electronic Gourmet Guide

About Vinaigrette and Mayonnaise
The Mother Cold Sauces

by Steve Holzinger


Pastry Chef Amy Handler of the White Hart Inn, in Salisbury CT makes great Easter eggs. She paints the eggs made of pastillage with food colors. She is the first woman recipient of the Societe De Patissiers Francais La St. Michel Gold medal, the highest medal of the French Government at the Societe Culinaire Philanthropique's Salon of Culinary Arts in New York City. She won the Silver St. Michel twice, as well. Amy creates elaborate wedding cakes that are culinary marvels of lace and elaborate decoration and imaginative paintings. Simply mahvelos, dahhling.

By the way, our eggs are always large eggs, 2 ounces each, 24 oz. to the dozen. In the first eGGsalad column, we learned how to boil water, and eggs too, while we were at it. I enjoy a perfectly hard cooked egg as a work of art in itself, but if you want to make eGGsalad with me, ya gotta make mayo too.


Vinaigrette Sauce and Mayonnaise Sauce are the two basic cold sauces. They are called mother sauces, because other sauces are derived from them, by addition or combination. Oil and Vinegar is the original salad dressing, in the proportion of three parts oil to one part of vinegar, with seasoning.

"What seasoning?" you may well ask. Salt and pepper of course, freshly ground. Have you noticed how aromatic freshly ground pepper is? I love Sashimi Togarashi, the Japanese red pepper to season sushi with. I'm never without it. Chef Paul (Prudhomme) once told me that to season well is half the battle. I often use his seasonings.

A classic Sauce Vinaigrette has oil and vinegar and fine herbs. Fine herbs are chopped parsley, chervil, tarragon and cut chives, the parsley predominating and the tarragon contributing a top note. I like to add four more ingredients in a fine dice called a brunoise. They are hard cooked egg whites, cornichon (Dessaux makes the best of these tiny sour dills) and capers and shallots, but this can vary according to what I intend to use it for.

Talking about Dessaux, they are a condiment house in Lyons, France and make my favorite vinegars. The normal strength for vinegar is 3% acetic acid, called 30 grain. It can be as strong as 5%, 50 grain, so according to the strength, you may need to add less vinegar and a little water. Good vinegar is made from wine, and can be flavored with herbs and spices. One of my favorite vinegars is malt vinegar, great on fish and chips. I always used Dessaux Red Wine vinegar, with chopped shallots and crushed peppercorns (Sauce Mignonette) for raw oysters on the half shell. You will often find me putting in a little plug for my old friends who have served me well.

Do you go to Farmers Markets? I am a sucker for Farmers Markets, I love to see all the fresh produce, and buy the wine bottles of different vinegars they make with tarragon and raspberries and such in them. A collection of vinegars gives you a palette to work from when you are making summer salads, so I probably buy more than I need. Oh, well.


Cold sauces teach us not to cook mechanically, by recipe, but to taste and adjust to suit what you are doing. Flavors are less pronounced when cold. We must always consider our ingredients and what we want them to do for us. My choice of the oil for a salad is normally an extra virgin olive, but it can vary by blending other oils like walnut or canola or cottonseed, to suit the purpose you have in mind. Again, work with the palette of oils and vinegars to mix just the flavor you have in mind, exactly like a painter mixes colors.

In the oldest known work on salads, Acetaria, it says (as I recall) "It takes four to make a salad: A miser with the vinegar, a spendthrift with the oil, a wise man for the salt, and a madman to mix it all." No matter how well you mix them, oil and vinegar won't mix, at least, not by themselves, and not for long.

You can get a temporary mixture or emulsion by whisking the sauce, but it will separate in a short time. Whisk in an egg yolk, and like magic, it stays together. It isn't magic at all. Egg yolks contain lecithin, a natural emulsifier that some people think plays an important role in human health as well. (I can't believe that good things like butter, eggs and cream can do you harm, or there wouldn't be a Frenchman or woman alive. Artificial sweeteners, on the other hand are good for you, Yeah!) An emulsifier, like lecithin, is a substance which combines well with water on one part of its structure, and combines well with oil on another part of its structure. If you don't upset the balance with too much heat, or cold, the oil and vinegar will stay combined, emulsified, by the egg yolk. I find that 1 yolk to a quart does the job. This makes it much easier to serve on the salad, which leads us to our next sauce, Mayonnaise. We will come back to Sauce Vinaigrette and its derivatives another time when we talk about Salads and Salad Dressings. Cuisine is a big field to cover, with lots of hypertext jumps to go, so hang on and do your mise en place!

Sauce Mayonnaise, or Mayonnaise as we will call it is so important that the US Government has a very strict standard of Identity for it. It must have so much eggs, and so much oil, and so much vinegar, and so on, or you can't call it mayonnaise. It is an emulsion of eggs, oil, vinegar or lemon juices, and seasonings. We will discuss emulsions again when we discuss Sauce Hollandaise.

Very good mayonnaise can be bought in the grocery store, and I, as no doubt did you, used Hellman's. At work, for years I used prepared mayo for all my salads, except when I made fresh shrimp, crab or lobster salad to stuff in avocado halves as main dishes for luncheons. For these salads, I made fresh mayonnaise, but I never thought about why I did.. That is the way the chef who taught me did it, so that is the way I did it. One day, I wondered why. It became clear to me that for these expensive ingredients I felt that I needed the really perfect mayonnaise to suit them. Then I thought, if for lobster salad, why not use the exactly right mayo for eGGsalad? So, it seems fair to ask, how can you make eggactly the right mayo? Clearly, it is a question of palette and pre visualization of the final result. For a lobster salad, I want a sharp zingy lemony sauce, but for eGGsalad, a looser, softer taste with a hint of shallot and a trace of sweetness.

We will use at least 1 egg yolk at room temperature per cup of oil, and 1/2 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of lemon juice or vinegar. That is pretty much standard. Other seasonings can be dry mustard, white or red pepper, herbs, and spices. These depend on the taste you want, as does your choice of oil and acid ingredient. Start by trying freshly squeezed lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.

Put a damp towel on the table, and set a bowl on it. Put the yolks, lemon juice and salt in it. With a wire whip, beat these together with the yolks till they are a light lemon yellow. When I want a thick mayo, I beat in a teaspoon or two of hot water to help temper the yolks. Then I beat in a drop or two of oil, and when the oil is absorbed, the same amount again. The rule to follow is that the mayo can absorb as much oil at a time as it was holding. Naturally, once the sauce starts to get thick and seems to slip in the bowl, as you add oil, don't go doubling up, it's done. A student once asked me, "How can you tell if you have added all the oil you can?" The answer is, that when you add one more drop, and it breaks, you have added all the oil you can! "Not a good answer, that is dumb," you say. It is a good answer because the first time you make mayo, I want you to have it break...separate on you. That way you will know how it looks when its done, and how to fix it. Just whip up another yolk light and lemony colored, in a bowl and add the curdled mix, just as though it were oil, only faster, because the curdled stuff remembers it was an emulsion quickly. This is eggactly the same for Hollandaise. When it is as thick as you want it, taste it, and re-season. It may be a little flat, but salt and lemon juice will put that to rights. Always season with salt first, as your taste buds are more sensitive in a saline medium. (That's why some people put salt on melon.) So try making your own mayonnaise the next time you are planning a plain old eGGsalad on April first. At some later time we will explore the derivatives of Sauce Mayonnaise at the greater length that they deserve.


About Vinaigrette and Mayonnaise


eGGsalad Archive

This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.

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This page modified February 2007