Sultry yellow yolks are whisked into a sticky mass. A touch of sharp vinegar, a whisper of dry mustard, a small jig of salt join in, and then slowly, achingly slowly, drop by drop, warm summery sunflower oil is added, in a nonstop whirl of whisking that seems to slow down time in the small, quiet kitchen. The world comes down to just this, a slowly lightening sauce growing through the quiet “tsks” of whisk on bowl. Smoothly and silkily, the sauce comes together in lush thick whorls of delicately savory goodness. This is, of course, mayonnaise. No mere white gloop from a store-bought jar, true handmade mayonnaise is a completely otherworldly experience, a deceptively simple concoction that coyly reveals the wonders of a few prime ingredients and a sound whisking. You will want to eat it with a spoon.
Mayonnaise, using the technique laid out by the master, Julia Child in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (with one ingredient update and far less explanation… hers is masterful, I recommend reading it thoroughly)
3 egg yolks
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar (you can also use lemon juice, I used the vinegar), plus more for later
1 1/2 c. sunflower oil (You can also use olive oil, but it will create an entirely different flavor. The original book also says you can use “salad oil,” which is very much telling of the times. I prefer to keep sunflower oil around, as it has a bit more finesse to it than a generic canola oil, which is what I believe “salad oil” is referring to.)
2 Tbsp. boiling water
Generously sized non-reactive bowl (I use stainless steel, you can also use a ceramic or glass bowl, preferably not plastic.)
Wet towel or something else to help keep the bowl from slipping.
A good wire whisk
Before anything else, run your bowl under hot water for a little bit, then dry thoroughly. The idea is to start with a warm bowl. Julia never specifies eggs at room temperature, but she does specify that everything should be tepid (room temperature,) not cold. The warm bowl will help to ensure the temperature, but it must be bone dry.
In the bowl, whisk the eggs yolks together for about a minute until they are a good sticky mass. Add in the dry mustard, salt, and vinegar, and whisk for another 30 seconds. Make sure that your bowl is either sitting on a wet towel (I like to wrap it around the base of the bowl) or a larger heavy vessel, to prevent it from sliding all around. Whisking constantly, start to add the oil in, drop by drop. This is the slow part. Keep an eye on the oil. It won’t completely go to pot if you accidentally put 2 drops in at a time, but you don’t want a steady stream yet. Whisk constantly. Try to avoid moving your arm from the shoulder, as you will tire yourself out really quickly. Keep the arm closer to the body, try to move from the elbow. At least, this is what I try to do. Julia says you do not need to go at high speed, a couple of strokes a second will do. Keep an eye on the sauce, which should slowly begin to emulsify. If it looks like you’ve put in a bit too much oil, do not panic, just pause on the oil and whisk a little longer. Once you have added 1/2 cup successfully, with no breaks, you have passed the crisis point. Take a small break if you want, have a sip of wine, then return to the task at hand. You can add the oil a little faster now, but DO NOT just start dumping it in. Now you can go a tablespoon or two at a time. Keep your eye on that emulsion. If it starts to look oily, stop adding oil and whisk the dickens out of it until it comes back together. If it starts to get too thick, add a drop of two of white wine vinegar (or lemon juice), whisk it in, then switch back to the oil.
Once you have successfully added all of the oil, whisk in the boiling water, one tablespoon at a time. This is an “anti-curdling” insurance.
Try not to eat it all with a spoon right then and there. Scoop into a jar. This is not commercial stuff, so try to use within the week. Somehow, I don’t think that will be a problem.
Deviled Eggs with the Delightful Fresh Mayonnaise
6 hard-boiled eggs
1/4 c. mayonnaise
1 tsp. dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. dried dill
1/2 tsp. paprika, plus more for dusting
salt and pepper to taste
Peel and halve the eggs, gently tapping the yolks into a bowl. Lay the eggs out on whatever plate you will be serving them on. Add the mayonnaise, mustard, dill, and paprika to the bowl with the eggs, and mash it all together thoroughly with a fork. Add salt and pepper to taste. From here, if you are feeling fancy you can put the filling into a bag with a decorative tip and pipe gracefully delicate yellow whorls into the eagerly awaiting eggs, or if you are not feeling like it (as I clearly was not,) simply scoop about a tablespoon of filling into each egg half, trying to even it out amongst the eggs. Gently sprinkle the filling with a touch more paprika, and mill some fresh black pepper over all, if desired. Let chill for at least one hour before serving. And don’t anticipate leftovers.