“Mayonnaise: One of the sauces which serve the French in place of a state religion.”
-Ambrose Bierce (American writer 1842-1914), The Devil's Dictionary
I used to hate mayonnaise. My mother, a mayonnaise devotee, said that one of the only good things about the Korean War was introduction of mayonnaise by US GI’s. Whenever we had to bring some potluck item to school, it inevitably involved some salad dressed in mayonnaise. “White people like it,” was my mom’s excuse. But I knew better. It was her secret way of indulging in her mayo addiction without raising any eyebrows at home.
I never could understand why she liked the stuff so much. If you think about what is in mayo, it doesn’t sound very appealing: eggs, oil, salt, lemon juice or vinegar. And if you look at the list of ingredients in commercial mayonnaise, you definitely don’t want to eat it. But after years of avoiding the stuff, I have grown to like mayonnaise. What happened? Aioli, the Mediterranean garlic mayonnaise. My name is Omnieater and I am an aioli addict.
Aioli, like all things Mediterranean, has become rather popular. It is the necessary condiment to various Mediterranean fish dishes (e.g. bouillabaisse, paella, bourride, mussels) as well unsurpassed as a dip for French fries (Europeans/Asians eat mayo with their fries). For most Americans, aioli is the purview of Euro-trash restaurants with overpriced wine, funny accents and bad service. While one can purchase commercially made aioli at some specialty stores (Dean & Deluca, Balducci’s, Whole Foods, and a really awful version at Trader Joe’s), it’s pricey. Pathetic if you consider it costs about 3 bucks to make if from scratch. Even more pathetic if you consider how superior it is to any commercial mayonnaise you will ever eat.
Chemically speaking, mayonnaise should not work. The main ingredients, vinegar and oil are immiscible. Take a look at vinaigrette. The oil usually separates out of the vinegar until you shake it up. And that is a temporary state. It will return back to oil on top and vinegar on bottom after a while (also why you should always whisk your vinaigrette before you toss your salad). Egg yolks are the reason why mayonnaise holds together, unlike a vinaigrette. Egg yolks contain lecithin, an emulsifier, which allows the mixture to remain stable, despite the inherent chemical properties of oil and vinegar. This is the same means that stabilizes the panoply of aise’s – béarnaise, hollandaise, etc.
So back to actually making mayonnaise. The key to making your own mayonnaise can be summed up in two words: dribble and whisk. You have to whisk the egg yolk and vinegar mixture constantly while you dribble the oil into the bowl (adding the oil slowly allows for the oil to be dispersed evenly). If you have no arm muscle, like myself, this is an impossible task. I admit I am a whisking wimp. But soft! The Blender! With a blender, making mayo is dead easy. The blender does all the whisking for you. But it still requires you to dribble the oil slowly. Mayonnaise is a delicate balance. Dumping the oil all at once will not work – the lemon and yolk mixture has to be coaxed into incorporating the oil. However, if you find yourself a clumsy oil dribbler, adding another egg yolk usually will solve the problem.
And so you have it. Your own mayo. Your tomato sandwiches never had it so good.
Aioli (Garlic Mayonnaise)
Aioli is made with a raw egg. If you are one of those Salmonella worriers, then this recipe is not for you. While there are a bunch of precautions regarding how to reduce one’s risk of salmonella, the only real prevention is avoiding raw eggs. I am fine with the risk, but then again, I will eat just about anything. Also, if you want to make it the old school way without a blender, just ask and I will happily give you instructions.
2 or 3 fresh garlic cloves, roughly chopped.
large pinch of sea or kosher salt
1/2 lemon, juiced
2/3 c. neutral flavored oil (soy, canola, etc.)
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground pepper (optional)
1. Place garlic and salt in a blender. Pulse for 3 seconds. Add the egg yolk and lemon juice and pulse on and off until the garlic is finely ground and the mixture well blended.
2. Turn on the blender at high speed and start adding the oil (neutral first, then olive) first in dribbles. As the mixture thickens, you can add the rest of the oil in a thin stream. If the mixture is too thick, add a small amount of room temperature water. If it is too thin, continue to add more oil until it thickens. If the mixture refuses to emulsify, add another egg yolk and blend again until thickened.
3. Taste and season with additional salt and optional pepper.Note: If you want plain mayonnaise, just omit the garlic and proceed as directed.