Mayo Clinic


    [voice over] In the beginning were the mother sauces: espagnole, velouté, béchamel, tomato* and the ethereal emulsions, miraculous marriages of fat and water bound by the supernatural properties of the egg. Of these, none was mightier than the sauce created by the Duc de Richelieu chef in commemoration of his boss's 1756 conquest of Menorca and its capital, Port Mahon.

    Dubbed mayonnaise, this versatile sauce reigned on high until those twin specters of the modern age, speed and convenience, came to town dancing to the jangle of a jillion jars.


    Those who resisted would eventually be scared away by the third specter, salmonella.


    As a result, an entire generation would grow up not knowing the delicious difference homemade mayo makes. Luckily a new sauce day is dawning. Armed with the right tools, a few basic albeit improved ingredients and some honest science and what was once taboo is once again good eats.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Shirley Corriher, Food Super-Scientist

    When last we ventured into the mixed up world of emulsions, the fluids in question were vinegar and oil. Now aside from ruining a perfectly good lava lamp, we did manage to coerce the two into a vinaigrette—a tasty collection of microscopic vinegar droplets suspended in oil. The problem here is that this is one of those oil-meets-vinegar, oil-loses-vinegar stories because the vinegar droplets—which were never very attracted to the oil in the first place—within hours find each other, get married and move to the bottom of the beaker. It's sad.
    Now mayonnaise on the other hand is an exact opposite. In this case we've got tiny oil droplets suspended in a water type liquid be it lemon juice or vinegar or whatnot. Now these droplets are so compacted in here that within hours this is going to look like ... it's going to look like this [no change]. Now how can that be? How can there be so many opposing forces jammed into one space and yet still be stable?

SC: Lecithin.
AB: I, I'm sorry, Shirley. What did you say?
SC: Lecithin. It's a phospholipid.
AB: Of course it is. Of course it is. So?
SC: It's pretty much just what it says. One hand "lipid" means fat ...
AB: Okay.
SC: ... so one end is a fat and fat soluble.
AB: Okay.
SC: And the other end is phosphoric acid, a mild food acid.
AB: Yep. Got it.
SC: And that dissolves in water. So you've got a molecule with one end that dissolves in fat ...
AB: Um, hm.
SC: ... and the other end that dissolves in water.

AB: Kind of like this [Etch A Sketch drawing]?
SC: Hey. That's not bad.
AB: Yeah, it isn't, is it? But, uh ... Okay. So, about this emulsification business.

Magic ETCH A SKETCH Screen


SC: To get these two liquids, water and oil, together that don't go together ...
AB: Um, mm.
SC: ... we've got to first break one of the liquids into tiny, tiny, tiny droplets.
AB: Okay, that's the oil.
SC: Right.
AB: Little drops.
SC: And then we have to make the other liquid, the water type liquid, juicy so it can run between the drops.
AB: Okay.
SC: And that's where the emulsifier comes in in the first place, to make it juicy.
AB: Okay.
SC: And in addition to that, the emulsifier helps keep the drops apart. See these oil drops could bump into each other ...
AB: Right.
SC: ... and go together ...
AB: Big blob.
SC: ... and get bigger and bigger and bigger.
AB: Like the vinaigrette.
SC: Exactly. You don't happen to have a Styrofoam ball?
AB: Styrofoam ball?
SC: Yeah.
AB: Of course I do, Shirley. Come on. Uh, what's size? Kind of like an orange be all right?
SC: That's great. Now this is going to be our oil drop. In ...
AB: Magnified.
SC: Yeah, great big, great big. Now if we just had something we could stick in.
AB: Oh you need ... like a phospholipid?
SC: Yeah, a phospholipid.
AB: Uh, hey. Here. How about a tack?
SC: Ah, that's perfect!  Now see that little tail end is gonna be the fat end. It goes right into the oil drop.
AB: Got it.
SC: And this is its water- soluble end sticking out.
AB: Okay.
SC: So what we're going end up with is ...
AB: Is something like that ... [hands her a ball with many tacks stuck in it]
SC: Ah, perfect!  Every oil drop is coated with water ends sticking out.
AB: Got it.
SC: Now not only do these love to dissolve in the water, they are also electrically charged ...
AB: Magnetic.
SC: They're magnetic.
AB: So they push the other droplets away.
SC: That's right. They all have the same charge.
AB: Kind of like, uh, the magnets on this strange, cheap little toy.
SC: Exactly. That's great.
AB: So I guess if I'm going to make mayo I gotta land some lecithin.
SC: You sure do.
AB: Well, I know just the place.

Lecithin is referred to as a "soap-type" emulsifier.

The Kitchen

    The average egg yolk is 50 percent water, 16 percent protein, 33 percent fat and 1 percent, well, other stuff. Now, phospholipids including lecithin make up about a quarter of that total fat which doesn't sound like much but believe me it's more than enough. Now lecithin content goes down as an egg gets older so make your mayo with the freshest eggs that you can get your hands on. Now as far as the bowl goes you don't have to use glass but avoid aluminum or iron either of which will turn your mayo gray which I'm pretty sure isn't good eats.

    Now to this single, large egg yolk we're going to add half a teaspoon of salt—not kosher salt, okay? We need finer granules than that. Also going to add half a teaspoon of dry mustard and about two pinches of sugar. Now besides adding flavor, at this point, these grains are going to be like an abrasive which is going to help to break up the oil as it goes in.

1 Large Egg Yolk

1/2 tsp Salt

1/2 tsp Dry Mustard

2 Pinches Sugar

    But we also need some liquids. In this case two teaspoons of fresh, squeezed lemon juice along with about a tablespoon of wine vinegar. I like to use champagne vinegar. Only add half of this right now. Why? Well, you'll just have to be patient.

2 tsp Lemon Juice
1 Tbls White Wine Vinegar

    Now besides adding flavor, this is going to just create more liquid for all of that oil to be dispersed in. Speaking of oil, that will be provided by a cup of either safflower or corn oil—I like to keep it neutral for just a straight mayonnaise.

1 Cup Safflower or Corn Oil

    To get this in and smash it to smithereens, there are a lot of tools that you could use. For instance, a power tool [with a whisk] would be fine. But you know ... hey, that's nice multi-tasking. Um, anyway. I like to have more control in mayo making so I do it manually. Now the first thing is to beat this stuff until it's light and frothy.
    You know, most mayo recipes come across kind of like voodoo spells. There are all of these warnings and incantations and unnatural rituals and everything's veiled in this threat of "you mess with the mayo, the mayo mess with you, man."  Of course at the epicenter of all of this dread is the ratio of egg yolk to oil, right? I mean, most food writers would have us believe that if we add just one drop too much oil, the whole sauce will collapse into a, I don't know, a culinary version of the Exxon Valdez.
    But I don't think it's true. In fact, I doubt that anybody's ever made a mayo that truly stretched the emulsifying power of an egg yolk. What I think it all comes down to is how the ingredients are brought together. For instance if you ask me, it's key that before you add a single drop of oil to the mixture, that you've already got a healthy emulsion in the bowl. And to tell you the truth, if we've properly whipped this, that's exactly what we've got. I mean, look at the big picture or the little picture, if you will.
    I mean here we've got all these kind of egg fats, okay, and they're floating around in all of that vinegar and lemon juice and since we've whipped them, they've already got lecithin and other lipid proteins all over them, right? No problem. So, time to add the oil. But make sure you've got a non-skid device underneath the bowl because you're going to need both hands. Um, a wet towel will do just fine, too.
    Okay. Start whisking and then slowly drop by drop add the oil. And this is what I really like about using a squeeze bottle. Not only can I just put in a pre-measured amount, but I've got a lot of control how it goes in. Now, as these new drops go in, well, heck. Let's look at the big picture again. Ah, there we go. There's the new blob in the bowl so to speak. Now ordinarily he'd have to hang around and wait for the whisk to come by and smack him into a zillion pieces. But because we've already got an emulsion in here, there are already all these other orbs that can jump in there in motion and get all over him kind of like a, I don't know, a wood chipper or maybe, uh ... well, how about a chemical gizzard. That's even better. That guy will be broken up into many droplets in no time flat.
    So keep adding the oil a few drops at a time until you've got about a quarter of a cup in the mix. And do not stop whisking.

Because their shape conforms to the sides of a mixing bowl,
"balloon" whisks are best for mayo making..

     Now once you've got a good, solid emulsion going you can go ahead and add the oil in a stream right down the middle. And you can also let up a little on your whisk arm just a little bit. Now you'll notice this looks a heck of a lot like mayonnaise but we've only got about, I don't know, maybe half of the oil in. So that lets us know that it is time to add the second half of the original liquid, remember the lemon juice and the vinegar. Right in like that.
    Now why bother with this? Well, look around you. I mean here we've got this emulsion that is pretty darned packed with oil droplets, right? And we've been beating it pretty good so all of the phospholipids are in place. The problem is if we keep adding oil, there's going to be less and less and less liquid to go in between these. So the mayonnaise is going to get thicker and thicker and thicker until, well, finally these orbs are going to squeeze together so tight that they will coalesce and pool and we'll have an oil slick on top of eggs, not mayo. That's not a good thing. So, we've got to add the extra liquid so that the droplets have got some space.
    Now why didn't we do this at the beginning of the recipe the way that, well, most recipes are written? Well because that would have made the original mixture very, very wet—very, very loose—and that makes it very difficult to get an emulsion started. By adding it later we've, well, kept ourselves from doing a lot of extra work which is definitely Good Eats.
    And there we have it. Ah, good body, nice cling, and the flavor, mm, just try to get that out of a jar. But it does fit in a jar. Now I usually cover my fresh mayo and leave it at room temperature for 4 to 8 hours. [camera does a double-take on the jar] Now take it easy. Take it easy. I know. Leaving raw eggs in this zone sounds like crazy talk. But here's the thing. There's a small, tiny, infinitesimal, little chance that, uh, that egg yolk was contaminated with salmonella. Now the cold of the refrigerator would prevent that salmonella from breeding but it will not actually kill it. Acid, on the hand, will. And with a pH of, wow, 3.6 this is a decidedly acidic environment. But for reasons that still have lab-coaters scratching their heads, acid does its best bug killing at room temperature. So leaving this out for 8, 10, even 12 hours is sound sanitation. After that, straight to the refrigerator for no more than a week. You can even put it in the door.

    Oh, speaking of the fridge, if you want to drop your odds of running into the "Big S" to zero, go with pasteurized eggs. These have actually been pasteurized in the shell. They're heat treated, not irradiated or anything. Uh, but aside from a slight, foggy albumen which you can see, they look, taste and act just like unpasteurized eggs be it in mayo, hollandaise or an omelet. They cost a little bit more but if you've got any young kids or the elderly in the house, you're feeding expectant moms or anyone with immune system problems they're more than worth it.

pasteurized eggs

Mayonnaise was one of the first prepared foods to
be commercially packaged in the United States.

The Den

    Just in case you're questioning the value of mayo know-how, let me give you a hypothetical situation. Let's say you're sitting in your living room one day minding your own business, reading your mail and you receive one of these: a summons to your 10th annual neighborhood picnic ... and look, it's today ... and look, you're responsible for bringing a hundred sandwiches. We need a mass of mayo, stat.


It's time for the 10th annual neighborhood picnic.

Mr. Brown - 100 Sandwiches

The Kitchen

    Nothing manufactures a mass of mayo on the fly like a food processor. This blade rotates at, like, 3000 RPMs. On a good day I can get a 150 out of this [whisk]. F-16 [food processor]. Cessna [whisk]. This gets us to our destination much quicker than that. And that means adjusting the recipe.

    Now assuming we need at least a pint and half of mayo— we're going to double the base—that means a teaspoon of salt, not kosher, and a quarter teaspoon of sugar and a teaspoon of ground mustard.

1 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Sugar

    Mustard. The word actually comes from the Latin mustum ardens which means "burning grape juice" believe it or not. And it refers to early concoctions that were made from grinding up the seeds along with vinegar. It was used as a medicine and it didn't taste very good. Now later on in the middle ages there was a lot of, well, spoiled food around so they started using it as a seasoning in a condiment to kind of cover things up.
    Now since there are three main varieties of mustard plant, there are three varieties of mustard seed: white, brown and black. Now white mustard seeds—which are actually yellow—are the smallest and they're also the mildest so they're used in most American preparations. Then, of course, there are brown seeds. Now those are much smaller [sic] and much more pungent. They're what give most Asian foods their sinus-searing sensibility. Then, of course, there's the rare black mustard. Now these plants are so finicky to grow that you basically just never see black mustard seeds anymore.
    Now to make a paste or prepared mustard, all that you have to do is take one part of mustard seeds and soak it in about 6 to 7 parts of the liquid of your choice. You can use wine, vinegar, water, even beer. You just let it sit overnight and then, uh, grind it up into a paste. That's it. It's shelf stable for about 6 months and you can refrigerate it just about forever.
    Now of paste mustards there are a few famous ones. There is, of course, Dijon mustard. Now what makes this stuff so special is that the liquid is a very specific kind of verjuice. That's a juice made from unripe grapes from the wine region around that area. It gives it a very distinctive flavor. There is, of course, American mustard. Big Yellow. It's usually made from, uh, white mustard seeds with the addition of turmeric. Okay. Now English mustard looks pretty much just like this only they leave out the turmeric and add a little bit of brown mustard so it's a little bit hotter. I like it.
    Now the English also use a lot of dry or powdered mustard and I do, too. I like it especially for using in recipes because it's dry. You don't have to calculate its moisture in with the rest of the recipe so it's easy.
    Now the reason that you usually see mustard in mayonnaise recipes is, believe it or not, this stuff actually has a small amount of lecithin in it. And its very, very, very fine grain helps to stabilize an emulsion, kind of hold everything together which is another reason why you usually see mustard in vinaigrette recipes. Not only is it very flavorful, but it will help to keep the oil and the vinegar together longer.

    And that concludes the dry portion of the program.

1 tsp Dry Mustard

    Now as for the liquids, with 3,000 RPMs at our disposal, I'm not really worried about getting the primary emulsion going. So I'm going to add everything up front. Two tablespoons of champagne vinegar. And to just add a little twist to things, two tablespoons of lime juice. Now last but not least, the eggs: one egg yolk and one whole egg. More on that later.

2 Tbls White Wine Vinegar (champagne)

2 Tbls Lime Juice

1 Egg Yolk
1 Whole Egg

    Now we're going to process this [with] five quick pulses just to get it moving. [one] Two. Three. Four. Five. Okay.

    Time for the oil. Two cups this time though I'm going to replace the last couple of tablespoons with chili oil just so the neighbors don't forget who they're messing with. Now you can use any flavored oil in mayo, okay, as long as you keep it to less than one third of the overall oil content. Now if you decide on using extra virgin olive oil, add it by hand only. It's got fruitier compounds that just can't take the slam dance of the processor. It will turn out bitter. Let's spin, shall we?

2 Cups Oil

Replace 2 Tbls
with flavored oil

    Now the emulsion's coming together nicely but as it fills with more and more oil droplets, the velocity of the blade threatens to force them together so hard that their little lecithin coats will come off and then nothing will keep them from pooling together and turning the mayo from light and fluffy to flat and runny. That is where the egg white comes in. You see, the proteins in albumen or egg white are long tangly things and they can wind their way around and in between the droplets forming a kind of safety mesh, like that.

Top mayo flavoring oils:

    There. Perfect mayonnaise in less than a minute. Fold in some poached chicken, sliced scallions, maybe some cilantro and you are a hero ... unless of course something goes terribly wrong.

    Now aside from the smash and collapse we just discussed, there are other emulsion maladies that can rain on your buffet. If you add the oil too quickly at the beginning of the process, the emulsion can break. If you don't whisk fast enough at the start of the process the emulsion can never form. Add too much oil after the emulsion forms and the emulsion can break. If the fat is too hot the emulsion can break. And anyway you break it the result is the droplets will pool together. Game over.

Mayo Mistakes:

  • add oil too quickly

  • whisk too slow

  • too much oil after emulsion forms

  • oil too warm

    There. Just look. You weren't paying attention. Now it's ... aah. You're going to have to start all over again.

Mayonnaise is easier to rescue than other egg based
sauces because the egg proteins remain uncooked.

The Kitchen

    Scared you, didn't I? Okay, it's not completely ruined. But that doesn't mean that we don't have to start over. Of course I'm going to need a bowl and my whisk a ...[which are handed to him] yeah, okay. And, of course, one of those little paddy things that goes underneath it to hold it. Now I say we've got to start over we need a new emulsion. But of course we can make an emulsion out of a single egg yolk, right? So, we're to do exactly what we did way back at the beginning of the show. We're going to work this into a nice, frothy, little emulsion. Okay we're going to distribute those egg fats, cover them up with lipoproteins, and distribute them throughout that fifty percent of water, okay?
    Now you can bring on that nasty, broken goo you call mayonnaise. Oh, that is a disaster. Okay, add this a very, little bit at a time at least at the beginning. Okay. And work that in thoroughly. We're basically just remounting the emulsification process. There. When it starts to become nice and creamy, go again. Now as you go you can start adding more and more but do not add the next addition until this is thoroughly worked in. The whole process shouldn't take more than about 2 minutes.
    And in a couple of minutes, all is well. There. Good as new. Now aside from being the finest mayonnaise you're ever likely to eat, this miraculous menagerie works and plays remarkably well with others. For instance, mayonnaise plus chopped gherkin pickles plus dill plus capers equals tartar sauce. Next, mayonnaise plus tomato sauce or ketchup plus diced red bell peppers equals what the French call, sauce andalouse. Here in America we would replace the peppers with pickle relish and call it Thousand Island which is still good eats in my book. Next up here's one you may not have heard of. Two parts of fresh mayonnaise folded in with one part of whipped cream equals what the French again call, chantilly which is amazingly good on vegetables or even poached chicken.
    Now beyond this there are a world of other flavors that you can add. Uh, curry powder makes for a wonderful mayonnaise. So does citrus zest and, of course, there's just about every dry or fresh herb under the sun. Of course you could just slather it on to some toast, pile it high with lettuce, tomato and bacon. [is handed a BLT] You'd have my very favorite sandwich but I'll enjoy this some other time.
    We hope that we've inspired you to immerse yourself in the emulsion that is mayonnaise. Besides the obvious paybacks, believe it or not once you've got this down you're only one step and a double boiler away from béarnaise or hollandaise. But that's another show.
    Now if you'll excuse me, I've got sandwiches to make. So, see you next time on Good Eats.
    [slathering bread with mayo] 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 ...

Proof Reading help from Jon Loonin and Sue Libretti.

*According to Foodtv's Encyclopedia, tomato isn't one of the 5 mother sauces.

Hit Counter

Last Edited on 08/27/2010