Baconnaise – a Lesson in Emulsion

Baconnaise is mayonnaise made with rendered bacon fat. 

I can hear the two opposing sides now: groans of nausea from one side, drooling & lip-smacking from the other.

Admittedly, this sauce is not to everyone’s liking. (Sauce? Yes, Virginia, mayonnaise is a sauce.) This particular mayonnaise has a strong flavor that goes exquisitely with grilled steak or shrimp, and personally I love it.

Mayonnaise is the most important of emulsified sauces; most important in that it is widely used and incredibly diverse. It is the base, or mother, of all popular and common salad dressings: Aioli, French, Ranch, Thousand Island, Russian, Bleu Cheese… The list continues.

Essentially mayonnaise is an emulsion of fat and lemon juice or vinegar, with egg yolks added to make sure it all stays together. Olive oil has always been the fat of choice and tradition, which is partly why I find this “new” olive oil mayonnaise on the market so humorous. There really is nothing new under the sun: just a different marketing package.

Emulsions are liquid-liquid colloids: which means they are a mixture of two un-mixable liquids (in this case water & oil). We are able to create the illusion of mixing them together by breaking them down into particles that are so tiny they are literally suspended around one another. (Think of a ball pit, and how the balls rest on one another & how they hold each other, or even a small child, above the ground.) This suspension is achieved by good ole fashioned elbow grease (via a wire whisk), or by use of a blender or food processor, and by pouring the fat into the water-based vinegar or lemon juice very slowly. 

Even with the proper amount of agitation to break down the particles, the two liquids will quickly separate without adding an emulsifier to the mix. Enter the workhorse of emulsification, the egg yolk! (Mustard is another permanent emulsifier, but personally I think it is horrible in mayonnaise, though I love it in vinaigrettes… more on that at a later time.)

For this recipe, I substituted bacon fat for half of the olive oil, which (if you care about such things) increases the saturated fat, the omega-3s, and cuts down on those very controversial polys & omega-6s. Next time around I am going to try coconut oil in place of the olive oil, still using bacon fat as well, just to see what the flavor profile is like.

Rendering the bacon fat: just cook it low & slow, and collect the fat as it accumulates. A cast iron skillet works best, I’ve found.

Baconnaise

Ingredients:

  • 2 egg yolks (the fresher the better)
  • 3 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup rendered bacon fat (for regular mayonnaise, I replace the bacon fat with an equal amount of coconut oil)
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced (optional)

Method:

  1. Make sure everything is at room temperature. Warm egg yolks emulsify exponentially better than cold! 
  2. Place the egg yolks in a bowl, or blender or food processor, add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, the garlic if using, and whisk together until combined. 
  3. Whisking vigorously and consistently (blender or food processor on low), begin slowly adding the fat drop by drop. You are beginning the emulsification process, and adding too much oil at once will overload the egg yolks and cause the sauce to break. So proceed very slowly, and keep the egg yolks moving constantly.
  4. As it emulsifies, the mixture will begin to thicken, and you can begin adding the oil a little more quickly, in a thin stream. (If the sauce is too thick, add a teaspoon of lemon juice or water to thin, always always whisking…)
  5. Once all the oil is incorporated, season to taste with more of the lemon juice, salt and pepper. 
  6. Enjoy, without guilt! Store in the refrigerator to use as needed. (I toss mine after about a week, if there’s any to toss.)

But what if the mayonnaise breaks? And what does that even mean, “the mayonnaise breaks”?

A sauce breaking means that it isn’t emulsified, or fell out of emulsification: you can tell by the pool of oil sitting on top of the egg yolks, and the feeling that even though you are whisking, it just isn’t mixing. (If your sauce has reached this point of breaking, it is beyond repair. Start over*.) What has happened? One of the two un-mixable liquids hasn’t been broken down into small enough particles, and they are lumping back together. Remember the ball pit scenario? Instead of uniformly sized balls sitting on top of one another, the pit is half-comprised of plastic balls and the other half bowling balls. What happens? The bowling balls fall together to the bottom, and the plastic ones clump together on top. The same principle applies to this emulsion.

But not to worry, all is not lost! If you act quickly, you can most likely save your baconnaise. If you notice the fat globules starting to form around the edge of bowl, try one of the following things:

  • stop adding oil and add a little lemon juice or vinegar, and whisk like mad. The sauce should tighten up again, and proceed with adding the oil dribble by dribble once again.
  • add another egg yolk – this increases the amount of naturally occurring lecithin.
  • add a teaspoon of mustard – another, excellent emulsifier, but sadly will change the flavor profile of the mayonnaise.
  • *Starting over doesn’t mean throwing away: in a separate bowl, whisk together another egg yolk or two with a teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar. Whisking constantly, begin adding the broken sauce to this new base about one teaspoon at a time. This works 99% of the time.


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