There are many reasons to love aioli. From the way it roles off your tongue –- EYE–yo-lee! -- to the way it slips down your throat. From the accessibility of its ingredients – garlic, oil, eggs -- to its stunning versatility. When aioli first showed up on the blackboards of bistros in Canada about a decade ago, it was served as an accompaniment to steamed vegetables, meat and fish. Today, we use it as a spread to jazz up our sandwiches; a dressing to turn potato salad into gourmet fare; and a dip to make sinful treats such as French fries worth the calories. Flavour-wise, variations abound. Google aioli and you’ll get a million recipes ranging from citrus, herbal, and nut-based to chipotle, truffle, and wasabi. Walk into a specialty food shop, and you’ll find jars of aioli lining the condiment shelves.
But what makes aioli extra lovable? This seemingly simple concoction is the source of heated debate.
When historians write that it is likely a Roman sauce, the people of Provence ignore the memo. Although aioli is made in other parts of France, Spain and Italy, Provence claims it as its own, a cornerstone of Provençal cuisine.
Traditionalists, around the world, battle modernists about the way the sauce should be made. With a mortar and pestle! the former group cries whereas the latter roll their eyes and reach for a whisk or food processor.
Sparks fly when discussing ingredients. Can a sauce be called aioli if it contains eggs? The dispute arose when, after centuries of using only garlic and oil, someone added eggs to make the emulsification process easier. It worked, and today eggs are found in most recipes, but this is where the slippery slope to mayonnaise began. Egg yolks are essential to mayo, which is also emulsification containing oil, lemon juice or vinegar, and sometimes a dash of mustard.
There is no place for an egg in aioli, a Provençal purist will tell you. Aioli and mayonnaise are not one and the same. Interestingly, there is dissention around the issue even in France.
In an email, François Millo, co-author of Provence Food and Wine: The Art of Living, and the president of the Provence Wine Council, writes, “For non-Provencals, aioli may be a variation of mayonnaise -- we call this Parisian aioli -- but true Provençals know better.”
Some true Canadians, such as culinary super-star, Chef Mark McEwan, disagree. In fact, the Food Network judge, restaurateur, and cookbook author scoffs at the idea that up until recent years most boomers had never heard of the sauce.
“If you had heard of Hellmann’s mayonnaise, you had heard of aioli,” he says. “In North America, we think something is exotic but it’s something structurally the same. It’s a language issue mostly.”
McEwan doesn’t buy into the traditionalist’s view that olive oil, and only olive oil, must be used. His gourmet grocery store, McEwan, sells small tubs of freshly made aioli in a variety of flavours all of which feature lighter oils.
“I prefer canola,” he explains. “You want a light layering of flavours so you get a good balance.”
Chef Alex Chen, who heads up Boulevard Kitchen and Oyster Bar at the Sutton Place Hotel in Vancouver, takes a more diplomatic approach.
“The characteristics of an aioli should reflect the characteristics of the chef,” he says, “But it should pay homage to Provence and evoke the cuisine of the sun.”
Aioli is a summertime dish, he adds, so his restaurant starts offering it around this time of year.
Surprisingly, the executive chef at Osco!, a Provençal restaurant at the InterContinental in Montreal, is blasé about aioli rules. Chef Mathieu Saunier was born and raised in Provence and came to Canada nine years ago to pursue his culinary career. Here, he loves to experiment with his homeland dish, adding not only eggs, but sometimes a splash of other sauces such as red pepper coulis.
“I want to make the dish better,” he laughs. “But I have no complaints about the aioli from my past.”
Many of Saunier’s fondest childhood memories involve sitting down with family and friends and devouring aioli with potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, fish and a staggering view of the sea. Today, in Montreal, when his girlfriend, who is also a native of Province, gets homesick, aioli is the only cure.
“No matter how happy you are, or how many friends you have, when you come from a different country, sometimes you feel something is missing. This is when Marion tells me she wants aioli. So I go out and pick up everything and make it for her.”
Saunier gives us yet another reason to love aioli – it’s just so damn romantic.
With the warmer, more sun-filled days finally upon us in Canada, April is a fitting time to fête the south of France with an aioli tasting party. Three of Canada’s finest chefs have contributed aioli recipes you can make up to a day ahead, with platters of food to go with. To serve, begin with Mathieu Saunier’s Basic Aioli with Steamed Vegetables; then move on to Mark McEwan’s Lemon Caper Aioli with Fritto Misto di Mare; and finish off with Alex Chen’s Mint and Pine Nut Aioli with Grilled Lamb. Or, create a feeding frenzy and serve it all at once.
Either way, your table will be bountiful so nix appetizers and instead, greet guests as they do in Provence with a glass of the anise-flavoured aperitif, Pastis. Rosé is the official wine of the region so set out a carafe of it, along with a white. Although aioli is usually lunchtime fare in Europe, you can choose to hold your party in the late afternoon and early evening when the sun hangs low and its light is soft and diffused. Keep tableware earthy and casual -- check out a still life by Provençal artist, Paul Cézanne, for inspiration. Your goal is not to fuss, but instead to capture the ambience of a rustic Provençal meal. Aioli, remember, is a comfort food. By the time your guests bid you adieu, they will have partaken in a comfort-food feast.
What you’ll need:
· 3 different aioli as per recipes OR three store-bought flavours
· 3 mid-size bowls with serving spoons
· 3 platters – one for steamed vegetables, one for seafood, one for lamb
· 1 fork and knife per guest
· 1 pen plus 3 scorecards (one for each aioli variety) per guest
· Pretzel sticks to taste aioli on its own
· Water for palate cleansing
· Carafes for wine
Set Up and Ambience
· A wooden table with a casual runner or simple white tablecloth; earthenware platters and tasting plates; not too polished cutlery; a simple vase of flowers (perhaps lavender!) Provençal-patterned napkins if desired
· Consider a classical playlist of French composers
· Set out an aioli and platter. Ask guests to dip pretzel sticks into aioli so they can make notes about it on its own then as accompaniment to food. Move from lightest to heaviest – vegetables, seafood, lamb OR set everything out at once asking guests to record impressions at their own pace.
· Beside each aioli, set a place card listing its name and key ingredients
· As an Aioli Aficionado, spark debate by sharing the sauce’s history of controversy
· Tell guests to their cleanse palate with water between tastings
· Ask guests to compare impressions as they move from one pairing to the next, state their favourite and then declare an overall winner
Recipe for those brave souls who wish to try their hand at François Millo’s grandmother’s recipe:
From Provence Food and Wine: The Art of Living by François Millo and Viktorija Todorovska
5 cloves of garlic
1 tsp sea salt
3 small potatoes, boiled
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
In a mortar, combine the garlic and salt and crush well. Add the potatoes one at a time and continue working until you have a thick paste. Slowly add the oil working the sauce to create an emulsion. The aioli should be thick but not solid. Serve in a bowl with cod, vegetables and hard-boiled eggs.
More Great Recipes from Great Canadian Chefs
By Chef Mathieu Saunier:
Makes 1 ½ cups
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
1 egg yolk
1 cup of extra virgin olive oil
In a mortar, pound the garlic with a pestle into a paste. Add egg yolk. Using the pestle, a fork or a whisk, stir continuously slowly adding the olive oil, drop by drop and then as the mixture thickens, in steady stream. OR, add the garlic and yolks to a food processor. Combine for a few seconds. Keep the motor running, and slowly add the oil in a stream until thoroughly combined which takes about 2 minutes.
4 cups of vegetables such as cauliflower, carrots, green beans and potatoes, cut into uniform, bite-size pieces
Add a few inches of water to a saucepan and insert steamer basket. Water should not come up over steamer so remove some if necessary. Bring water to a boil. Add vegetable to steamer; cover and reduce heat to medium. Check vegetables after about 5 minutes and continue cooking until desired doneness.
Tip: Add a few hard-boiled eggs to vegetable platter as is the Provençal custom!
By Chef Mark McEwan:
Lemon Caper Aioli
Makes 1 1/2 cups
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tbsp salt packed capers, rinsed, drained and chopped
1 cup vegetable oil
4 tbsp lemon juice
Salt and Pepper
Whisk together the egg, garlic and capers garlic. While continuing to whisk, begin adding a steady stream of the olive oil slowly. When all the oil has been incorporated and the mixture is emulsified, whisk in the lemon juice to thin, and then season with salt and pepper.
Fritto Misto di Mare
2 cups rice flour
2 cups ice-cold sparkling mineral water
Canola oil for deep-frying
4 calamari sliced into ¼-inch rings
8 large shrimp, shelled and deveined
8 sea smelts, cleaned, heads removed (or bite-size pieces of cod, haddock or halibut)
4 large sea scallops, halved crosswise
salt and pepper
2 lemons, halved and charred
In a bowl combine the eggs, flour and mineral water; whisk together vigorously. Set aside in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. Heat the oil in a deep fryer or a deep cast-iron skillet to 360 F (185 C). Whisk the batter briefly. Working in batches, if necessary, dredge the fish and seafood through it, shaking off the excess before carefully transferring them to deep-fryer or skillet. Fry, turning if necessary, until they are golden crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon to drain briefly on bed of paper towels. Season generally and serve with charred lemon and a ramekin of aioli for dipping.
Tip: Larger fritti, like smelts, should be lowered gently by the tail into the hot oil, for the batter will then take on air bubbles that, once you let go, will prevent the fish from sinking in the oil and sticking to the bottom of the pan.
By Chef Alex Chen:
Pine Nut and Mint Aioli
2 medium garlic cloves
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 large egg
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
¼ tsp fennel pollen*
¼ tsp finely julienned mint
2 Tbsp pine nuts
Place garlic, mustard and egg in food processor. Process until evenly combined, about 10 seconds. With the motor still running, slowly add olive oil, then vegetable oil until completely combined, about 2 minutes. Stop the processor and add lemon juice, orange juice, and fennel pollen, and pulse until thoroughly mixed. Scrape side with a rubber spatula and then pulse until all ingredients are evenly incorporated. Let sit for at least 30 minutes before using. Garnish with mint and pine nuts when serving.
* Fennel pollen may be substituted with ground fennel seeds or omitted
Grilled Lamb Chops
1 or 2 lamb chops per guest, about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ inches thick
Season with salt and pepper
Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil
Heat a grill pan over high heat. Add the chops and sear for about 2 minutes. Flip the chops over and cook for another 3 minutes for med-rare, 3 ½ minutes for medium.
AIOLI TASTING SCORE CARD
Comments from an Aioli Aficionado
Name of Aioli and Dish _________________
SEE & SNIFF: Note colour, texture and consistency of Aioli. Dip a pretzel in and hold it to your nose. What aromas can you detect? Are any overpowering?
TASTE & TEXTURE: Pop the pretzel into your mouth and chew. What flavours note can you detect? Citrus, herbs, garlic? Notice mouth-feel. Is it silky, creamy, or gritty?
PAIR: Dip a piece a food from its accompanying platter into the Aioli. How does it alter the aioli’s flavour? Does it mask the vegetables, fish or lamb or enhance their flavours? Is it refreshing, or heavy?
SWALLOW: How does the aioli affect the way the food slides down the throat? What flavours lingers on the palette?
SCORE: Declare which aioli pairing you liked the most, and explain why.
This articles was published in ZOOMER June 2015 to read the full article please Click here for PDF version