Minor mishap with mayonnaise

I have been meaning to make mayonnaise from scratch every since my instructor made it in my Culinary Arts I class at George Brown College. It looks so simple – take an egg yolk and gradually whisk in vegetable oil and you are done!

I decided to make spinach dip the other day for a supper club that I would be hosting only to realize that my jar of Hellman’s mayonnaise had passed its “Best by date”. More on this later*

Since I only needed 1 cup of mayonnaise to make the spinach dip, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity for me to make mayonnaise from scratch. I even had a recipe on hand from my Ratio cookbook by Michael Ruhlman. This is a GREAT resource to have if you want to break a recipe down to the fundamentals. It’s based on the fact that most recipes are based on proportions (e.g. 1 part to 2 parts, 3 parts to 2 parts) and frees you from all the tablespoons and measuring cups allowing you to make as little or as much of something that you want. (I have been known to make a drizzle of vinaigrette salad dressing this way).

Here is the recipe:

Adapted from Ratio by Michael Ruhlman

1 large egg yolk
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp water
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt

  1. Combine the yolk, salt, water and lemon juice in a large bowl. Fold a hand towel into a ring on the counter and set the bowl in this ring to hold it steady while you whisk. Using a whisk, stir the ingredients together.
  2. Add the oil slowly while whisking vigorously. It helps to measure out your oil into a cup that pours well in a thin stream. Alternately you can start your emulsion by drizzling the oil off a spoon, then pouring the oil after the emulsion has begun. Add a few drops of oil as you begin to whisk. When the emulsion becomes creamy, you may increase the speed with which you add the oil to a thin stream. From the beginning the mixture should be thick enough to hold its shape and look luxuriously creamy. Add the oil too quickly and it will break, that is, it will turn soupy. When all the oil is incorporated add remaining lemon juice to taste. If the mayonnaise is too thick, it can be thinned by whisking in a little water.
  3. If it breaks, put a teaspoon of water in a clean bowl and start the process over by dribbling in the broken mayonnaise while whisking.

My mayonnaise formed nicely (yay!) but it seemed slightly ‘off’ when I tasted it. Did I add too much lemon juice? Or is it because I used corn oil instead of vegetable oil? (I learned later that it’s best to use a neutral tasting vegetable or canola oil as olive oils and corn oil can result in off flavours). Or maybe I’m used to the slight vingary flavour of Hellman’s mayonnaise. It might have been a bit of everything.

However, once I mixed it into the spinach dip it tasted fine…but then I started to worry about food safety issues. How long does homemade mayonnaise keep for? It has an uncooked egg yolk. Does that mean it will only keep for 2 days in the fridge? What if my fridge isn’t cold enough? Am I going to poison my dinner guests?

Thank goodness for StillTasty.com – my tried and true website for food safety where I learned that homemade mayonnaise will keep for 2-4 days in the fridge. Phew! After all that, I’m not sure if I would make mayonnaise from scratch again. The recipe makes about a cup and I don’t know if I would be able to use up a cup of mayonnaise that quickly (I would probably just use good old Hellman’s – especially now that I know commercially packaged mayonnaise keeps for quite a long time).

*Commercially bottled mayonnaise is actually still good for 2-3 months after the date on the package. The “Best by” or “Best used by” dates indicate how long the product is at peak quality (versus safety) – who knew? Actually, nationally acclaimed dietitian – Leslie Beck recently wrote a great article on what the best before dates really mean.

But hey, at least I finally got around to making mayonnaise from scratch. Next step – aoili!

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