How to Make Mayonnaise

It's easy to make mayonnaise at home, and use it for anything from a dip to a marinade to a finishing sauce.

Homemade mayonnaise

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Of course you can just buy mayonnaise — we all know that. And, we have a lot of opinions about what kind to buy. But if you want to customize the flavor or texture to your tastes, you’ll want to make it yourself.

What is mayonnaise?

Mayonnaise is an emulsion, the suspension of one liquid in another when the two cannot form a homogeneous mixture. It’s a standoff between liquid and fat, the best kind of kitchen alchemy. You start with one or two egg yolks, plus a teaspoon of an acid like vinegar or lemon juice. Then, very (very!) slowly add oil, drop by drop, mixing constantly so the emulsion holds. You can do this in a bowl with a whisk, or in a blender or food processor. Mustard or powdered mustard added to the egg yolks helps stabilize the emulsion, but adding the oil slowly is key. Thin the mayonnaise to the perfect consistency with cold water, and it's ready to use.

It’s very easy, but also the kind of recipe that scares beginning cooks who fear that they will not be able to master making it themselves. Part of that is because we have all had mayonnaise break on us, usually when we get impatient or clumsy and add the oil too quickly and break the emulsion. If that happens, take a deep breath, and start over — this time, using the broken mayonnaise in place of the oil you were trying to use the first time around. It will hold the emulsion better this time. If you keep running into trouble, try this foolproof method of making mayonnaise with slow-cooked egg yolks

How do you cook with mayonnaise?

Once you make your mayonnaise, there are so many ways to use it. Mix in garlic paste, saffron, fresh herbs, citrus zest, anchovies, or chile sauce to transform it into the sauce you need for the moment. "When it's made fresh," says Chicago chef Paul Virant, "plain mayonnaise is a great little sauce," a savory complement to grilled chicken, pork or asparagus. For added punch, Virant suggests adding finely grated fresh horseradish and Sriracha chile-garlic sauce to the food processor before adding the oil.

After you've seasoned it, use it on sandwiches, burgers, a green salad, or as the dressing for a crab salad or chicken salad. Swipe it on the bread for grilled cheese before griddling it for a toasty, crunchy finish. Brush it on savory baked goods or pastries before baking as an egg wash. Drizzle it over paella, arroz con cosas, or fideuà. Use it as the base for a dip for fried pickles, French fries, with chilled seafood, or a combination of fries and lobster. Slather it on salmon or chicken before searing or baking them. Mix it into mashed potatoes to keep the texture soft and silky. Use it as a marinade for asparagus before grilling, or brush it on grilled corn after it comes off the grill. And make it the secret to a golden brown roast turkey. This kind of versatility is part of why you'll want to keep making and customizing your own mayonnaise — the options are endless.

Recipes for Mayonnaise

Lemon-Dijon Mayonnaise

Garlic Mayonnaise
© John Kernick

Garlic Mayonnaise

Use this garlicky mayonnaise to top Steven Satterfield's White Bean Stew.

Boiled Shrimp

Boiled Shrimp with Spicy Mayonnaise

Mustard and white pepper amp up the heat in this homemade mayo for shrimp.

BLTs on Toasted Brioche with Aioli and Basil

Texture is the key to Suzanne Goin's terrific BLT. She bakes rather than fries the bacon strips, which keeps them from getting too crisp, and uses a creamy mayonnaise made with raw egg yolks.

Le Grand Aioli

The feast known as Le Grand Aioli is a rather simple meal of boiled fish and vegetables; the aioli—that golden garlic-scented mayonnaise—is what turns the meal into a gastronomic celebration.

Grilled Trout with Lemon-Caper Mayonnaise

Spreading a little mayonnaise on a thin, white, flaky fish like trout before grilling keeps it moist and adds rich flavor.

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