Cooking For Kitchenphobes is a series aimed to put "cooking haters" more at ease in the kitchen. We'll walk you through one basic recipe a week until you love cooking. Or else.
Mayonnaise. Some of us hate it with a burning passion. Others, the mayonnaise-loving freaks, slather it on just about anything with abandon (yes, even bananas). But whether you love it or hate it, almost everyone can agree on one thing: Homemade mayonnaise is always better than the jarred kind.
If, in your mind, mayo is just a mysterious, white, goopy substance that comes out of a jar, let's get something straight. Mayonnaise is a basic cold emulsified sauce that originated in French cuisine, and is the base of many other sauces. It's made by combining egg yolks with mustard, vinegar (or lemon juice), and salt and pepper, and slowly whisking in oil until the sauce thickens and emulsifies.
Before you get started, you should understand that making mayonnaise is simple if you understand and respect ONE basic concept, which we've already mentioned above: Emulsion. An emulsion is the stable distribution of two liquids that don't normally mix (think oil and vinegar). The only way to get these two ingredients to fall in love with each other is to introduce them slowly while beating them into submission. Patience is key.
We'll be honest: You can make mayonnaise in a blender or a food processor. But that requires extra cleanup, and we just think it's so much cooler to whip out a whisk and make it old-school style. There's something to be said for preserving a little tradition every now and then (plus, the whisking action provides a great arm workout).
Okay, let's go make some killer mayonnaise. [Note: Italics below indicate when we're holding your hand through the process]
1 egg yolk [separate it from the whites]
1 level tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
3/4 cup vegetable oil [you may not need all of it, so it's ok if you're a little short]
Water, if needed [to thin out mayonnaise]
1. Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature. [Let them sit out for about 1 hour, but not much longer.]
2. Combine the egg yolk, mustard, salt, vinegar, and a few shakes of pepper in a stainless steel bowl and whisk for 20 seconds.
3. To stabilize your bowl, twist a hand towel into a cord and form a circle with it on your counter top. Place the bowl in the middle of the towel's circle.
4. Start incorporating the oil into the egg mixture, drop by drop, whisking continuously until there is an emulsion. [Seriously, when we say drop by drop, we mean DROP BY DROP. You cannot do this too slowly. It won't take you longer than 2 or 3 minutes, we promise.] Once an emulsion is formed, add the rest of the oil in a thin, steady stream as you continue to whisk rapidly. [You'll know an emulsion is formed when it looks creamy -- like mayonnaise.] The mayonnaise will start off a yellow color, and it'll get whiter and whiter as you add more oil. Finish adding oil when you get it to the stage you prefer.
5. If you add too much oil and make your mayonnaise too thick for your liking, just whisk in a tiny bit of water to thin it out. Otherwise, you're all done! Your gorgeous homemade mayo will keep up to 5 days in the refrigerator.
A Note For Science Geeks: Wondering which ingredient in mayo is the key emulsifying agent? It's the egg yolks. In the kitchen, egg yolks are the most common emulsifying agent due to the presence of lecithin, which is also found in soy. Egg yolks have two properties: 1) lipophilic -- affinity to fats and 2) hydrophilic -- affinity to water. These properties enable them to bind oil and vinegar together in a stable mixture.
Previously On Cooking For Kitchenphobes
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This story appears in Issue 68 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, available Friday, Sept. 27 in the iTunes App store.