How And Why To Make Gangster Mayonnaise
Some of you movie buffs out there might remember a cultural culinary conversation between two iconic characters.
The idea of dipping your french fries in mayonnaise can be pretty disgusting to the average American. In all likelihood it’s because a typical American is probably thinking of typical American, manufactured, store-bought mayo and I don’t blame them for being grossed out by the idea. It’s pretty gross, and pretty awful for you. Homemade mayo is another story all together and is worth making yourself, keeping stocked and eating in it’s many versatile ways.
Why do it? Why bother making it yourself when you can just buy it from the store? Well as is true with most things they’re better tasting and better for you when you wrangle the components and muster them together yourself. And as I’ve said before, things tend to taste better after you’ve had to work for them. What about the health aspect? Why eat mayo at all? I’ll get to that in a bit. First of all, let’s look at exactly what mayonnaise is.
At its most basic, mayonnaise is an emulsification of egg yolks and oil. That’s it. I don’t recommend making it just like that but it helps to understand its inner workings. Egg yolks are crucial because they contain an emulsifier called Lecithin (LESS-eh-thin) which, like other phospholipids, is totally natural and found in cell membranes. It is also why egg yolks are the perfect chemical cocktail to thicken things like Hollandaise sauce, custards, frostings, batters and oils like in mayonnaise. They make these things richer, smoother, thicker and more stable. Not to mention they don’t come from some complicated chemical concoction the origins of which will never be known to you. Just a regular old would-be chicken baby.
Enough about eggs. The great thing about making your own mayo is you’re able to choose your own oil. Oil equals fat, right? Grrr, fat bad! Well not entirely. It just depends on what kind of fat it is. As long as it’s not a saturated fat, you need not freak. Saturated fats are fully loaded with hydrogen and so all they do is stick to your insides and raise your bad cholesterol where as poly or mono-unsaturated fats have room for bonding and can actually help your good cholesterol and your heart. Click here for details. Generally speaking you’ll want to stay away from “canola oil” or “vegetable oil.” They’re highly processed and mysterious. A good rule of thumb is to only use an oil clearly labeled from its food of origin. “Olive oil” comes from olives. “Sunflower oil” comes from sunflower seeds. Ever seen a “canola”? Exactly. Here’s a better list if you’re interested.
If health isn’t a concern of yours then it’s all about flavor. Technically it’s not really mayonnaise without an acid i.e. vinegar or lemon juice. Those, plus a little salt, are usually the only flavors you’d expect from a basic mayo so you want to go with a relatively tasteless oil. Canola oil and Vegetable oil are pretty neutral if you’re okay with them after reading the links above. From a healthier standpoint Olive oil, as usual, is the way to go, but it’s pretty strong so be prepared for your sandwiches or dressings to taste olivey if you use it. A super healthy, pretty neutral choice is coconut oil. The only downside I’ve found is that it’s only liquid above seventy-five or eighty degrees. If the oil’s solid at room temperature your mayo will sure as hell be solid in the fridge so it’s not a great choice. I love the taste of olive oil so that’s my go-to. I say experiment and see which oil you like.
Time to be technical. Making mayonnaise by hand and via some mixer is pretty easy once you’ve done it so here’s a little rundown. A basic mayo will have egg yolks, lemon juice, oil and salt to taste (see what I did there?) With both methods you’re mixing together the yolks, lemon juice and salt, then simply adding oil to it. To do so by hand, whisk all but the oil together until the yolks are nice and whipped. They’ll be a little lighter in color and frothy. It’s easiest to add the oil to an already-created emulsion but that’s exactly what a broken yolk is, so you’re set. Whisk vigorously adding one drop of oil at a time via squeeze bottle or vessel of your choice. You’ll need to go slower than you think, at least at first. Add too quickly and the mayo will break (that is, separate into its individual components). The good news is, the more oil you incorporate into the emulsion, the slower you can whisk so you can give your arm a break, and the faster you can add the oil. The ratio of oil to emulsion will be switched so adding more oil at a time in the latter part of the process will be making less of a dent, and you’ll run less risk of adding too much and killing it. Keep this going until your creamy, thick emulsion resembles what you know to be mayonnaise.
It’s good to do this by hand before going to town with a mixer of some kind to better understand what’s going on in the mixing bowl. Using a food processor, table-top stand mixer, or hand mixer will be easier but it will be easier still once you understand the fundamentals. With mixers, though, there’s a small variation in method. For one thing in my preference, the food processor, the blades are spinning so fast you greatly reduce the risk of adding too much oil at a time. You’ll still want to start slowly, but not nearly as slowly as before. The whole process is faster. Also, with mixers it’s okay to leave the egg white in the mixture. You remove the step of separating the yolks entirely. You could leave it in the mixture with the hand method but you’d have to add much, much more oil before it became mayonnaise and I don’t have the patience or endurance for that. Since an electric mixer does the work for you, why bother talking the white out? You might as well eat the protein.
I understand I’ve left many questions unanswered so far. How much yolk or juice do I start with? How long is this going to take? Can I add anything else? I did so deliberately because mayo can be made in a half-cup, one-egg batch or in several gallon batches. I’ve done both. Here’s a more specific set of guidelines. You might also still be pondering the difference between mayonnaise and aioli, something that is truly great for dipping french fries or fresh veggies. According to Alton Brown, the fourth edition of Food Lover’s Companion and a slew semi-reputable internet resources, aioli is a specific type of mayonnaise originating from Provincial France. I haven’t a clue which came first but I do know that aioli is made specifically by combining olive oil, fresh garlic, lemon juice then grinding mercilessly medieval with an old-school mortar and pestle. See recipe.
It’s also important to consider your state of mind any time you take a crack at emulsifying a sauce, so enough technicality. Story time. I worked with a guy named Logan who thought he was the best cook in the world. He was high-strung and thought he had all the answers. One busy night we ran out of aioli and I asked him to make more. He went right to work and the sauce broke. This happens to everyone from time to time and is just not that big of a deal. However since Logan had his reputation of World’s Greatest Thirty-Five-Year-Old Making Eight Bucks An Hour At A Hole-In-The-Wall On The East Side to uphold, he flipped. “This never happens! I know how to make aioli!” I told him it wasn’t a big deal and to try again. Sure enough, it broke again sending him into a deeper dimension of existential crisis I couldn’t comprehend. I told him to give it another shot. “No, Casey. You’re not listening to me. I KNOW how to make Aioli.” “It’s not a big deal,” I told him. I recommended he take a few breaths, mellow out, go smoke a cigarette and try it again. Sure enough, he did just fine. Emulsified sauces are the quintessential self-fulfilling prophecies. If you don’t think you can’t do it, you can’t. If you think you’ll mess up, you will. I heard of an old woman in Province, France (via some TV show) who didn’t want to make her aioli at the time because there were too many people in the room. There really is a Zen to it. So before you begin, I recommend being relaxed, and totally okay with failure. It will happen to you. If not in your first attempt, eventually. And for no reason. And not just with mayo. Such is life. Learn to roll with the punches.
Making your own mayo is good for you in several ways. Once you master mayo you’ve already learned the technique for countless other emulsified sauces previously unconquerable. You can customize it to your liking as far as texture and flavor. For texture, you’re not really done making it until you’re done. Just stop adding oil when you like what you have; it’s that easy. As far as flavor, the world is your oyster. Few additions make a myriad of modifications. Tomato juice and pickle relish form a simple Thousand Island dressing. Mayo, itself can be used to tone down the punch of any of your favorite hot sauces, making them ideal for sandwiches and salads.
And remember that you made this, not the manufacturer. I treat some foods like heavy narcotics; I prefer to know exactly where they came from. Mayonnaise was one of America’s first manufactured foods so they’ve had decades to add all manner of who-knows-what to it for storage and shelf life.Which might remind you that mayo isn’t cooked. It’s essentially raw egg, but don’t let that scare you. The acid in mayonnaise is actually better at killing salmonella than the cold of your refrigerator. You’ll be fine. As far as the last of your health concerns? Sure, it’s a fatty sauce. So just don’t eat it all the the time, or in huge doses as is the case with any less-than-perfect nugget of culinary yumminess. Besides, you’d have to go through some serious laboring making this stuff pretty often to really do your body some serious damage.