How to Make Salmonella-free Mayonnaise with Near-boiled Egg Yolks

Harold McGee's book “The Curious Cook” contains instructions for how to avoid salmonella poisoning while still enjoying freshly made mayonnaise. My copy of this book was published in 1990. His book “On Food and Cooking” is into its second edition, published in 2007. Both are fascinating books which have helped satisfy my curiosity about the science of cooking, as well as kept me out of trouble.

I grew up on my mother's home made mayonnaise, made with whole, raw egg. We never became ill, but in today's world, there is a risk of salmonella poisoning. Here is the trick that Harold McGee taught me. I use clean forks for whisking the egg mixture, with good results.

“…… cooks who want to ensure the wholesomeness of a homemade mayonnaise can heat egg yolks close to the boil, thereby effectively ridding them of any salmonella, and then use them to produce a stable, reasonably thick mayonnaise. The one disadvantage of the pre-cooked yolks is that they're unable to accommodate extra virgin olive oils, which appear to contain a substance that interferes with emulsification. You can make a stable sauce with these unrefined olive oils by mixing them with other oils.

“Basic mayonnaise with near-boiled egg yolks: This recipe makes about a cup of sauce. The microwave timings are based on my experience with a 600-watt oven. I recommend that you start by experimenting with a few egg yolks to get an idea of how your oven behaves. If you have a good cooking thermometer, try to confirm that the yolk mixture is close to the boil after the second heating period. …..”Have two or three small whisks at hand to avoid recontaminating the yolk once it's been cooked. Separate 1 egg yolk. ….. Place the yolk in a small glass bowl, around 2 cups in capacity, and beat it until homogeneous. ….. Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar and beat again. If the egg was U.S. Large, add 1 tablespoon water; if Extra Large, 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon. ….. Beat the mixture again. Throw the whisk in the sink or clean it with hot, soapy water.

“Cover the bowl with a plate, place it in a microwave oven, and heat at high power. …. watch for the point at which the surface of the yolk mixture begins to heave. ….. or open the oven door and check every 5 seconds or so, beginning after about 15 seconds of cooking. Once the mixture is visibly agitated, count off 5 seconds, then turn off the oven, remove the bowl, and beat the mixture vigorously with a clean whisk until it's smooth. Throw the whisk in the sink; you won't have time to clean it. Quickly return the covered bowl to the oven and heat on high until the mixture begins to heave again. Count off 5 seconds, then stop the cooking, remove the bowl, and beat the mixture vigorously with a clean whisk until it's smooth. Cover the bowl and let it sit for 1 minute while you wash the whisk in hot, soapy water. Then place the bowl in a shallow pan of cold water and stir the yolk mixture occasionally until lukewarm. “

“Add a pinch of salt and whisk briefly. Measure out between 3/4 cup and 1 cup oil. Keep unrefined or olive oils to half or less of the total volume, a quarter or less of the volume if you want the sauce to last in the refrigerator for more than a day. Beat the oil into the yolk mixture a teaspoon at a time to begin with, more rapidly after you've emulsified several tablespoons. If the sauce gets very stiff, add a few drops of water. Once all the oil has been incorporated into the sauce, adjust the flavor with lemon juice or vinegar. Adding at least 1/2 tablespoon liquid will thin the mayonnaise noticeably but will also make it more stable.”

Thank you, Harold