Aïoli : ay-OH-lee, i-OH-lee
Aïoli is a sauce made of garlic and olive oil originating in the Mediterranean region. Aïoli is the French spelling and the French do not have a copyright on the sauce. They do, however, have a Provençal dish by the same name which is unique to that area because in order to eat that much oil and garlic at one sitting you really must be a Provençal.
Aïoli has been a mainstay of Provençal cooking since the mid-1700’s. It is devrived from the Provençal words ail (garlic) and oli (oil). It is often referred to as the ”pommade du Midi” (ointment of the south of France).
In plain English, aïoli is garlic mayonnaise. As naked ape noted in the node all i oli , it originally was just garlic, oil and salt. It is difficult to make a thickened sauce with only these ingredients so the use of egg yolks or whole eggs is now favored to produce a voluminous sauce. Today’s aïoli, in fact, is a mayonnaise that starts with crushed garlic.
The dish is basically salt cod and potatoes served with large dollops of aïoli. In my family we consider one-half to one cup of aïoli per person a conservative amount to make; I know families who start with one cup of sauce per person. Don’t look for it in restaurants if you go to Provence as a tourist; if you find it at all it will have a very mild un-garlicky mayonnaise and the fish will most likely not be salt cod.
This is a family dish traditionally served in late summer. People in France often include carrots and green beans with the potatoes; perhaps this is why it is served in July and August when vegetable gardens are producing crops for the table. Or perhaps it is because this is the time when garlic is harvested. Using fresh garlic instead of the dried-on-a-string type gives a much more potent aïoli.
It is important that the garlic cloves be completely pulverized before starting the sauce. I like to use a garlic press instead of dicing the cloves because then the tough inner skin of the clove can be discarded. If you don’t have a garlic press you can use a mortar and pestle, or simply smash the cloves on a board using a cloth-wrapped glass bottle as a pestle.
The node Aioli by 7zark7 gives general directions for making the sauce by hand, although I have never known black pepper as an ingredient of aïoli in the south of France. If you make it manually, using a wire whisk and a bowl or (as the French do) a fork on a saucer You may want to incorporate a half-teaspoon of Dijon-style mustard to help speed up the process. The garlic will mask any flavor of mustard.
I personally like to use a food processor in making the quantities of aïoli needed for more than two servings. It is easy to dribble in the oil drop by drop while the blades are turning if your machine has a cover with a small opening in it. Once the crushed garlic, salt, and egg yolks are in the blender bowl, put on the cover, start the blades at a high speed, and dribble in the oil. Reduce the speed to medium as the mixture starts to thicken. The finished product should be stiff enough so a spoon will stand upright in it.
My recipe is not exact, but I normally use 4 or 5 cloves of garlic, one egg yolk, a pinch of salt and 2/3 cup of plain olive oil per person. Adding lemon juice at the end is purely optional.
Serving aïoli requires a bit of planning as it must be started 24 hours in advance with the soaking of the salt cod. As fish goes, salt cod is fairly rich so you don’t need too much per person. It is better if you can get the kind that is in one big piece instead of little shreds in a wooden box. Cut it into 4- to 5-inch pieces, one per serving. Soak it in cold water for 24 hours, changing the water twice during that time.
For the meal itself, it’s best to make the aïoli first and let it chill while preparing the rest. For the veggies, plan on 2 or 3 potatoes per person, 1 or 2 carrots each, and some green beans. Some people like to add a couple of hard-boiled eggs but I think that is a bit much with the egg yolks in the sauce. A few slices of pickled beets can be added.
The cleaned carrots and potatoes will take roughly 30 minutes to cook, the topped and tailed green beans can be added for the last 20 minutes. The salt cod, covered with water to which you’ve added one or two bay leaves (fresh, if possible), can be poached in 10 to 15 minutes.
Some people like to spread the sauce on the fish and/or the vegetables. Others will mash the potatoes and cod together, then blend it with a large amount of aïoli. My family likes this way so well that we forego the carrots and green beans. This makes it like a coarse version of another dish from the Midi, Brandade de Morue de Nîmes: a puree made of cod, olive oil and milk, enhanced with garlic.
The traditional wine with this is a well-chilled rosé.