Magic in the kitchen: instant mayo

A kitchen experiment ends in delicious success.

Scott Wallace - staff

As I walked home from work, I was looking forward to a tuna salad for supper on the first warm day of spring. And so certain was I that I had all the ingredients, I sauntered past my neighborhood grocery store in happy anticipation. I already had tuna, hard-boiled eggs, onion, cherry tomatoes, lettuce – everything I needed, I thought.

And then I reached into the fridge for the mayonnaise – well, that I didn't have. And how can you have a tuna salad without the mayo? A niggling suggestion said: Make a cream sauce and have creamed tuna over toast. But I refused. I'd had a long winter of soups and creamed leftovers on toast. It was tuna salad I wanted!

That was when inspiration hit and I reached for my trusty old "Joy of Cooking." Looking up mayonnaise in the index, I felt an upwelling of adventure. Make mayonnaise? That's a project to daunt any cook. After all, I'd always read that making mayonnaise was a gourmet endeavor, subject to textural failure.

In fact, as I read over several recipes, I learned that I would need a strong arm. At the end of my workday, I wasn't sure I had one. But then I found a recipe for blender mayonnaise. It was obviously the cop-out not only for the weak of arm but the slightly doubting of spirit – so naturally I opted for it.

Since I needed only enough mayo for one salad, I mentally halved the recipe. But it being tricky to halve one fresh egg, I broke the whole thing into the blender.

The next ingredient was a teaspoon of ground mustard. Well, I didn't have the ground kind, so I used a half-teaspoon of the hot-dog variety.

Then came a dash of cayenne, and in the absence of that, I shook in a half-dash of chili power. Salt and sugar I had, and of the right type and quantity.

Carried away by the spirit of adventure – and one that wouldn't cost much in the case of "defeated mayonnaise" (and that was the term in my cookbook) – I went on to the main ingredient, salad oil.

Now, the gourmet recipe, with its long and virtuous hand-beating, called for olive oil, and while I had enough on hand, I decided not to waste it on a lark. Instead, I poured from a quart of the low-price, all-purpose oil I generally use for greasing pans.

Again, no great loss in the face of implied defeat, I thought.

So with everything but the oil slowly coming to agreement in the blender, I began adding the first two tablespoons of oil, although not as slowly as the recipe suggested. After all, I was famished.

I watched the mixture absorb the oil and begin to look like real mayonnaise. Then, with headlong glee, I poured in 1/4 cup of oil and still saw no sign of defeat.

The next step – for the full recipe – was the addition of 3 tablespoons of lemon juice. And that I didn't have, either, so I reached instead for the green plastic squeeze container of lime juice that I had in the refrigerator door. And when the blend reacted well, I forgot to halve the amount and put in the whole 3 tablespoons. But I didn't remember that until later.

The final step was the addition of another 1/4 cup of salad oil, and in my haste I just tossed it in. By now the mixture had thickened and required a spatula to make it accept the final addition. But there it was – looking and responding like respectable mayonnaise.

Scooping it out of the blender – mind you, I hadn't even used the specified small blender jar – was a bit demanding, but with the bottom removed, I got the last licks out and into a plastic container.

I must confess, it was to all appearances – and even taste – the real thing. Maybe a bit tart, like its poor cousin, salad dressing (thanks to the excess of lime juice), but otherwise the perfect addition to my waiting tuna.

Now the only consideration was the durability of my homemade mayonnaise, since it lacked all those unpronounceable stabilizers in store-bought versions and contained uncooked egg. How would it look the next morning – a runny mess?

Well, in the clear light of the next day, it was as stable as the night before. But as I considered freshness, I decided to share it quickly with one of my office colleagues. After all, I could easily whip up the next batch, couldn't I? When I asked her the following day what she thought of it, her reply was: "That was the best mayonnaise I've ever eaten."

That's just what I had thought, but was too modest to say.

So, in the spirit of shared adventure, I offer the halved and adapted blender recipe. Eat with relish (not the edible type), and good speed.

Impromptu mayo

1 organic egg

1/2 teaspoon prepared mustard

A dash of cayenne, chili powder, or even paprika

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cooking oil, divided

1-1/2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice

Put first 5 ingredients plus 2 tablespoons oil in a blender and mix well. Remove the center portion of the blender lid and slowly pour in 1/4 cup oil and then lemon or lime juice. At this point, you may need to stir the mixture with a spatula – but turn off the blender first! Add another 1/4 cup oil, blend, and stir again as needed. Store unused portion in the refrigerator and use within 2 days.

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