Mayonnaise has a kind of alchemy about its construction when emulsification is successful, an infuriating conspiracy when it fails. Precisely who thought about adding oil slowly to raw egg yolks while stirring with a wooden spoon is not known, though it was almost certainly in France and probably in the 18th century.

A whisk is better than a spoon and an electric balloon whisk perhaps the most reliable and quickest way of getting a good result every time. The ingredients should neither be too cold nor too hot. If you keep your eggs in the fridge, then you should remove them well in advance and bring to room temperature before attempting to make the mayonnaise.

If the mayonnaise curdles you can usually bring it back by whisking the curdled mess into a fresh yolk in a clean bowl though it is better to start the yolk with fresh oil, only adding the curdled mayonnaise when this has started to cohere.

The ratio of oil to egg is not the major issue some recipes suggest. One egg yolk will happily hold 600 ml/ 1 pt of oil and experiments have proved that one yolk will emulsify up to 6 gallons of oil! Although the original mayonnaise was made with olive oil only, equal parts olive and sunflower oils produces a less strident result β€” which is also less expensive. Season the yolks with salt and pepper before you begin to add the oil, but do not add lemon juice or white wine vinegar until after you have a very thick sauce.

The salmonella issue with using raw eggs in mayonnaise remains a vexing one. The law forbids the use of raw eggs in restaurant kitchens, but at home you can evaluate the risk for yourself. As a general rule do not feed raw eggs to the elderly, sick or pregnant, or to young children. Otherwise we are old enough to live dangerously at our tables if we wish.