“When the moon marks your breath with the fragrance of death, that’s aioli.”
Stupid Dean Martin: That’s how that lyric should have gone. Amore, after all, is highly over-rated. But, aioli, my friends, is forever, like Bela Lugosi’s “children of the night.” Pungent garlic and slippery extra-virgin olive oil emulsify into a creamily congenial sauce that pairs like socks with fish, chicken and vegetables. Or just dab a little behind each ear to keep the count from getting too fresh.
WHY YOU NEED TO LEARN THIS
It’s easy. It’s delicious. And, if, like me, you live in a heavily Vampire-American neighborhood, the consumption thereof allows you to slumber unencumbered with the French doors ajar.
THE STEPS YOU TAKE
Ask a hundred cooks, and 99 will probably say that aioli is garlic mayonnaise.
Curiously, even though that’s pretty much how it has evolved, aioli didn’t start out that way.
Now, let’s be perfectly clear. I may be a lot of things: a lapsed Catholic, a terrible golfer and a sucker for the “Gilmore Girls,” but I am not William F. Buckley standing athwart history yelling, “Stop!”
Look, I get it that things change. Languages. Demographics. Bats.
Which is why, if you want to crack open a jar of Hellmann’s, stir in some garlic powder and call it “aioli,” then, by gum, that is your right. After all, this is Amurca.
U! S! A!
U! S! A!
Or if you want to stir a couple of minced garlic cloves into that aforementioned mayo, well, nobody from this publication is going to tattle to the headmaster.
You could even get all crazy and whisk an egg yolk with a little water and lemon juice, then whisk in some oil to make your own mayonnaise before folding in fresh garlic that you’ve creamed to a silky paste with a bit of kosher salt. I’m sure it’d be delectable, and honestly, if you want to call that “aioli,” well, what with the way that crackpotted Kim Jong Un is acting these days, quite frankly, we’ve got bigger fish to fry. (If you’re going to do this, by the by, I suggest buying pasteurized eggs.)
Or, if just the thought of all that infernal whisking leaves you faint, you might crack an egg or yolk into the bowl of your blender along with some garlic and an optional squeeze of lemon. Then you might turn the damn thing on and drizzle in your oil and watch all happy-like as the oleaginous mass emulsifies before your lying eyeballs.
It’s all good, peeps. No haters here.
Finally, though, you could embrace Mr. Buckley’s stodgy ghost and kick it totally old school. For that, you need only five things: fresh garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, kosher salt, a mortar and a pestle. No egg. No blender.
(Incidentally, I queried my learned colleagues at Kendall College’s School of Culinary Arts regarding “blender aioli,” and they had some extremely insightful thoughts on the matter, none of which we can print here, sadly.)
Now, before we get to the method, a little background on why you need but a few items to make an authentic aioli.
Though it’s found in several northern Mediterranean regions, aioli is often associated with Provence in southwestern France, where they speak French, of course, duh.
Realize, now, O Easily Offended Prep Schoolers, that I’m being deliberately ill-mannered because I’ve lately discovered that, even though French is the national language, there are several other languages spoken in France that are as different from French as French is from Spanish or kittens are from mastodons. Who knew?
One of those languages is called Occitan (AHK-si-tan), and in one of its dialects, Provencal, the words for garlic and oil are “alh” and “oli,” respectively. You can see how the sauce got its name and also why it needs only garlic and oil.
1. Pulverize 8 to 12 peeled garlic cloves along with a large pinch of salt with a mortar and pestle. This will take a good 15-ish minutes. (Actually, those 15 minutes might not be that good if your gymwear’s sporting cobwebs. But, toughen up, and go for it, I say.)
2. When the garlic’s as crushed as the dreams of my youth, you have several options. You can go totally old school and just add the oil (see 2a below). Or, you can smush a raw egg yolk into the garlic with the pestle. Or, you can take the advice of my colleague chef Elaine Sikorski (never a bad idea) and add about an ounce of cooked potato. Either yolk or potato help hold the sauce together.
2a. Now we add the oil. Add only a few drops while pounding and stirring it into the garlic to form the emulsion. Add a few more drops and continue pounding and stirring. As you add more oil to the mix, you can do it in a thin, steady stream. Just keep mixing it into the whole. By the time the full cup of oil is added, the sauce should be as silky smooth as the freshly shaven face of Mr. Warren Beatty.
And on that lovely image, I will leave you to enjoy your dinner.