I can't begin to number the painstaking hours I’ve spent making home-made mayo, hours now lost forever. It was a beach holiday essential when I was growing up – lunch every day was a pile of local Wallis Lake school prawns and, while all other standards were allowed to slip on holidays (ice cream every day! barbecued sausages every night! showering once a week!) the mayo was never from a jar. Mum made it by hand at home before we left and packed it alongside the Christmas cake and leftover ham and it was always a wobbly, satiny triumph. Fluffy white bread (we are so pre-dating the sourdough revolution here), sweet little schoolies, a squeeze of lemon and Mum's mayo. I’m sure angels eat something similar.
Over the years, I have made buckets of the stuff by the old school, Elizabeth David method, trickling oil onto beaten yolks, drip by excruciating drip, whisking furiously. Sometimes the stars aligned and the magic emulsification happened. Other times, I’d be over-enthusiastic on the pour, the sauce would curdle and I would start again. And again. I never gave up. Rarely gave up. Sometimes ran to the shop and bought S&W, to be frank.
Anyway, I remember hearing about using a stick blender to make mayo so I gave it a go and the results were frustratingly inconsistent – silky and magical one day, a lumpy, separated mess the next. But – and this is crucial, my mayo-loving friends – I have discovered my mistake. I was trying to use the same technique for the stick blender (yolks only, dribble, dribble, blend) as I had using a whisk and bowl (or even sometimes, in a strange act of masochism, a mortar and pestle). No! This technique is an entirely different beast. When you have mastered it, it’s impossible to stuff up. There is little or no magic involved. And once you’ve got your basic mayo, you open up a world of endless flavour possibilities.
We have bouillabaisse on the Dinner Ladies menu this week, so I’m putting a recipe for a rouille (adding roast red pepper, garlic and saffron) below. But you can change up your basic mayo in infinite ways with soft herbs, lemon juice and zest, mustard, sriracha, wasabi, roast garlic, wine vinegar, preserved lemon, capers, chipotle or horseradish or use it as the base for home-made tartare sauce, aioli, remoulade or even a fully retro sauce Marie Rose (that would be your cocktail sauce then).
It takes about 15 seconds and it’s brilliant.
Basic stick-blender mayonnaise
1 egg (fridge temperature is fine, amazingly)
400ml mildly flavoured oil (light olive (not extra virgin, too strong!), grape seed, rice bran)
Pinch of salt
Tablespoon of lemon juice or white wine vinegar
You’ll also need a stick blender and a tall, narrow, straight-sided container – most stick blenders come with their own.
Crack the whole egg into the bottom of the container and add a pinch of salt. Before you put the blender in, gently pour in the oil. The crucial thing is that there is plenty of oil to cover the egg and that when you put the blender in its blades are well immersed.
Stick the blender in and blitz for 10 seconds – you’ll see white ribbons then clouds forming immediately. After a few moments there should only be a thinnish layer of oil on top. Pull the blender out very slowly, splash in the lemon juice or vinegar and blitz one more time to gather up the last sneaky bits of oil and you’re done.
Basic mayo (above), without the lemon juice or wine vinegar
1 clove of garlic, minced finely
1 roasted red capsicum (from a jar is fine)
Pinch of saffron
When your mayonnaise is finished, add the other ingredients and blitz again till smooth. Taste.