Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery
250 g

This delicately flavoured, uniquely light and smooth mixture of oil, egg yolks and lemon juice is perhaps the most popular of the cold sauces.

Deservedly or not, Cardinal Richelieu is credited with the invention of this sauce in the 17th century, and it is interesting that it is still made in exactly the same way today, except that one may, using great care, combine the emulsion with an electric beater or food processor instead of a wire whisk. Certainly, one should first master the skill of making this sauce in the old way (with a wire whisk) before making it with modern electric beaters.

Making mayonnaise presents only one problem: it may curdle or separate. For consistent success, have the egg yolks and oil at room temperature, and beat the oil into the egg yolks very gradually, drop by drop at first then finally in a thin stream, until the emulsion of the egg and oil forms a smooth sauce. If anything goes wrong and the mayonnaise separates, you can restore the emulsion as follows: wash the beater; in another bowl beat another egg yolk with ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon vinegar; then gradually beat in the curdled mayonnaise 1 teaspoon at a time at first, then more quickly until emulsified.

Mayonnaise should be stored in a cool place, not in the refrigerator. It will keep for several weeks – the oil is a preservative. Mayonnaise has dozens of uses, can be varied endlessly and will transform such simple ingredients as hard-boiled eggs, fresh cooked or tinned fish, poached chicken or diced cooked vegetables into an elegant dish. There are many lovely variations; some of the classics are sauce rémoulade, sauce tartare, sauce niçoise, aïoli sauce, sauce russe and sauce à la Ritz.


Quantity Ingredient
2 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch freshly ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
2 teaspoons vinegar or lemon juice
250ml olive oil
or 250ml salad oil
or 125ml olive oil, mixed with 125 ml salad oil


  1. Have all the ingredients at room temperature. Warm eggs and oil in hot water if they are cold. Rinse out a mixing bowl with hot water and wrap a damp cloth around the base to keep it steady.
  2. Place egg yolks, seasonings and 1 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice in bowl and beat with a wire whisk to combine. When it is thick, begin to add oil, drop by drop, from a teaspoon, whisking constantly and incorporating each addition thoroughly before adding the next. As mixture thickens, oil flow can be increased to a steady thin stream but keep beating constantly.
  3. Stop pouring every now and then to check that oil is well blended. If mayonnaise should show signs of breaking or curdling beat in 1–2 teaspoons boiling water before adding more oil. When all oil is incorporated, beat in remaining vinegar or lemon juice.


  • For lighter mayonnaise, add 1 tablespoon very hot water just before using.


  • Food processor or blender mayonnaise: Place egg yolks, seasonings and 1 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice in bowl and blend for a few seconds. With motor running, pour oil in very gradually, ensuring that each addition has been absorbed before adding more. When all the oil has been incorporated, add remaining vinegar or lemon juice.

    Mayonnaise Dijonnaise: Make mayonnaise, using 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard instead of dry mustard.

    Sauce verte: Rinse 30 g watercress sprigs and 8 sprigs parsley stripped from the stems. Cover with boiling water and let stand for 5–6 minutes. Drain greens, plunge into cold water, and drain again, pressing out all surplus water. Rub greens through a sieve, or chop finely, then combine with finished mayonnaise. Serve with cold lobster, salmon, poached fish or other fish and shellfish. Good also for vegetable salads.

    Sauce russe: Add 3 tablespoons chilli sauce, 1 tablespoon finely chopped tinned pimiento and 1 teaspoon chives to finished mayonnaise and mix well. Use for cold eggs and vegetables and for shellfish.

    Sauce à la Ritz: add 1 tablespoon chilli sauce, ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, 1 peeled, seeded and chopped tomato, and 1 teaspoon each snipped chives and parsley to the finished mayonnaise and mix well. Use for seafood cocktails.

    Sauce rémoulade: Press all moisture from 3 tablespoons finely chopped sour pickles and 1 tablespoon chopped capers. Add pickles and capers to the finished mayonnaise with 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard and 1 tablespoon chopped mixed fresh parsley, tarragon and chervil. Use with fried or cold poached fish and shellfish.

    Sauce tartare: Add 6 chopped green olives and 1 teaspoon snipped chives to sauce rémoulade. Use for fried fish and shellfish.

    Sauce niçoise: Add 1 tablespoon tomato paste, 3 tablespoons finely chopped red pepper and 1 teaspoon chopped mixed fresh tarragon and chives to mayonnaise. Use with cold poached fish or shellfish.

    Mustard mayonnaise: Combine 125 g mayonnaise, 3 tablespoons cream, 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 1 crushed clove garlic, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper and pinch cayenne. Use in rice or fish and seafood salads.
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