Recipe: Mayonnaise with Roasted Garlic, Tarragon, and Hubris

Hello!  It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  Unfortunately, I forgot, when I started this blog in the slow season at work, that there would come a time of year when I would be drowning in a seemingly endless sea of grant applications.  The nice thing about this time of year is that I get to feel useful – I’m really good at organising grants, and I actually quite like talking new postdocs through the application process.  Another nice thing is that I work up so much time in lieu that I get to have a little holiday at the end of this period.  But the flip-side is that I am working long hours, in addition to all my usual sidelines, and this leaves little time for cooking, let alone blogging.

And then we get days like last Thursday, when I had a totally brilliant idea for dinner while I was still at work, and sent Andrew out to buy the ingredients while I was at choir.  I was going to make my amazing pan-roasted fillet steak salad with home-made mayonnaise, and in my head, I had already started drafting my cheerful, friendly, reassuring post about how, despite what you may have heard, mayonnaise is actually really *easy*!  I’ve made it five times, and it has worked without a fuss every time!  And here are my secrets!  I even had a delightful little side comment about saving the egg-whites for meringues or, if one was feeling ambitious (as indeed I was), for macarons!

Ha, I say, and Ha again.  I got home on Thursday night and found that my lovely husband had indeed bought the ingredients I didn’t have, and had roasted the garlic, just like I had asked him to.  So I settled down to make mayonnaise.  I even took photos! And it didn’t work.  Not even a little bit.  And I have absolutely no idea why.  So I threw out the first batch and tried again.  This time, I know exactly why it didn’t work.  Apparently, adding way too much vinegar very early in the piece ruins everything.  Since I no longer had any roast garlic left, I grimly added another egg yolk, and decided that it was time to get out the beaters, rather than using the fork method.  And finally, finally, it came together.  I was so relieved that I promptly flicked a large dollop of the mayonnaise into the egg-whites which I was so frugally reserving for future meringue needs (and this is why you should cover things you leave on the benchtops, even if it’s only going to be for a few minutes)…

So yes.  Do try making mayonnaise.  It’s delicious when you make it at home, and so exciting when it comes together.  But if it’s late at night after a long day of work and choir, I strongly recommend having some of the good quality bought stuff to hand.  It will save you a great deal of frustration…

Oh, and one final confession.  After all that, I no longer had the faintest idea what quantities of olive oil I had used in the mayonnaise!  So I have come up with my quantities by looking online and through my cookbooks until I saw something that looked about right.  And on my merry way, I ran across this website which talks a lot more about how egg yolks emulsify things, and it’s all very fascinating, so I think you should have a look at it – though I don’t recommend using 100 cups of oil for each egg yolk…

Your shopping list

1 bulb of garlic
olive oil for roasting garlic
1 egg yolk (make sure it’s fresh, and please get free-range if you possibly can)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup olive oil (you may need a little more to get the consistency you like)
1 tsp white wine vinegar
black pepper and dried tarragon, to taste

Now what will you do with it?

Let’s start with the part where we are on solid ground, shall we?  So, your first move is to roast the garlic.  You do this by getting the whole bulb and *not* peeling it.  Instead, just slice off the top of the bulb, so that all the cloves are just a little bit exposed.  Put the bulb in the middle of a small sheet of foil, and pour a bit of olive oil over it.  Roast in the oven at 200°C for about half an hour, or until the bulb is soft when you squeeze it.  Squeeze the innards out of the papery bits of the garlic.  I’m afraid you need to do this while the garlic is still pretty hot, as it hardens on cooling.  My method is to burn my fingers.  Sensible people use rubber gloves which will never smell the same again.  But how sensible is that, really?  Fingers grow back…

Anyway.  Let your roast garlic cool.  You only need half of it for this quantity of mayonnaise, so I suggest you use the rest to make fresh butter with roasted garlic (from which you can make the world’s best garlic bread), or else just put the rest away in the fridge, to use in a dressing for a salad of tomatoes, beans, and croutons.  Yum.

Put the garlic which is not going to become garlic butter into the bowl you plan to make the mayonnaise in.  If you are a lunatic like me, get out your trusty cake-making fork.  Otherwise, beaters might be a thought.   Or a whisk.  I gather other people don’t break their whisks within days of purchasing them, and thus own whisks.  Those people are weird.  Anyway.  Smash the garlic up well with the salt and pepper, add the egg yolk, and mix it all together well.

Now for the tricky part.  Before you start, you need to know two things about adding the oil to the egg mixture:  first, start very, very, slowly, and second, keep the mixture moving constantly.  You need to do this because you are basically denying the proposition that oil and water don’t mix, which means you have to start by being sneaky, and then by moving so fast that the oil and water in question don’t have time to realise what you are doing.  It’s possible that what I just wrote was in fact not strictly factual, but I can’t get my head around emulsions today, so it’s the best I can do right now.  If you ask me very nicely, I will go off later and see what my friend Harold has to say about all of this.  With luck, it will involve turgid vegetables.

Back to the recipe!  This is the part where you either need to be at least minimally well-co-ordinated or have a helper to do the pouring.  Get a nice whisking movement going in the bowl with the eggs – or turn on the beaters, you slacker, you – and then with your other hand, drizzle in the oil.  The recipes all say ‘drop by drop’ unless you are using a mixer.  I ignore this.  Come to think of it, this might be why my emulsion failed on Thursday, but, you know, I’ve got away with this impatient attitidue many times before.  Basically, you can, in fact, add the oil in a (slow!) stream provided the whole mixture is moving fast and constantly and that you pause pretty frequently in your pouring to make sure everything is emulsifying nicely.  After all, you’re making a fairly small amount, so it’s a nuisance to use a mixer.

What you will find, if you haven’t managed to make a mess of it, is that the egg-yolk mixture will thicken considerably and get a lot paler.  And it will suddenly start having the consistency of mayonnaise!  Awesome! Normally, my mayo winds up quite creamy in colour, but I had these really fantastic fresh farm eggs that were blindingly yellow to start with, so my mayonnaise ended up pretty yellow even at the end.  I add the vinegar and tarragon at the end, whisking like mad, and then add more oil if I think it needs thickening.  Normally, the entire process takes me about five minutes with a fork.

And there you go.  You have mayonnaise – indeed, you have aïoli, which is much trendier than mayonnaise – which you can use on lightly poached or cooked vegetables or on steak or on anything else you like.  The internet is pretty firmly convinced that your mayo will keep for a week, but I start getting nervous about it after two or three days.  Not on any evidence, mind you, I’m just paranoid.

You know, this is probably the worst recipe ever, because I really have lost all faith in my ability to make mayonnaise reliably.  But that’s OK.  I have faith in *you*, O my Reader.  *You* probably have enough sense to follow instructions, even if they do look annoying and boring…

They call me mellow yellow… Note that this is 2 egg-yolks worth of mayonnaise, not one. Don’t expect to get this much from the recipe, or from what it looked like above.


Given the circumstances, I’m not even going to attempt coming up with an eggless mayonnaise recipe.  Something tells me that doing so would require such a totally different approach that it’s not worth attempting in this context anyway.

However.  You can flavour your mayonnaise with many things!  You can leave out the garlic and the tarragon and have it plain.  You can add mustard or lemon juice or herbs or curry powder.  Margaret Fulton, who is normally a reliable sauce, even suggests adding roquefort cheese and tomato sauce, which I feel is taking things a little too far.  But you get the picture.

Oh, and don’t use all extra-virgin olive oil, or your mayonnaise will taste entirely of olive oil, which is all very well, but you’ve gone to a lot of trouble to make it *not* olive oil, and you don’t want to waste that.

We did, eventually, have ours over the steak salad.  And the leftovers are going on the hamburgers I’m making this evening.  Yum…

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4 comments for “Recipe: Mayonnaise with Roasted Garlic, Tarragon, and Hubris

  1. splodge
    February 20, 2012 at 1:51 am

    So this is what I need to do with my leftover egg yolk, I guess…

    • February 21, 2012 at 11:27 am

      You should! After all, worst comes to worst and you’re just down a bit of olive oil and garlic. And if you get it right, you have really lovely mayonnaise!

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