when I already had to clean the food processor, so I opted to try making it by hand -- arguably the most difficult method, but I figured I might as well give it a try.
It came out beautifully. The key is patience -- you can't rush the part where you're introducing the oil to the yolk mixture. All the instructions everywhere for making mayo cautions that you must put in the oil drop by drop for the first 1/3 cup or so, and with good reason. If you hurry this step the ingredients won't emulsify, and instead of mayo you'll have oil + yolk.
The good news is that once I got my second, handmade attempt to successfully turn into mayo, I was able to save the previous disastrous attempt by trickling it into the the already-emulsified mixture, which miraculously turned it all into creamy, glossy mayo. Of course, I ended up with 3 times more mayo than I had originally intended, but the important thing was that I learned quite a bit from the experience. First, for fool-proof mayo made at home, do it in a blender. Second, handmade mayo is possible, it just takes a bit of patience. Third, failed mayo attempts can be salvaged by successfully making another portion of mayo separately, then blending the failed attempt into the successful one.
Creamy, homemade mayo. This is what it looks like when properly emulsified. I added the non-emulsified mixture to this, and it was miraculously fixed.
As far as my experiment goes, I find that I do indeed prefer homemade mayo to any other kind. And sure, it's partly because I can control the amount of mayonnaise that goes into my salads and sandwiches, but it's more than that. I've gotten store-bought mayo before and never thought it actually enhanced my food, so I never used it (usually it was purchased either because I had guests coming over for a meal in which they enjoyed it as a condiment, or because I was making ranch dressing). With homemade mayo, I actually find myself reaching for the jar. There's also the health and nutritional benefits. With homemade mayo, I can ensure that only healthy oils -- such as olive and canola -- are used in the final product.
I should also mention that the first time I made mayo, it was actually aioli -- I added garlic to the yolk in the first step. I'm not sure if it's possible to make true aioli by hand, since it requires the garlic to be well-blended with the mayo, but I suppose you could use crushed garlic, either pressed by hand or from a jar, and it'd probably accomplish the same thing. I definitely recommend aioli over plain mayo, being that I'm a garlic nut. This time, I saved a small portion as plain mayo, and used the rest for ranch dressing.
Now. Are you ready to make your own?
Makes about 1/2 cup
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 tbsp lemon juice (lime juice, white wine vinegar, and apple cider vinegar work as well)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground mustard
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- Mix the two oils in a measuring cup or small squeeze bottle -- something with a spout is recommended, as it's easier to control how much oil gets poured that way.
- Add yolk, lemon juice or vinegar, salt, and ground mustard to a separate bowl or blender.
- Whisk/blend the yolk mixture until the ingredients are well incorporated and the yolk is glossy, kind of sticky, and bright yellow.
- Add the oil drop by drop into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly. An extra drop or two is okay, as long as you make sure it's well blended with the yolk before adding any more. You want to keep the mixture in a state of emulsion, and overwhelming the yolk with too much oil too early will ruin it.
- When you've blended in about 1/3 cup of the oil, it's safe to start trickling in a thin stream of oil, still constantly blending. Stop a few times to make sure the oil you've added has been incorporated before adding more.
- Keep whisking until the mayo is thick and glossy. Add more oil, up to an additional 1/4 cup, to desired thickness.
Note: I like using a mix of canola and olive oils because one dilutes the flavor of the other, resulting in a mayo that doesn't distinctly taste of one particular oil. You can just use one type of oil if you prefer, or mix and match, and see what combination produces a mayo you like most. You'll just want to keep it to about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of oil per yolk, as that's about the maximum amount of oil that 1 large egg yolk can bind.
You can also use an electric hand mixer if you don't want to whisk it by hand. It's not quite as foolproof as using a blender, though.
Mayo can also be made with whole eggs instead of just the egg yolk, producing a lighter, whiter mayo. You'll need to adjust the other ingredients accordingly to accommodate the extra egg.