The Column with Simone B. Michielen: I can’t live without… Mayonnaise!


Vegetable oil, eggs, vinegar and mustard with a pinch of salt and pepper, that can’t go wrong, can it? It can. In many ways. Although the mixture above sounds innocent and even healthy, it seems to stick on the hips (you know what I mean ladies). I can’t say no to this creamy, off white sauce and I always have an excuse to serve it with everything I cook.

First, it is easy to make when you know how to do it. Yes, it can curdle, but that is not only easy to avoid, but even fixable! I will tell you how I do it.

Start with all the ingredients at the more or less same temperature, especially the oil should be on room temperature and not warmer. The magic begins… Put one egg yolk, a table spoon vinegar (or lemon juice) and a teaspoon mustard in a high bowl. Mix it.

I will tell you a little secret. Before I start I mix warm water with salt in a glass and put it in the freezer to get really cold. Keep reading and you will know why.

Now the real work starts. Put the bowl on a wet towel, so you can use two hands without the bowl going all around your kitchen. While whisking with one hand, you start to drizzle the oil in. Slowly. The mixture will get thick and depending on the colour of the egg yolk yellowish. You can add a lot of oil, but there is a way to be able to add even more, and that is to add water! Remember the salty water? This is the time to add a little bit, the same way as you add the oil. Why does this work? Chemistry. The little magical oil drops are surrounded by water and bounded together by the proteins from the egg yolk and a bit from the mustard. If it gets too busy and the drops get too close together, it stops working and the sauce separates. Water helps them to stay apart together and that is what we want. Ice cold water does it even better and also makes the mayonnaise whiter. After adding the water, you can add more oil. Add more salt or pepper to your own taste.

Which oil? When you know me, you know I love extra virgin olive oil. But be careful. Extra virgin olive oil is getting solid when you cool it, which separates your mayonnaise when you take it out of the fridge again. So in this case, add a bit just before serving, not when you make the mayonnaise.  

Even the mayonnaise tells where you grew up. The Dutch like there mayonnaise a little bit sweet so we add some sugar. In Slovenia the taste is more sour, like in Germany and Austria. In Belgium they add more mustard. In Spain, where they say the roots of all the mayonnaise sauces are found in the city of Mahon on Menorca, they like it with additional olive oil and a lot thicker. Of course you can make your homemade version just the way you want to. Keep trying till you have the taste and consistency that you like and go wild with what you add when it is made, it is a perfect basis for a lot of different sauces. A vegan variety is also not difficult to make and tastes surprisingly good. Ask me and I will send you the recipe.

Funny detail. When I eat French fries in a restaurant, I will always ask for mayonnaise. It seems this Is a typical Dutch thing, as every waiter around the world immediately asks me if I am Dutch. It says it all, food is our heritage and what and how we eat even more.