Aïoli – Queen of the Midi
If, like me, you love Provence or anything to do with that beautiful region, how do you feel about Aïoli or do you tippy-toe around it?
Escoffier once said that ‘Good cooking is the foundation of true happiness’ and I really believe that, especially when it is shared with friends and family. So, with New Year celebrations fast upon us I wanted to share another family trait with you along with one more gift for those of you who really love garlic – a rather delicious Provençal Aïoli recipe.
You’ve already met my aunt Alice who, as you know, was a dab hand at planning, but my mum’s other sister, Aunt Jannine, excelled at cooking. In fact, for many years, she owned and ran Les Clochettes, a demi-pension hotel in Coxyde with her husband, my uncle Roger.
The above photo of Les Clochettes was taken by my dad in 1958. The two kids digging up the telegraph pole are my brother Frankie and I while the black giant poodle is Fanny and belonged to my uncle. I don’t know who the two ladies belonged to… The photo opposite, again taken by my dad, is of Frankie and I parked proudly in front of Les Clochettes in our rented pedal cars.
Duty-bound to do the rounds of my mum’s family (my mum had three sisters plus a brother) our summer or Christmas holidays were organised so no-one would be jealous. It was a difficult balancing act for my parents; favouritism just wasn’t allowed.
So, when we did get round to staying in Coxyde it was normally just for a few days before we’d dash off to stay with another family member. But, when there and if my aunt Jannine was willing, I’d watch as she chose and prepared eels for ‘anguilles au vert‘, lobsters for a bisque d’homard, bought the right beer (Gueuze, a unique slightly sour Belgian beer) and marbled cuts of beef to make a sumptuous carbonade flamande or the art (and patience) of making croquettes de crevettes to name just a few wonderful dishes she’d make from scratch.
Les Clochettes no longer exists. It was pulled down many years ago to make place for apartment blocks and that whole area is now so built up it’s hard to find a grain of sand. But it remains in my heart. So, until I open up my own little ‘pension‘ – you’ll just have to do with my blog! And now, back to Aïoli…
Aïoli is not a mayonnaise but more like a garlic mash. Its name derives from the Provençal ail (garlic) and oli (oil) and can be traced back as far as 1756. It is also known as Pommade du Midi (Cream of the Midi). It’s mainly used as an accompaniment to a variety of different foods such as globe artichokes, fish, roast meats and Fondue Bourguignon. It also makes a tasty appetizer when spread on crusty French bread. This year I’m going to make my Aïoli to accompany (by that I mean dunk) some yummy Gambas I’ll have prepared earlier on New Year’s Day.
The recipe calls for fresh garlic as it is slightly milder than its dried counterpart but some people roast the garlic heads first as this gives a sweeter and creamier sauce. But, no matter what you do, ingested garlic transpires through your skin about 24-hrs later, so caution if you’re meeting someone special the next day!
If I have time I work using my pestle and mortar but otherwise I’ll use my food processor. I find the key to success with Aïoli is to work very slowly. It’s also important to make sure all your ingredients, including your cooking utensils, are at room temperature as varying temperatures could encourage the sauce to separate.
The Ingredients – Garlic of course!
• 12 garlic cloves
• 2 egg yokes
• a good pinch of salt
• a good pinch of pepper
• 2 cups of extra-virgin olive oil
• juice of 1 freshly squeezed lemon
• tepid water
How to Make Aïoli
Detach the cloves from the head of garlic then, with a heavy knife, press down on the cloves to break open the peel. Remove peel and any visible green sprout (pale yellow is fine and can be left) and place the cloves in a mortar. Add a pinch of salt and grind slowly with the pestle until creamy. You might find it easier to clasp both hands around the pestle while working. From time to time, scrape off any cloves mixture stuck on the pestle back into the mortar.
Cut a fresh lemon in half and strain the juice through a small sieve. Set to one side.
Separate the egg yolks, place in a beaker and mix gently with a whisk. Slowly introduce the egg yolks to the cloves, mixing as you do so with either a wire whisk, pestle or wooden spoon. Make sure you mix continuously in the same direction.
Now add in half of the olive oil in a slow, fine stream. Once the first half of the oil is incorporated, add a bit of tepid water and the strained lemon juice. You’ll find the Aïoli changes to a lighter colour.
Slowly add the rest of the olive oil, whisking quicker as the mixture thickens. Leave the Aaïoli thick and creamy if it’s going to be used as a dip, but a little thinner if you want it as a sauce. Just add a bit more warm water, one teaspoon at a time, to make it thinner.
Season with pepper; taste and add a touch more salt and/or lemon juice if so required. Then transfer the Aïoli to ramekins and pop into the fridge to keep cool until required. You’ll find that Aïoli keeps quite well for at least a week if kept in a well-sealed container.
Some recipes include 10ml of white wine vinegar instead of lemon juice, while others use a blend of both. Personally I love the taste of lemon juice and tend to add more rather than I should.
The traditional tool used to make Aïoli is a large mortar and pestle. I tend to use my granite mortar and pestle during the first stage and then a wooden spoon (as opposed to a wire whisk) to help stir during the second stage.