Growing up, Grandma used mayonnaise as salad dressing.
She had arrived in America as a young wife and mother in the early 1950s, when home cooks put mayo in everything from molded Jell-o dishes to chocolate cake. And, for the next 40 or so years, she always made the same salad: iceberg lettuce, cucumber slices and tomato wedges, all coated with tablespoons full of thick, store-bought mayo.
As a kid, I didn’t mind. Grandma’s mayo salad was always the same. You could count on it. You could count on her. Plus, it was different than the homemade, Italian-inspired vinaigrettes Mom made at our house.
As I got older, I preferred those homemade vinaigrettes, shunning mayo not just as a salad dressing but as a condiment in general. I never hated it the way some people do – comedian Jimmy Fallon has compared it to pus, President Barack Obama reportedly won’t eat it, Buzzfeed writer Rachel Sanders wrote it was “pure evil” in a 2013 column – but I just didn’t care for it all that much.
Then I made mayo from scratch. It wasn’t magic, but it sort of seemed that way. It was relatively easy to make, but the end result was rich and creamy and dreamy – thick, yet somehow also fluffy and light. This mayo had much more flavor, much more tang. I could taste the citrus as well as the olive oil.
And I could’ve eaten it by the spoonful.
Instead, I made like Grandma, using it as a salad dressing – on charred romaine, not shards of iceberg lettuce. I dipped steamed artichoke leaves in it. I added flavor components: chive stems, chive blossoms, other minced herbs, garlic. And I vowed to make my own mayo from then on.
I also got to thinking: If homemade mayo was so much better than the shelf-stable, store-bought stuff, what about other condiment staples such as mustard and ketchup?
My hunch was those would be better from scratch, too. And they were, even though the ketchup took more than twice as long to make as the instructions said. It wasn’t difficult to make, either; it just took a long time to reduce, causing jokes about how “waiting for ketchup” was the new “watching paint dry.”
Of all three, mayo – at least to me – was easiest to make. Mustard was pretty simple, too, except hand-grinding the mustard seeds with a mortar and pestle was pretty tedious. Still, I’ll probably do it again. Like the mayo and ketchup, it was so much more flavorful than the mass-produced kind.
Adding smoked paprika to the basic tomato ketchup cut some of the sweetness of the brown sugar, added to temper the acidity of the vinegar. Next time, I’ll probably use less vinegar than the recipe calls for, but keep the smoked paprika for added depth of flavor. I loved the smoky undertones it lent to the sauce, which was also much more flavorful than the stuff you buy at the store.
So, if you’re firing up the grill during this long Fourth of July weekend, consider making your own condiments for those hamburgers and hot dogs. Homemade ketchup, mustard and mayo will only make them that much better.
The Best Mayo You’ve Ever Made
I skipped the mustard powder because I didn’t have any on hand, but was still pleased with the end result. I also used extra-virgin olive oil rather than light olive oil for a richer, heavier flavor. For a lighter, more neutral flavor, try grapeseed oil.
Either way, the trick is to slowly drizzle in the oil. Pour as thin of a stream as possible for best emulsion results. Whatever you do, don’t try to whisk the mayo by hand; you’re more likely to end up with a runny mess.
Consider flavor add-ons such as lemon zest, black pepper, chopped chives, fresh thyme, garlic and minced parsley, basil or cilantro
1 1/4 cup of light olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 1 lemon, juiced
Place the egg, 1/4 cup of olive oil, mustard powder, and salt in a mixing bowl, blender, or food processor. Mix thoroughly.
While the food processor or blender is running (or while mixing in a bowl with a stick, or immersion, blender) slowly drizzle in the remaining cup of olive oil.
After you’ve added all the oil and the mixture has emulsified, add lemon juice to taste, stirring gently with a spoon to incorporate.
The mayo keeps 3 to 5 days in the fridge.
Note: This recipe contains raw or undercooked eggs. The Food and Drug Administration advises that eating raw or undercooked eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness.
Yield: about 1 pint
Basic Country Mustard
6 tablespoons mustard seeds
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup mustard powder
1/2 cup water or beer
3 tablespoons vinegar (cider, white wine or sherry)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric, for color (optional)
2 tablespoons honey, or more or less to taste (optional)
1/4 cup fresh minced herbs, any kind, really (optional)
Grind the whole mustard seeds for a few seconds in a spice or coffee grinder, or by hand with a mortar and pestle. You want them mostly whole because you’re using mustard powder, too.
Pour the semi-ground seeds into a bowl and add the salt and mustard powder. If using, add one of the optional ingredients, too.
Pour in the water or beer, then stir well. When everything else is incorporated, let this sit for up to 10 minutes. The longer you let it sit, the mellower the mustard will be. When you’re ready, pour in the vinegar.
Pour into a glass jar and store in the fridge. It will be runny at first. Don’t worry; it will thicken up overnight. Wait at least 12 hours before using. Mustard made this way will last a year in the fridge.
Yield: about 1 cup
Homemade Tomato Ketchup
From Jamie Oliver via Food Network
Give yourself plenty of time for this recipe. Prep was supposed to take an hour, followed by 45 minutes of cook time. But it all took more than twice as long, perhaps because this was my first time trying this particular recipe. Still, it took more than an hour just to reduce the soupy tomato mixture into a thicker sauce.
I added a teaspoon of smoked paprika – as well as another teaspoon or two of brown sugar – for depth of flavor and to cut some of the vinegary taste at the end. Next time, I would reduce the amount of red wine vinegar, perhaps by 2 tablespoons or even to ½ cup.
1 large red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 bulb fennel, trimmed and roughly chopped
1 stick celery, trimmed and roughly chopped
Thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1/2 a fresh red chili, de-seeded and finely chopped
Bunch fresh basil, leaves picked, stalks chopped
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound amazing cherry or plum tomatoes, halved plus 1 pound canned plum tomatoes, chopped, or 2 pounds yellow, orange or green tomatoes, chopped
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/3 cup soft brown sugar
Place all the vegetables in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan with a big splash of olive oil and the ginger, garlic, chili, basil stalks, coriander seeds and cloves. Season with the pepper and a good pinch of salt.
Cook gently over a low heat for 10 to 15 minutes until softened, stirring every so often. Add all the tomatoes and 1 1/2 cups of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer gently until the sauce reduces by half.
Add the basil leaves, then whiz the sauce in a food processor or with a hand blender and push it through a sieve twice, to make it smooth and shiny. Put the sauce into a clean pan and add the vinegar and the sugar. Place the sauce on the heat and simmer until it reduces and thickens to the consistency of tomato ketchup. At this point, correct the seasoning to taste.
Spoon the ketchup through a sterilized funnel into sterilized bottles, then seal tightly and place in a cool dark place or the refrigerator until needed – it should keep for 6 months.
Yield: about 1 pint
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