The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

All About Homemade Mayonnaise

Fast, Easy And Better Than Store Bought

Do you use a lot of mayonnaise at your house? I don't, and used to be I'd go out and buy the smallest jar I could find and still end up throwing more than half of it away. So I recommended to my wife, the family mayonnaise eater, that we start making our own. After all, we make bearnaise, hollandaise, and just about everything else from scratch, so why not mayonnaise?

Mayo has been around for a while. Early references can be found as far back as the beginning of the nineteenth century. Nobody is certain of the real origin story of the stuff and there are several floating around, including the most popular notion that it came from the town of Mahón in Menorca, Spain, where it was known as salsa mahonesa in Spanish and and as maonesa or maionesa in Catalan. It later migrated to France where it became known as mayonnaise.

Regardless of from whence it came, here's what mayonnaise is: a stable emulsion. What's an emulsion? Chemically, it's a mixing of two substances that normally don't mix. Like oil and water. In the case of mayonnaise, it's an emulsion of oil, eggs, and either vinegar or lemon juice. Other ingredients provide added flavor, but those are the essential three.

And that's another reason I started making my own mayonnaise. Above and beyond the cost and waste factors is the control of what I choose to consume. And preservatives and “stabilizers” are generally not among those choices.

Here's a look at the ingredient label of a national brand of mayonnaise. Actually, it's the same label across several national brands:


Now, according to 21CFR101.22 of the Code of Federal Regulations, “natural flavors” are defined as: “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional”.

My. Doesn't that just sound “natural?”

Then there's calcium disodium EDTA, the full scientific name of which is calcium disodium ethylene diamine tetraacetate. See why they abbreviate it? Calcium disodium EDTA is used to inhibit rancidity in salad dressings, mayonnaise, sauces, and sandwich spreads. Considering it's made from formaldehyde, sodium cyanide, and Ethylenediamine, it does a pretty bang-up job of “inhibiting.”

According to the fine folks at the FDA, providing the best protection special interest money can buy since about 1927, calcium disodium EDTA is on the GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) list when used in the small amounts found in prescription medicine, eye drops and food preservatives. However, there is a risk that the stuff can cause cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, low blood pressure, skin problems, and fever. It is not safe to consume more than three grams per day. Too much can cause kidney damage, low calcium levels and even death. Guess it's a good thing I don't eat more mayonnaise.

But you know what? Even if you want to write me off as a health nut, there's one thing that can't be denied: homemade mayonnaise just tastes better than store bought.

As I mentioned, there are a lot of flavors you can add to mayonnaise made from scratch. Once you get the hang of it, experiment away. But what follows here is a really simple, really basic, really easy to make recipe for homemade mayonnaise.

Here's what you'll need:

2 eggs
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 ½ cups canola or olive oil
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper

About the eggs: use the freshest eggs you can get your hands on. Mine are farm fresh, but if you haven't got a farmer handy, don't use the eggs you bought at the supermarket three weeks ago. Go get some fresh(er) ones. Why? Glad you asked. Eggs contain lecithin, a phospholipid that facilitates the emulsion process. The older the egg, the more diminished the lecithin content, so.......fresh eggs, please.

I should note that using olive oil will affect the flavor profile of your mayonnaise. Not that that's a bad thing, but there may be some dishes you don't necessarily want to have an olive oil flavor. In that case, just use canola oil. It will taste more like “regular” mayonnaise.

There are a couple of ways you can proceed. If you've got great wrists, you can make mayonnaise by hand using a big bowl and a balloon whisk. You can also use a food processor or, if you have a ridiculously well-equipped kitchen like I do, you can use an immersion blender. Which ever way you go, make sure the ingredients are at room temperature. If they are too cold, the mixture may not emulsify properly.

Okay. Warm up your wrists, here we go with the “by hand” method.

In a large stainless steel* or glass mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and the mustard until they are thoroughly combined. Add the oil in a continuous, thin stream, whisking constantly, until the mixture starts to thicken. Whisk in the lemon juice and keep whisking until everything is thoroughly blended. Season with salt and pepper.

*(The reason for the emphasis here is that aluminum or iron will make your finished product a rather unappetizing shade of gray.)

If you prefer to let a machine do it, here's how it goes.

Put the eggs and mustard in the work bowl of a food processor and process for a few seconds until everything is smooth. With the machine running, slowly add the oil through the feeder tube in a thin, continuous stream. Do this until the mixture is thick and completely emulsified. Add the lemon juice through the tube and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

If you have an immersion blender (aka a “stick blender”), the procedure is pretty much the same as the hand mixing method, except you're letting the blender be your “hand.”

In each method, I repeated the phrase “thin, continuous stream” when talking about adding the oil. (Well......I think I said “continuous, thin stream” once.) There's a reason: if you dump too much oil in too fast, your mayonnaise will break. That's the word chefs use when they totally screw up a sauce. And instead of having nice creamy mayonnaise, you'll have a bowlful of watery liquid with grainy bits of fat floating in it. You can fix it by beating up another egg yolk and slowly whisking it into the “broken” mixture until it thickens properly. Or you can drizzle in about a tablespoon of very hot water and whisk until smooth. But it's easier to do it right the first time.

A final word about storing your delicious, fresh, homemade mayonnaise: refrigerator. But not right away. After you finish whipping all the ingredients into emulsified submission, leave it out on the counter for a couple of hours. Ouch! All that screaming of the word “salmonella” is deafening. But hear me out. The chance of your egg yolk being contaminated with salmonella is almost infinitesimally small. On the off chance that it was, however, sticking the newly-made mayo in the fridge would only keep that salmonella from breeding. The cold won't actually kill it. However, acid will. And with all that great citric acid in your mayo, the nasties don't stand a chance. But for reasons that still have the white coat and pocket protector crowd mumbling and scratching their heads, acid does its best bug killing at room temperature. So leaving the mayonnaise out for a couple of hours is actually a good idea from an anti-bacterial standpoint. The FDA might disagree, but go back and look at the toxins they Generally Regard As Safe and ask yourself, “who cares?” After a couple of hours, though, it's straight to the refrigerator for your shiny new sauce, where it will hold up pretty well for about a week.

Of course, if the “raw egg and salmonella” thing really terrifies you, you could always use pasteurized eggs or (shudder) a liquid egg substitute. But I won't stand by the flavor.

As I said, there are a lot of variations. For instance, you can leave out the Dijon mustard. Or you can use vinegar instead of lemon juice. You can also scale up or down depending on how much mayo you need. Don't make a boatload unless you're going to use it all within a few days.

Either Amelia Schlorer or Richard Hellman have the distinction of being the first to commercially produce mayonnaise. Hellman supposedly did it in his New York delicatessen in 1905 while Mrs. Schlorer whipped up a batch of her famous homemade mayo in Philadelphia in 1907. She packed twelve jelly jars full of her sauce and sold it at a local department store. The jars were gone within an hour and, for better or worse, the era of commercial mayonnaise in jars was born. Both products are still on the market, although I think Hellman's wins the higher recognition award. But now you can bypass them both in the condiment aisle of your supermarket and make your own. It's fast, easy, and delicious.

1 comment:

  1. I've been following your blog for a few days. Your blog is very informative and relevant.