PHOTO BY MICHAEL PIAZZA / STYLED BY CATRINE KELTY
Growing up, I was a Hellmann’s junkie. We always had it in the house, and even though my mother often made her own delicious mayonnaise, there was just something about the tang of that glorious, globular stuff from behind the yellow-and-blue label that I couldn’t get enough of. I put obscenely thick layers of it on sandwiches, and even spread it on pumpernickel toast as an after-school snack. I was obsessed.
But then I worked in food service after college and discovered that the enormous jugs of preservative-laden Hellmann’s we used were shelf-stable—even after they were opened—and my stomach turned. I had to find an alternative, but every “natural” brand I tried paled in comparison.
I’d always loved my mother’s homemade version—she was an early-adopter to the natural foods movement, so controlling what went into our diet was very important to her, and making her own mayo fit her French background to a tee. It was delicious and garlicky, but it lacked that signature Hellmann’s flavor I craved. What if I took out the garlic and added a pinch of sugar to mimic that sweet tang?
By that point in my life I was cooking for a living and was pretty confident in the kitchen, so how hard could it really be to make my own mayonnaise from scratch?
Nightmarishly hard, as it turns out. The first few times I tried, I did it the old-fashioned way—in a bowl with a whisk—and it was so aggravating and horrible that I’m surprised I persevered. My disastrous results yielded broken, drippy, sadly un-emulsified ingredients, hot-faced tears and a complete misunderstanding of what I’d done wrong. I’d followed every instruction, and yet those darn eggs and oil just would not come together. I felt like a failure. How did my mother do this so easily? What was I missing? And then I remembered: She’d never made it in a bowl. It was the Cuisinart that had produced the thick and creamy homemade mayo of my childhood.
Making a successful mayonnaise by hand requires a lot of patience, and up to that point I had certainly been rushing things. Ingredients need to be at room temperature, the bowl well-secured and the oil added at a snail’s pace for the eggs to accept it. Doing this with a whisk and only two hands is pretty hard. But a food processor’s feeder tube has a tiny hole in it designed just for making mayonnaise, and it works like a charm. Leave it to the French to invent a machine to better make their culture’s most wonderful sauce.
So after that frustrating—but fleeting—inability to emulsify eggs into oil, I cracked the food processor method and have been making my own mayo ever since. I use the freshest local eggs I can find, and I’ve found that a blend of clean-tasting safflower oil and rich, fruity extra virgin olive oil makes the nicest flavor—my mother finds olive oil too bitter in mayonnaise, so she’s always used straight canola, expeller-pressed and organic, of course.
I’m still on the quest to find a Hellmann’s-tasting store-bought mayo (and some of the newer vegan brands are surprisingly close), but now homemade just tastes better to me anyway, especially slathered on a nice, hot slice of pumpernickel toast.
Makes about 2 cups
1 whole egg, room temperature
1 tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2⁄3 cup organic safflower oil blended with 1⁄3 cup extra virgin olive oil (or just 1 cup safflower, or “light” olive oil)
In the bowl of a food processor blend the egg, mustard, vinegar, lemon, sugar, and salt until well combined. Combine the two oils in a pitcher and pour very slowly into the feed tube with the motor running, allowing the oil to dribble down into the bowl through the tiny hole at the bottom before refilling the tube.
When all the oil is gone and your mayonnaise has formed, taste for seasoning and add more salt or sugar, if you like.
For a twist, try adding the following:
- 1 grated clove of garlic and a pinch of smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon minced tarragon or basil or both
- orange or lime zest
- pinch of curry powder
- 1 grated clove of garlic and the zest of 1 lemon
Sarah Blackburn is a home cook, recipe developer, vegetable gardener and managing editor of Edible Boston. She can be reached at email@example.com