Up Your Game With an Aïoli-Tasting Party
Kinds of aïoli from top left, clockwise: Basic aïoli, Pine Nut & Mint aïoli, Lemon Caper aïoli. (Photo: Colleen Nicholson)
There are many reasons to love aïoli. From the way it rolls 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 aïoli 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 aïoli, 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 aïoli lining the condiment shelves.
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 aïoli is made in other parts of France, Spain and Italy, Provence claims it as its own, a cornerstone of Provençal cuisine.
Then, traditionalists 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 also fly when discussing ingredients. Can a sauce be called aïoli if it contains eggs?
Surprisingly, the executive chef at Osco, a Provençal restaurant at the InterContinental in Montreal, is blasé about aïoli 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 aïoli from my past.”
Many of Saunier’s fondest childhood memories involve sitting down with family and friends and devouring aïoli 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 Provence, gets homesick, aïoli 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 aïoli. So I go out and pick up everything and make it for her.”
Saunier gives us yet another reason to love aïoli – it’s just so damn romantic.
With the warmer, more sun-filled days finally upon us in Canada, summer is a fitting time to fête the south of France with an aïoli-tasting party.
What You’ll Need
– 3 different aïoli 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
– Pretzel sticks to taste aïoli 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
By Chef Mathieu Saunier
Makes 1½ cups
2 or 3 cloves garlic
1 egg yolk
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
With mortar and pestle, pound garlic into a paste. Add egg yolk. Stir continuously, adding oil drop by drop and then, as mixture thickens, in steady stream. Alternatively, combine garlic and yolks in food processor. With motor running, slowly add oil in a stream until thoroughly combined, about 2 minutes.
Lemon Caper Aïoli
By Chef Mark McEwan
Makes 1½ 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 egg, garlic and capers. Whisking continually, slowly add steady stream of oil until thickened. Whisk in lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
Pine Nut and Mint Aïoli
By Chef Alex Chen
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 large egg
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup vegetable 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
In food processor, combine garlic, mustard and egg. Process until evenly combined, about 10 seconds. With motor running, slowly add olive oil, then vegetable oil until completely combined, about 2 minutes. Stop processor and add lemon juice, orange juice and fennel pollen; pulse until thoroughly mixed. Scrape side with rubber spatula and then pulse until all ingredients are evenly incorporated. Let stand for at least 30 minutes before serving. Garnish with mint and pine nuts.
* Fennel pollen may be substituted with ground fennel seeds or omitted
Grilled Lamb Chops
1 or 2 lamb chops per guest, 1 ¼ to 1 ½ inches thick
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Season chops with salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil. Heat a grill pan over high heat. Add chops and sear for 2 minutes. Flip chops over and cook for another 3 minutes for medium-rare, 3½ minutes for medium.
Want to rate the various recipes? Click here for the Aioli Tasting Scorecard.