Since I remember, mayonnaise (mayo for the friends) has always been my favorite dipping. I always thought that mayo is the perfect pairing for fries, boiled eggs, hot dogs and the Italian bollito misto. To do not mention the delicious Russian salad of my dad, a masterpiece of patience and discipline, where mayo is one of the main ingredients. Home-made mayo has a delicacy that the industrial one can only dream about. Even the finest mayo you find in the grocery store can barely compare to the one you prepare by yourself.
Mayo is a classic French sauce that is nowadays well diffused all around the globe. Although we can find several versions of mayo (e.g. remoulade, basically a mayo with the addition of mustard), the basic ingredients are eggs, vinegar or lemon juice, oil and salt.
When I was a kid, I heard tons of discussions about how to get the perfect mayo or simply how to succeed with that. Yeah, I didn’t imagine mayo had its own challenges. My dad always told me the secret for a perfect mayo was using an immersion blender to make it. On the contrary, my aunt replied that that trick did not help her at all. I do not want to sound cocky, but I have used my father’s method and never screwed a mayo in my life (so far :P).
So which is the way? Why mayo is so challenging? Is there a way to do not fail a mayo? In other words: can you get a standardized recipe for mayo? (Ahhhh, I love the scientist way ah ah :))
Let’s try to understand how mayo develops and what affects its stability.
What is mayo?
Mayo is an oil in water emulsion. I actually didn’t believe it when I read it: have you seen how much oil you put in a mayo? In particular, if you consider how little watery phase you have. This is actually one of the reasons why preparing mayo is so challenging: can you imagine incorporating all that oil in water?!
Lecithin and egg proteins act as emulsifiers. The mechanical action denatures proteins and allows the progressive incorporation of oil in water. Salt and lemon juice (or vinegar) stabilize the emulsion, by keeping the proteins positively charged. This electrostatically repels the fats hampering them from associating with each other.
Which factors affect the outcome of mayo?
Amount of water_if the watery phase is not sufficient, you won’t be able to incorporate the oil and phases will separate :(
Amount of emulsifiers_in this specific case, it refers to the concentration of proteins and lecithin, therefore, to the amount of eggs to add. Surprisingly, it was calculated that one yolk has enough emulsifiers to prepare liters of mayo! :) Well, provided that water is enough…
Continuous stirring_if you prepare mayo manually, you might know that you have to stir and beating the eggs continuously, while you slowly add oil. This procedure allows the progressive incorporation of fats. However, this consideration can be forgotten if you use an immersion blender: the mechanical energy and the stirring power are such that you get a mayo in only 10 sec. I love technology :D
With that, we covered the basic notions on mayo and similar egg-based sauces. However, the topic is wide and, to be honest, we just scratched the surface with this simple post. We will get back on these types of preparations in the future.
Hervé This, Pentole e provette, Ed. Gambero Rosso, 213-213.
Hervé This, Les précision culinaires, Ed. Quae-Belin, 114-117.