11 - 2009

Dealbusters: Necessity Is The Mother Of Home-Made Mayo

This occasional series checks out whether something that sounds like a good deal — or takes a bit of extra work — is a good deal. We’ll look at cost and benefit — with everything filtered through my individual experience. Please chime in with your take.

I’ve meant to make my own mayonnaise for some time, but it took something of a crisis to drive me to it.

A couple of weeks ago, a doctor suggested I eliminate gluten from my diet. (So far, it’s going well — watch for more posts, or perhaps a dedicated blog, on this subject.) On Monday morning, when I went to make my daughter a tuna fish sandwich for lunch, I thought I might have the other portion of the tuna salad for lunch. After all, most of it is gluten-free: tuna, spices, mustard, celery … mayonnaise?

No, as it happens. The mayonnaise in my cupboard turned out to contain maltodextrin and a wheat-germ derivative — both no-no’s for the gluten-free. I had not yet opened the container, so I could either open the 32-ounce jar to use a little at a time on gluten-containing sandwiches only. But two of my primary uses of mayo are tuna salad and egg salad, both of which I want to enjoy. So I decided now was the time to make mayo.

I’ve been afraid of making mayo for two reasons: salmonella and Julie. In Julie Powell’s book Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, she makes mayonnaise sound really challenging. In Mastering The Art of French Cooking, Volume One (1) (Vol 1), Julia Child, while assuring us it takes “no skill whatsoever” to make, insists on specific procedure.

As for the salmonella, it is and is not a real concern. While salmonella poisoning is very serious, and therefore raw eggs should not be eaten by the very young, very old, pregnant, or those with health problems, the risk of cracking open a salmonella-infected egg is reportedly 0.0005%, or five one-thousandths of a percent. (There also are alternatives, such as pasteurizing your egg yolks, which I might do in the future.

Nevertheless, at 7:35 on Monday morning, I dove in. (Note: Some people use words like “amazing” to describe the compulsion to endeavors like this. I would like to point out that the appropriate word is “insane.”)

Julia Child’s recipe calls for:

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 Tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon dry or prepared mustard
  • 1½ to 2¼ cups of olive oil, salad oil or a mixture of each. If the oil is cold, heat it to tepid, and if you are a novice, use the minimum amount.
  • 2 tablespoons of boiling water

She writes that this will prepare 2  to 2 3/4 cups of mayonnaise. Since I was in a hurry, not sure how well it would turn out, not sure how much we would need, and not sure if we would get salmonella poisoning, I opted to cut the recipe in half, using two egg yolks, and saved the whites for another purpose.

One cup of mayo seemed too little for my big food processor, so I used the mini chopper attachment for our handheld blender (a tool we highly recommend, but for which we did not pay the $200 now advertised!). First, I whirled the eggs, mustard and salt in the blender. I measured out all the olive oil in the house — 1/4 cup (we were overdue for a Costco trip). I poured it into the cup a slosh at a time (perhaps 1/2 to 1 teaspoon) and whirred until mixed. I repeated — crack the lid, slosh, mix — until that oil was incorporated. I thinned with lemon juice, as instructed by Ms. Child, flying by the seat of my pants on the amount. Then I added vegetable oil until I had around a cup of thick sauce. Toward the end I had to shake the container around a bit to get the oil to mix in. Ms. Child says the boiling water is separation insurance, but I blew past that step (it’s on a separate page, and I needed to get in the shower) and mine turned out nevertheless.

The result? Thick, luscious mayonnaise, with a lemony twang. It’s delicious, and I don’t even like mayonnaise. The mayonnaise-lovers at my house nearly swooned when they tried a dollop on their braised radishes at dinner the other night. I’m not sure how long it will keep — online sources suggest at least a week — but I plan to use it up soon. It’s the perfect excuse for aioli-dipped vegetables.

And you know what? This might be beginner’s luck, but it took 5 minutes and absolutely no skill whatsoever.

Note if you use a food processor: Julie Powell recommends letting the oil drip in, while the motor runs, via the hole in the pusher cup that fits into the processor feed tube.

The cost breakdown:

The mayonnaise I had on hand costs $3.79 for 32 ounces. For comparison’s sake, I looked at the cost for one cup (8 ounces) of store-bought mayo with olive oil (what I had on hand) vs. homemade.

Ingredients Cost
Egg yolks (2) $0.21
olive oil – 2 oz. $0.25
canola oil – 4 oz. $0.54
mustard $0.00
salt $0.00
lemon juice $0.10
TOTAL $1.10

Savings = No savings. The Kraft mayonnaise would cost $0.95 per cup, 15 cents less than this mayonnaise.

The winner: The homemade mayonnaise. The extra cost, to me, is negligible, unless you eat a LOT of mayo.

The priceless factors:

  • Simple ingredients.
  • Can be as organic as you want it to be.
  • No plastic jar – reuse one you have.
  • Gluten-free (although purchased “real” mayo can be gluten-free, too).
  • Delicious.

The drawbacks:

Takes a bit of time, and without beginner’s luck or long experience, the sauce can break.

The verdict:

Worth it.

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