I still remember the first time I met you, Aioli...you were slathered upon the bun holding the most amazing hamburger I've ever eaten in my life...the Creswick Farms Grass Fed Beef Burger at The Electric Cheetah in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You were so creamy, so garlicky...it was love at first taste...
No matter what you might think about the French, you can't argue with the fact that they know how to cook. Aioli is thought to have originated in Provence, France although I also came across a post at CliffordAWright.com that states that the first mention of anything resembling aioli dates back to Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79). No matter where its origins lie, it is absolutely heavenly...providing, of course, that you like garlic. And mayonnaise.
Aioli is basically a garlic mayonnaise and can be easily transformed into many flavored varieties by adding other herbs and spices. Some recipes call for dijon mustard, which I think would kick up the spice factor...raw garlic is rather toasty on its own. There are many recipes and techniques documented out there on the web...I read several, watched a few videos, then headed to the kitchen to try out my new Christmas present...a lovely granite mortar and pestle. Which I wanted specifically to make aioli, although you can use a food processor or an immersion blender. Being a traditionalist in nature, at least when it comes to foodie type things, I of course wanted to do it the "old fashioned" way. But, a mortar and pestle are very handy for crushing spices and herbs so I'm sure I will put it to good use throughout the year.
If you've never made mayonnaise before, I must warn you that it can be kind of tricky. You have to start out adding the oil S-L-O-W-L-Y...as in drop by drop for the first tablespoon, then in a thin stream after that, constantly whisking (if using a whisk) or stirring the pestle in the mortar. I've made blender mayonnaise and it's really very tasty, especially when you have delicious, fresh, pastured eggs. This is the first time I've made mayo by hand, and honestly, it wasn't that hard.
FIRST...make sure your ingredients and utensils are all at room temperature. You'll need:
- Olive oil, about half a cup (or a combination of olive and something else if you don't like a strong olive oil flavor)
- 1egg yolk
- 1 or more cloves of garlic
- Lemon juice, about half to one teaspoon
- Coarse salt (I used Pink Himalayan), about 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon
- Mortar and pestle
Next, cut the end off the garlic cloves and peel them by whacking them with the flat side of your nice big chef's knife...or whatever method you prefer for peeling garlic. I like whacking them, myself. Mince the garlic and add it to your mortar, along with a generous pinch or two of salt.
I didn't really mince the garlic, just kind of gave it a good chopping...but in retrospect I should have taken the time to mince. You can also use a garlic press...I have one, I just didn't want to wash it. The salt, by the way, helps to break down the garlic and make it into a paste so you really don't want to omit it. If you use a healthy sea salt or mineral-rich salt such as the Pink Himalayan, it's much better for your ticker than regular old table salt.
Using the pestle, begin grinding the garlic and salt together slowly until it forms a paste. This is somewhat time consuming, but if you mince your garlic or use a press it will not take as long as it did for me. You'll have to keep brushing the garlic bits back down into the mortar at first, but then it will make a nice, smoothish paste that clings to the side of the mortar.
Next, add your egg yolk. Give it a good whirl around the mortar for about a minute.
Some people say to add the lemon juice later, some now. One video I watched said the acid in the lemon juice essentially "cooks" the egg yolk. I added it at this point, next time I will try adding it later and see if it makes a difference. As far as cooking the yolk, I don't know about that but it sounds good.
Give it a good whirl around the mortar, too. The guy in the video says until it's kind of frothy.
Now we get to the tricky part...adding the oil. I know from personal experience that you absolutely do need to add it slowly at first. One video I watched, the lady had her oil in a lovely glass jug with a teeny, tiny spout so you could pour it out drip by drip. I just have my plain old oil jar, so I added just a few drops at a time until I had about a tablespoon in there, then slowly increased how much I added. You must constantly stir the pestle (or whisk) in order to create an emulsion, which is a suspension of small globules of one liquid in a second liquid with which the first will not mix.
Continue adding oil until you have a nice, creamy sauce. Some of the videos I watched the aioli was much more stiff than what I ended up with...but I liked the consistency and the flavor so I stopped. I don't know how much oil I used, to be honest with you. I just started throwing things together, like usual, but the ingredients listed above are from an actual recipe I found at Gourmet Sleuth, minus the dijon mustard.
Here I am, whirling the pestle around the mortar vigorously. It's amazing how fast it emulsifies in this little thing. I love it!
When it's at the right consistency, taste it. Add more salt if you like. Add more lemon juice (I did, to kind of cut back on the intensity of the garlic). You can also add herbs such as basil, or to make it spicier, add horseradish, ground chilis, or other hot spices. I can't wait to experiment with this!
All that's left now is to eat this creamy, garlicky wonder. I tried it with carrots (fabulous!) and some leftover French bread chunks (amazing!). It's supposed to be great for crudités, and is traditionally served with fish, meats and vegetables, depending on what region you're in. I can tell you that in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at that lovely little Electric Cheetah, it is something akin to Nirvana on a grass fed beef burger....
So, for supper tonight, I've cut some sourdough bread in half, slathered aioli on both halves, covered them with some browned venison and piled Swiss cheese on top and thrown it in the oven for about half an hour. It smells fantastic!
Sourdough Venison Aioli Melt
While the aioli I made was quite spicy fresh out of the mortar, once it was baked into the sourdough bread it was not nearly so spicy, or garlicky, actually. I've found a recipe for Aioli Garlic Bread (which also has a link to show how to make the aioli without any fancy equipment), and he cautions that if you like a more intense garlic flavor, to add more garlic when making the garlic bread. Our Sourdough Venison Aioli Melt had a lovely, but subtle, garlic flavor. I ended up putting a bit more aioli (since that was all that was left!) on top of my piece. Very delicious!