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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Best Mayonnaise...

I've been making mayonnaise at home for a while now. Twenty years ago, when I first began exploring French cuisine, trying recipe after recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking a decade before Julie Powell began her own quest, I made mayonnaise for the first time while working my way through Chapter Two: Sauces.

In my first attempt, I nervously whisked store-bought eggs by hand, wondering if it was worth the effort and risks, and what in the world I would do with a cup-and-a-half of mayonnaise in the couple days before it would spoil. Except for special occasions when I knew I would use it all quickly, I found homemade mayonnaise not worthwhile. Years later, I hit the trifecta when I discovered how easy it is to make mayo with a food processor, learned the technique of fermenting mayonnaise that keeps it from spoiling for several weeks, and had a lovely friend willing to share eggs from her backyard chickens. I've been making homemade mayo ever since. For the last year or so, I've been using my own chicken's eggs and making mayonnaise every couple weeks during the summer high-season of mayo use, when cold foods seem to just call out for this luscious, simple sauce.

Of course, having excellent eggs helps this mayo tremendously. My truly free-ranging hens live on a diet of worms, grubs, and backyard vegetation, plus a homemade supplemental mix of whole grains, fish meal, flax seeds, and kelp, sunflower seeds from our garden, and kitchen scraps. They lay eggs with bright, orange-yellow yolks and egg-errific flavor. Since you are not only using raw eggs for this recipe, but leaving the finished product out at room temperature for several hours to ferment, it's essential to use the highest quality eggs you can find. Seek out a backyard chicken keeper (check craigslist) whose chickens spend at least part of their day outdoors, with access to green plants and bugs. Chickens raised in confinement are understandably stressed and crowded conditions are ideal for spreading disease. Free-range chickens have stronger immune systems and are therefore less likely to be overwhelmed with salmonnella bacteria. Plus, their eggs will be higher in omega-3 fatty acids, as well as vitamins A and D.

The real beauty of this mayo, however, is not its health benefits, but its flavor and how it contributes marvelously to just about anything it accompanies. Perfect all-American coleslaw, lip-smacking tartar sauce (culinary surprise of the year for me was discovering how much I like tartar sauce when I make it myself with my mayo), Green Goddess dressing, Thousand Island dressing, dips galore, amazing egg salad, tuna salad, chicken salad, deviled eggs...

Besides good eggs, you need good oil, and unless you want a mayonnaise that has a strong taste of olive oil, use mostly a neutral flavored oil, sunflower and safflower being the best in terms of nutritional profiles amongst the neutral oils. Use more assertively flavored oils sparingly. There is nothing to hide any off-notes, so use the very best you can find and afford.

If you don't make cheese at home and need a bit of whey for making this fermented mayo, buy a high quality plain, whole milk yogurt with live cultures (Nancy's is a great local brand here in Oregon), scoop out a bit of the yogurt, then wait a few hours or overnight. The liquid that pools in the spot where you scooped is whey, which you can use for this recipe.

Cuisinart owners: Examine the pusher for your machine, that plastic cup-like do-dad that helps you push food down the tube. Notice the little hole in the bottom? The folks at Cuisinart put that there to help you slowly drizzle oil for mayonnaise. Wasn't that thoughtful of them? You can literally pour all the oil in there, turn on the machine, and walk away while it makes mayo for you.

Lost Arts Kitchen Mayonnaise
Makes about 1 pint

3 egg yolks
1-2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1-2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon whey
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of freshly ground white pepper (black is fine, too, but the mayo will have black flecks in it)
1-1/4 cups sunflower oil, safflower or other neutral oil
1/2 cup olive oil, or if you prefer a different flavor, try walnut, hazelnut, or sesame oil

Start with all ingredients at room temperature...or at least the eggs and oil. Process the eggs yolks in a food processor for 30 seconds, then add the mustard, lemon juice, whey, salt, and pepper and process again for another minute or two, until slightly thickened.* With the processor running, slowly add oil in a very thin stream--practically drop-by-drop at first. You can begin pouring the oil a little more quickly after adding about half of it, though I just add all the oil via the pusher. Once you have added all the oil, taste the mayonnaise, you may want to add a little more lemon, mustard, or salt. Let sit out at room temperature for 7-8 hours, then refrigerate. Keeps for about four weeks.

* You can of course do this by hand, using a whisk, or, if you have a helpful assistant, an egg beater. It's a good shoulder work out, if you're into that sort of thing.

This is my Real Food Wednesday post. Please have a look at what other Real Food bloggers have to say today.


  1. Sounds wonderful! Will try it out!

  2. This looks fabulous...I passed it on to my husband who is the mayo guy in the house.

    I got even more excited about your own chicken feed. I've always wanted to make my own but didn't know how to get around using soybean meal as the protein bits. It looks like you have a nice combo in your mix....would you mind terribly sharing your recipe with me? I would love to start making my own and think my chickens would be even more grateful.

    Thank you so much!


    p.s. I really enjoy your blog and what you've got going on up there in Portland....very inspiring!

  3. Sam, I have made the mayo using the juice from preserved lemons and that worked okay--it actually was a little thicker than usual. You might also use juice from other lactofermented foods, like pickles or sauerkraut, but you should add some live cultures to your mayo so that it will ferment properly.