Aioli is a staple for me. I fell in love with it when I was researching FRENCH FARMHOUSE COOKBOOK and I was in Provence, aioli’s natural home. It’s a signature “sauce” or dish – the sauce is the garlicky mayonnaise; the dish is the season’s best vegetables to enjoy with the sauce. For a special occasion, a Feast Day for instance, or a big family gathering, the aioli becomes a Grand Aioli, and salt cod is part of it.
I tasted aioli – garlic mayonnaise – in Provence a million times and I always loved it. But what hooked me even more than the sparkly flavor of the dish, and it’s gorgeous allure, were the stories that accompanied it. I knew that aioli was made from the local ingredients – garlic, olive oil, eggs – but I also learned that that an aioli worth its salt needs to be so thick a spoon can stand upright in it. I was instructed into the superstitions of aioli, too. Here are my favorites: aioli will turn oily if: a menstruating woman makes it; more than one person puts their hand to it; the barometric pressure is low; the barometric pressure is high; the ingredients are too chilled.
I naturally believed everything I heard, and as I taught aioli in my early classes I trembled with fear it would break. And sometimes it did. I had a “fix” of course, which was to whisk the broken, oily mixture into an egg yolk and some mustard – but it was embarrassing nonetheless. I would back up the broken aioli with a story that I’d also heard in Provence, which was that the ancients most likely didn’t care if their aioli was broken. But still, I didn’t like the uncertainty of it.
So I turned to my friend and colleague Harold McGee, an expert on food and science. We got down to business researching the hows and whys of emulsions like aiol and many batches of mayonnaise and aioli later, we figured it out. What we found was less superstitious than all those stories (maybe a bit less poetic too ), but it has resulted in perfect aioli every time, ever since.
The Simple Secrets to Aioli Success
Here’s are the simple secrets: start the aioli process with 2/3 bland vegetable oil, such as un-toasted peanut oil, and finish with about 1/3 extra virgin olive oil. Using all olive oil often results in bitter aioli (the ancients may have liked bitter aioli, but I do not), and the oil may contain imperfections that prevent emulsion. The other secret is to add the oil SLOWLY. Soooo slowly that you’ll have to marshal your inner zen. But you can do it, and the results are worth it. Temperature of ingredients doesn’t matter, by the way.
So, with these secrets up your sleeve, make aioli. It’s an any-season dish. I love it in winter, with winter vegetables, because it brings sun to the table. But now I’m making it with brand, new garlic and serving it with our new, spring radishes, carrots, and a few pieces of avocado since they’re almost local (from Spain and sooo good). Bon Appétit!