How many theories are there on the origin of mayonnaise?
At least four! The fifth is generally overlooked. Some early recipes indicate mayonnaise sauces accompanied jellied fish, in the traditional of aspic.
What is mayonnaise? "Mayonnaise, a famous sauce which is, essentially, an emulsion of olive oil and vinegar (or lemon juice) stablized with egg yolk and seasoned to taste...As a French word mayonnaise, meaning the sauce, first appeared in print in 1808. However, an interesting curiousity is its appearance in the phrase 'mayonnaise de poulet' in a German cookbook of 1804."
---Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2nd edition, 2007 (p. 488)
How did mayonnaise get its name?
"The derivation of the word mayonnaise has always been a matter of some controversy. Among suggestions put forward in the past are that it is an alteration of bayonnaise, as if the sauce originated in the town of Bayonne, in southwestern France; that it was derived from the French verb manier, 'stir' (this was the chef Careme's theory); and that it could be traced back to Old French moyeu, 'egg yolk'. But the explanation that it originally meant literaly 'of mahon' and that the sauce was so named to commemorate the taking of Port Mahon, capital of the island of Minorca, by the duc de Richelieu in 1756 (presumably Richelieu's chef, or perhaps even the duke himself, created the sauce). English borrowed the word from French in the 1840s..."
---An A-Z of Food & Drink, John Ayto [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2002 (p. 208)
Larousse Gastronomique explores name origin theories:
"Mayonnise--A cold sauce of which the basic ingredients are egg yolks and oil blended into an emulsion...'Culinary purists,' writes Careme in his Cuisinier parisien: Traite des entrees froides, 'are not in agreement regarding the name. Some say mayonnaise, others mahonnaise and others bayonnaise. 'I will admit that these words may be current among common cooks, but for my part, I protest that never in our great kitchens (and that is where the pursit are to be found) are these three words ever pronounced. We always refer to this sauce by the name of magnonaise. 'But how is it that M. Griomod-de-la-Reyniere, a man of logic and wit, could not see at first glance that magnonnaise, derived from the verb manier (to stir), was the most appropriate name for this sauce, which owes its veyr being to the unremitting stirring shich it undergoes in the course of preparation? I am more than ever convinced of this when I consider that it is only by working the liquid ingredients together (as may easily be seen from the detailed recipe for this sauce) that a very smooth, creamy sauce is finally produced; a sauce which is very appetising and unique of its kind, since it is totally unlike all other sauces, which are produced by reduction over heat.' However logical Careme's justification for the exclusive use of the term magnonaise may seem, we are not by any means convinced that it shold take the place of the usual form, mayonnaise. Mayonnaise, in our view, is a popular corruption of moyeunaise, derived from the very old French word moyeau, which means yolk of egg. For, when all is said, this sauce is nothing but an emulsion of egg yolks and oil. If all sauces stirred for a longer or shorter period, on or off the stove, reuqired a name deriving from the word manier, then a great many many would come under this heading, for instance, Bernaise and Hollandaise."
---Larousse Gastronomique Prosper Montagne, edited by Charlotte Turgeon and Nina Froud [Crown Publishers:New York] 1961 (p. 613)
Expanding on Grimod's notes:
"Grimod praised the city of Bayonne for more than just its ham. In the controversy which still flares up form time to time, the writer firmly decided that it was there that originated the mayonnaise sauce:'...Mayonnaise, Mahonaise, Bayonniase...the first of these words is not French, the second points to a town with no reputation in gastronomic terms, all of which leads us to plump for Bayonnaise, for which the etymology derives form a city which is inhabited by a large numnber of inventive gourmands, and whic, moreover, gives birth evey hear to the best hams in Europe.' Grimod's seeming levity, however, conceals a just grievance on the part of Bayonnais. The traditional interpretation for the name comes form the Siege of Port-Mahon, where, it has been suggested, the beseibers were so lacking in spplies that they were reduced to eggs and oil, hence the invention of the sauce. The first recorded reference to this sauce does come from a dinner offered to the Duc de Richelieu, the victor of Port-Mahon in 1756, by the people of Marseille. But it is perhaps not for nothing that than histoire de Marseille is a synonym for an untruth; certainly in Bayonne, the 'golden sauce' is throught to have an older history. Grimpd was fond of chicken bayonnaise as a cold entree."A Palate in Revolution: Grimod de la Reyniere and the Almoach des Gourmands, Giles MacDonogh [Robin Clark:London] 1987 (p. 136)
Raymond Sokolov weighs in:
"The Eighteenth Century...Members of the royal court invented new dishes, or tather they appropriated the glory for their discovery from helpless chefs...The greatest of these noble discoveries, if in fact occurred, was the world premiere of mayonnaise, said to have taken place at the table of the Duc de Richelieu, second cousin of the cardinal, after the capture of Port Mahon in 1759. This is the most disputed of all sauce origins. Some people are persuaded that mahonnaise was indeed transformed into mayonnaise. Others find a more appealing etymology in the old-fashioned word for egg yolk: moyeu. Careme insisted on yet a third alternative: "Some people," he wrote, "say mayonnaise, others mahonnaise, still others bayonnaise. It makes no difference that vulgar cooks should use these words, but I urge that these three terms never be uttered in our great kitchens (where the purists are to be found) and that we should always denominate this sauce with the epithet, magnonaise." Careme was convinced that his etymology made the most sense: magnonaise came from the verb "manier," to handle or work, which, he argued, was exactly what one did to produce a good mayonnaise...If I may further add to the confusion, it seems to me improbably that no one has yet proposed a fourth solution to the problem. Since most sauces are named after places (bearnaise, venitienne, italienne, africaine), it is logical that mayonnaise refer to one also. Unfortunately, there is no town of Mayonne; however, there is a city in France, at the western edge of Normandy, called Mayenne. Who is to day that mayonnaise did not begin as mayennaise?"
---The Saucier's Apprentice, Raymond Sokolov [Alfred A. Knopf:New York] 1976 (p. 6-7)
A sampler of historic mayonnaise recipes
Take three spoonsful of Allemande, six of aspic, and two of oil. Add a little tarragon vinegar that has not boiled, some pepper and salt, and chopped ravigotte, or some chopped parsley only. Set the whole over some ice, and when the mayonnaise begins to freeze, then put in the members of fowl, or fillets of soles, &c. The mayonnaise must be put into ice: but the members must not be put into the sauce till it begins to freeze. Dish up the meat or fish, cover it with the sauce before it be quite frozen, and garnish the dish with whatever you think proper, as beet-root, jelly, naturtiums, &c."
---The French Cook, Louis Eustache Ude, facsimile Englished edition of book originally published in French, 1828 [Arco Publishing:New York] 1978 (p. 20)
"White Mayonnaise Sauce
Put, in a small basin: the yolk of 1 egg, well freed from white; 1 pinch of salt; and a small pinch of pepper; stir with a wooden spoon, and pour in, by drops at first, then by teaspoonfuls, about 4 oz. of oil,--being careful to mix the oil well before adding any more; at every eighth teapsoonful of oil, add 1 teaspoonful of vinegar, till all the oil is used; taste the seasoning; and serve. Mayonnaise should, as a rule, be of rather high seasoning."
"Green Mayonnaise Sauce Prepare a white mayonnaise, as just indicated; Cop 3 tablespoonfuls of ravigote, i.e. a mixture of chervil, tarragon, cress, and burnet;--if tarragon is scarce, chervil alone, with a tablespoonful of tarragon vinegar added to the sauce, will do as well. Mix the herbs, in the sauce; and serve."
---The Royal Cookery Book, Jules Gouffe, translated by Alphonse Gouffe [Sampson Low, Son, and Marson:London] 1869
Many composed cold sauces are derived from Mayonnaise and it is therefore classified as a basic sauce in the same way as Espagnole and Veloute. Its preparation is very simple provided note is take of the principles outlined in the following recipe:
6 egg yolks (these must be unblemished)
1 litre (1 3/4 pt or 4 1/2 U.S. cups) oil
10 g (1/3 oz) fine salt
pinch of ground white pepper
1 1/2 tbls vinegar (or its equivalent in lemon juice if the cause is required to be very white)
1. Whisk the yolks of egg in a basin with the salt, pepper and a little of the vinegar or a few drops of lemon juice.
2. Add and whisk in the oil, drop by drop to begin with, then faster in a thread as the sauce begins to thicken.
3. Adjust the consistency occasionally by adding the vinegar or lemon juice.
4. Lastly add 2 tbs boiling water which is added to ensure that the emulsification holds if the sauce is to be reserved for later use.
---The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery, A. Escoffier, originally published in 1907, translated by H.L. Cracknell and R. J. Kaufmann [John Wiley & Sons:New York] 1997 (p. 30)
[NOTE: Escoffier also includes recipes for: Sauce Mayonnaise Collee (Jellied Mayonnaise), Sauce Mayonnaise Fouette a la Russe (Whipped Mayonnaise, Russian Style), and Various Mayonnaise Sauces (generally including creamy parts of large shellfish).
1 egg yolk 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon wine vinegar (or lemon juice)
1 cup olive oil
Combine egg yok, salt, pepper, and vinegar or lemon juice in a deep bowl. Add the olive oil drip by drop, beating constantly until the sauce is thick and all the oil has been used. If the sauce tastes too oily, add more vinegar or lemon juice. Tante Marie recommends the use of a silver fork or spoon. It is more easily and quickly made, however, with a rotary (had or electric) beater. The secret is in adding the oil very slowly."
---Tante Marie's French Kitchen, translated and adapted by Charlotte Turgeon [Oxford University Press:New York] 1949 (p. 9)
1 tablespoon hot vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1 cup salad oil
1. Have all ingredients at room temperature.
2. Put vinegar in small saucepan and bring to a boil.
3. Put egg, salt, mustard and pepper in blender container; cover and run on low speed. While blender is running, slowly add the salad oil. Increase the speed when more power is necesssary. Add vinegar and blend on high speed just until mixed."
---White House Chef Cookbook, Rene Verdon [Doubleday & Company:Garden City NY] 1967 (p. 188)