Aioli by Steph F.

12 05 2008

Aioli is a classic sauce originating in the south of France.  To the uninitiated, it would seem that there is nothing particularly special about this simple garlicky mayonnaise, but that would profoundly understate its place in Provencal cuisine.  It has been called the “butter of Provence” and its foundations are formed from the cornerstones of Provencal cuisine: olive and its oil, garlic and wild herbs, and the tomato.  Summer in Provence is marked by village festivals – Le Grand Aioli – where the aioli provides all the excuse needed to gorge on summer’s peak vegetables.  This communal feast traditionally takes place in the town square; everyone brings their own plates, glassware and utensils, while heaping platters of steamed vegetables, poached salt cod and crusty baguettes are served with bowlfuls of aioli for dolloping in obscene quantities, all washed down with bottles of local wine.

 

An authentic Provencal aioli is made by crushing fresh, juicy cloves of garlic in a mortar and pestle with coarse sea salt.  In general, about 4-6 cloves of garlic are used per every cup of oil.  High quality extra virgin olive oil is the traditional oil used, but a mild flavored one is preferred, otherwise the flavor could run too intense or bitter.  A combination of olive and vegetable oil is a good alternative.   The basic method is the same as any mayonnaise – you are simply adding the crushed garlic to the yolks before adding the oil.  Some recipes call for the addition of a little lemon juice as well.     Aioli is perfect with any manner of vegetables, from boiled or steamed carrots, potatoes, green beans, and beets to raw crudités.  The traditional grand aioli platter may also include hard-boiled eggs and poached salt cod or salmon.   Another traditional aioli-accompanied dish is the bourride, a Mediterranean fish soup, similar to a bouillabaisse. The aioli in this case is whisked into the broth as the soup cooks gently until the broth turns silky smooth, something akin to the seafood equivalent of a crème anglaise. 

 

So this summer, rather than a traditional American barbeque, plan instead on a grand aioli feast with loads of farmstand fresh vegetables and poached salmon, all served room temp for ease of service, with bowls of aioli passed around the table along with the bread and wine! Your friends will be delighted at the opportunity to participate in a centuries old traditional Provencal culinary festival right in your own backyard.

 

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