Some people will say making mayonnaise is incredibly easy. Others will say it's impossibly hard. Both will be lying a little bit.
The challenge in making mayonnaise, which is easy enough that anyone can do it but hard enough that they'll fail a bunch along the way, lies in marrying together the water from the egg yolks with olive oil that is slowly added to the yolks. This is done through the process of emulsion or, in less technical terms, whisking until you feel like your arm will fall off.
Whether you find it a challenge or a piece of cake, making mayonnaise is undeniably easier when you have good eggs. Mayonnaise eggs should be fresh and at room temperature (opinions on the importance of their temperature vary, I believe room temperature yolks improve your chances of winning at mayonnaise).
Getting eggs to be room temperature is easy enough- just plan on taking them out of the fridge an hour or so before you'll be making your mayonnaise- but getting truly fresh eggs may be a little harder. Thankfully, country life has simplified this step for me.
I recently became a foster parent to a brood of chickens consisting of three laying hens and one rooster. They were put in our charge by our friend, Noëlla Morantin a few months ago.
Noëlla informed us that the hens hadn't been laying eggs for her- maybe it was the season, maybe they weren't in the mood- but she told us we shouldn't expect eggs any time soon.
After factoring in their shock at being taken from Noëlla's chicken coop and being brought to their new home (which we had cleaned out and made cosy in advance), we figured we shouldn't hold our breath for fresh eggs.
We were happy for the chickens' presence eggs or no eggs. The rooster immediately started crowing in the morning, giving our country home serious farm cred. On sunny days we'd watch the feathered crew explore their new grounds as we sipped coffee in the sun. The cats found the new residents absolutely delightful- not intimidating enough to inspire fear and just mobile enough to provide hours of fun as they tracked and spied on them from hiding spots.
And then one day, Ben found an egg and I knew our daily lives had just changed in a small and enormous way. For a little over a week now, we've had an egg a day, thanks to our lovely white hen, who we call L'Islandaise due to the black collar around her neck that makes her look like she's wearing an Icelandic sweater.
We're hoping her efforts will inspire the other ladies to start laying, in the meantime she's inspired more than a few batches of homemade mayonnaise.
I've managed to make a few successful batches of mayonnaise back in the day, but I never really felt like I could master mayo until I read Tamar Adler's wonderful book An Everlasting Meal. I use a little less oil and a little more salt than the original recipe, but that's as far as I'll stray from Adler's advice.
2 eggs yolks (room temperature)
2 pinches of salt
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 cups (350 mL) olive oil
Dash of water
Drop of red wine vinegar
One hard boiled egg per person
Mâche or other greens for a garnish/salad
Whisk together egg yolks, salt, and mustard until the mixture becomes creamy and lightens slightly in color. SLOWLY begin to add olive oil- this can be as little as a few drops at a time in the beginning, whisking vigourously while adding the oil. It is crucial that the mixture doesn't turn to liquid, it should be becoming thicker and almost elastic as the oil is mixed in. Once you have a good base of oil integrated into the thickening yolk mixture you can be braver with adding the oil. Keep adding oil until finished- if at some point the mayonnaise seems too stiff, add a dash of water and get back to whisking. Finish with whisking in a drop of red wine vinegar. Add salt to taste.
Cut hard boiled eggs in half and top each half with a spoonful of fresh mayonnaise. Cayenne pepper is a traditional topping for oeufs mayonnaise and bright fresh greens make a nice side salad to the dish.