Last week I taught a cooking class at Sur La Table in San Francisco. On the menu were Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches. At home, I typically use whole egg (full fat!) mayonnaise. However, for the class I wanted to offer students a super authentic experience. So we made fresh mayonnaise. I used to make mayonnaise from scratch when I was a kid and our family was in a homemade banh mi jag, and then lots more when I worked at City restaurant in Los Angeles. Making mayonnaise is not a regular thing for me these days, but when I revisited and started tinkering with homemade mayonnaise last week, I rediscovered that it’s gosh darn easy to make.
No wonder Vietnamese cooks took to making mayonnaise for banh mi sandwiches – the creamy French emulsion requires just a few ingredients – egg yolks, acid, salt, and oil. The yolks and acid (lemon juice and or vinegar) are blended together and then the oil is slowly incorporated so that the mixture becomes emulsified and creamy. As for the mustard, you can omit if you want.
Many beginner cooks fear making homemade mayonnaise but the simple recipe below is failsafe. You won’t “break” (separate) the yolks from the oil if you take care to blend the ingredients carefully. The machine does most of the work.You're pushing the buttons and slowly pouring in the oil. Even if you’ve got good mayonnaise in the fridge, try whipping up a batch of this stuff and do a side-by-side tasting! I have lots of mayonnaise in the fridge right now and when the jarred stuff runs out, I’m switching to making my own!
A few points to keep in mind:
Are raw egg yolks safe?
According to award-winning author James Peterson in his amazingly comprehensive book, Cooking: 600 Recipes, 1500 Photographs, One Kitchen Education, contracting salmonella from raw egg yolks is really hard to do. You have to eat about 20,000 raw yolks. Instead of the raw yolks below, you can use pasteurized yolks or pasteurize them yourself. My feeling is that the acid in the mayonnaise not only helps to emulsify the mixture but also to kill bacteria, thus lowering your chances of getting salmonella even further. If you regularly eat Caesar salads, know that it’s the raw egg yolk that makes the dressing extra good! Use super fresh eggs in all of your cooking. That’s just a good rule of thumb.
What kind of oil to use for mayonnaise
I prefer canola oil as it’s neutral and I like more egginess. Some people love corn oil because it gives extra richness. Resist using extra virgin olive oil as it has an odd tendency to turn bitter. If you want olive oil in there, add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to the oil below. For that matter, you can add sesame oil, a good toasty peanut oil, or some other kind of flavorful nut oil!
Whisk vs. blender vs. food processor
Whisking is indeed the slow approach but it takes forever. I've blended but it has sometimes not work for me. In the end, I'm sticking with the food processor, which works perfectly like a charm to create creamy, fluffy mayonnaise. If you just have a blender, go for it.
Along with the tip above of adding flavored oil to the recipe, try flavoring mayonnaise with different Vietnamese herbs, chile garlic sauce, black pepper, curry powder, whatever your fancy. For making banh mi sandwiches, I keep the mayonnaise simple as there are many other elements going on. Feel free to use lime juice instead of lemon juice. You can use 1 whole egg instead of the 2 yolks but the flavor isn’t as rich.
Makes 1 generous cup
2 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons unseasoned rice or white wine vinegar
1 cup canola oil
1. Put the egg yolks, salt, mustard, lemon juice, and vinegar in the food processor. Pulse 4 or 5 times to combine well.
2. Remove the feed tube, if it is still in place. Run the machine and pour the oil through the feed tube in a thin (less than ¼ inch wide), steady stream until completely incorporated. The mixture will thicken as the oil gets worked in, and the sputtering will diminish by the time the sauce becomes super thick and creamy (photo below). It should take 2 to 3 minutes to add the oil.
If the mayonnaise seems overly stiff, work in water by the teaspoon. Taste and adjust the flavor for extra salt and mustard, pulsing the machine to blend the ingredients. Transfer to an airtight container, cover, and refrigerate for up to a week month(!).
How to fix broken mayonnaise [update 4/28/09]
This happens on occasion. Tab's comment below got me thinking about it. For me personally, my most common mistake is adding the oil too quickly. Some people say that the oil should be tempered at around 70F but most of us keep our oil at room temp so that shouldn't be the source of the problem, for the most part. When mayonnaise breaks (it is not thick and creamy), there are a number of solutions you can try. It never hurts because otherwise, you'd have to throw it away so why not experiment?
1. Whisk 1 or 2 egg yolks in a small bowl and set aside. Then, put the broken mayonnaise in another bowl and start whisking it. Now add the egg yolk in a very steady, slow stream. Egg yolk, according to food scientist Shirley Corriher in Cookwise, is a fabulous emulsifier and stabilizer. Hopefully, the yolk will bring the mayonnaise into the thick realm. (Another method suggests 1 egg yolk and a little vinegar, say 1/4 teaspoon, then work that into the broken mayonnaise.)
2. Whisk 1 teaspoon of mustard and 1 teaspoon of the broken mayonnaise together and then, slowly whisk the broken mayonnaise into that mixture.
3. One suggestion for broken mayonnaise that’s NOT pure liquid is this: whisk in 1 teaspoon of hot water at a time.
I'm not a food scientist but can see that to save broken mayonnaise, you have to figure out how to get it to emulsify, which brings us back to its original definition as an emulsion. Remember to add the oil slowly. Don't hurry.
- Banh Mi recipe -- how to create your own version
- Vietnamese Baguette -- how to make terrific bread using the food processor
- YouTube video -- Precious Albright's recording of her 84-year-0ld grandma making homemade mayonnaise with an electric mixer. Note the use of a single beater to mimic a whisk!