From M., 22 December 2009, Mayonnaise – can I change it up?
Q: I have recently begun making my own mayonnaise, and it’s so much better than shop bought stuff. I have been playing around with the oils that you can use, and have found that sesame oil adds a lovely nutty flavour. Can you suggest any other good oils?
A: It’s good to hear that you enjoy making your own mayonnaise, because it’s so easy to do and such an improvement over commercial product. The principal obstacle to making mayonnaise may be one’s ability to consume it – homemade product only is safe for a few days under refrigeration, unlike commercial product, which usually is made with pasteurized egg and has a low enough pH (high acidity), generally below 3.5, to inhibit spoilage.
Mayonnaise is fundamentally an emulsion of oil and vinegar or lemon juice, stabilized with egg and seasoned with salt. Although many recipes specify the addition of mustard, its use technically makes the sauce a rémoulade, not a mayonnaise. To make mayonnaise, you may use either the egg yolk alone, or the whole egg, which produces a more stable and lighter colored mayonnaise, but one which is less flavorful. Beat the egg yolk and your acid vigorously by hand or in a mixer, adding the oil at first drop by drop, and then, as a thicker and more stable emulsion forms, in a thin stream. One egg can combine easily with between two cups and a quart of oil (about 500 to 1000 ml) before breaking – indeed, if you add additional water, you can extend this even further. Season with salt. Using a blender or food processor, or even a stand mixer, will speed up the process and save your arms.
If you like, you can change up the oils. Safflower or olive oil are traditional, but many a cook has taken advantage of the flavors in other oils to produce specialty mayonnaise to accompany s particular dish. Some oils, like sesame, are very strong in flavor – in those cases, consider diluting with a neutral oil, like grapeseed or canola, before use. Otherwise, the resulting sauce may be overwhelming. Some oils are not liquid when chilled or even at room temperature; those oils, generally saturated animal fats like lard, must be melted and combined with a liquid oil before use to allow them to emulsify properly.
If you’re looking to make a good all-purpose mayo, I recommend safflower, sunflower, peanut, or a mild olive oil. These produce a rich sauce and combine well with lemon juice or white wine vinegar.
If you’re interested in other oils, my favorite finishing oils all are suitable, but they are expensive and, again, you should consider diluting with a neutral oil to avoid making an insanely expensive mayo that tastes overwhelming. I like walnut, hazelnut, and pecan oils for salad – these would be excellent choices. Consider the choice of acid when using different oils – for example, if you select a sesame oil, you might think to use rice vinegar.
If you want to experiment with solid fats, pork fat, bacon fat, and duck fat are delicious. Ensure that the fat is free of solids and combine when liquid with an equal part measure of neutral oil. Butter presents a special challenge because it is highly saturated and generally needs to be used warm; in any case, classic butter and egg emulsions already exist by different names. The most important are hollandaise and Béarnaise sauces, made with melted butter.