Homage to Emulsions: The un-blendables

The word emulsion when said is a thick and rich-sounding word.  It foams on your tongue as you say it, it greases the ears that hear it.  But it may also sound daunting to the uninitiated.  I know it was for me.   You may have seen someone in the past, furiously whisking and was awed at how they transformed base ingredients into a sultry sauce.  Hollandaise, Bearnaise, Mayonnaise… three magical and untouchable “Lise’s”, better left to the professionals.  Creamy emulsified goodness, strange and wonderful chemistry comprised of liquids, fats, and the magical egg.  You too can enter the realm of mad science, the hardest part of the recipe is overcoming the initial fear…

What is an Emulsion?

An emulsion is basically a suspension of small globules of one liquid in a second liquid with which the first will not mix.  You will most likely glaze over during this section as if you were in high school Chemistry.

An emulsion is a mixture of two or more immiscible (un-blendable) liquids. Emulsions are part of a more general class of two-phase systems of matter called colloids. Although the terms colloid and emulsion are sometimes used interchangeably, emulsion tends to imply that both the dispersed and the continuous phase are liquid. In an emulsion, one liquid (the dispersed phase) is dispersed in the other (the continuous phase).  –Wiki

I’ve been cooking for quite some time (not professionally) but am embarrassed to say had never made Mayo or Hollandaise.  The thought of this mysterious substance kept me from trying what are actually relatively easy recipes.  You just have to follow the directions and pay attention to the sauces!  So last weekend I took the leap of faith and it was UNBELIEVABLY good!  My wife will now be requesting eggs benny on a regular basis…

My culinary hero, Alton Brown describes the process of emulsification extraordinarily well in the Good Eats episode “Mayo Clinic” (with the help of the adorable Shirley).  Here’s an excerpt and his Mayo recipe, which is the one I use. (Sorry about the annoying beginning… but worth the watch)

Here’s part 2 of the episode uploaded by LikeTheHat if you want to keep watching.

Why we like Emulsions: FLAVORFAT

Why do we like emulsions in one made-up word?  FLAVORFAT (patent pending).   As you see above, an emulsion is two un-blendable liquids.  So we have basically suspended flavor molecules within the oil (fat) molecules and the magical properties of egg yolk can keep them from separating.

Emulsion Recipes

Here are a few links to some of my favorite emulsified sauces.  I found Epicurious did a great job with this series, so I used their videos.


Hollandaise is a sauce made of clarified butter emulsified in egg yolks and flavored with lemon.  Making Hollandaise


“Child” of the French Mother sauce Hollandaise, Béarnaise uses shallot, chervil, peppercorn, and tarragon, while Hollandaise uses lemon juice.  Making Bearnaise


A stable emulsion of oil, egg yolk, and either vinegar or lemon juice, with many options for embellishment with other herbs and spices.  Making Mayonnaise


A mixture (emulsion) of olive oil and vinegar, often flavored with herbs, spices, and other ingredients.  Making Vinaigrette

 Get Saucy!

I do think that even the most rookie cook, filled with trepidation can explore the wonderful world of emulsions.  There is NOTHING like having fresh homemade Mayo in the house, or surprising your loved one with breakfast in bed… nothing beats a Benny.

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