Aioli, when made from scratch is very unlike the flavored mayo you get at places passed off as aioli. It’s much creamier, packs quite the garlicky punch, and can be used to enhance the flavors of almost anything from soups to grilled vegetables to meat to crostini. Aioli is also very easy to make and should definitely be added to your arsenal of grilling condiments for the summer.
So how do you make aioli. Well, it seems there are two ways you can do it: with an egg yolk and without. Now, as you can imagine, there’s a difference of opinion regarding the two methods, not quite Catholics vs Protestants but the French are involved. Anyway, Bourdain once did a show about Provence where aioli was made and, as basically as a Frenchman can be when talking about food absolutes, they said no egg. Make the aioli with just olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice. Ok so there’s the purists for you. On the other hand, my Culinary Institute of America textbook and Ruhlman’s Charcuterie both have recipes which incorporate egg yolks.
Why? My guess was the egg yolk probably helps emulsify the sauce better than if it were just the garlic. Anyway, the main argument between the two camps is if you add an egg yolk it’s mayo not aioli. Now, while this may be technically correct (giving those purists the edge) there are differences in the make-up of mayo and aioli. Mayo uses vegetable oil, egg yolk, some water and lemon juice, where aioli uses olive oil, egg yolk, more water and lemon juice, vinegar, and garlic paste. Ok still similar to a degree. Without a good answer I decided to do an eggs-periment: try both methods.
I made the egg-less aioli first. I used Ruhlman’s recipe from Charcuterie and just omitted the egg yolk. It took a while, maybe 8-10 minutes, but eventually it came together and I had a mayonnaise-like substance with soft peaks. Very good garlic flavor, a bit salty though so if you try this method cut back on the salt in the recipe and just salt to taste at the end. Pretty good result. Not very colorful but it’s a power pack of garlic taste.
Next I made it with egg. The egg yolk definitely helps emulsify everything a lot faster. It took probably a quarter of the time to make it with the egg yolk than without. Again, the aioli turned out very flavorful but had stiffer peaks and a little color because of the egg yolk.
Of the two I’d say the egg one is probably the way to go. It’s a lot quicker to whip up (pun intended) while your meat or vegetables are grilling and it’s a little creamier. Aioli is absolutely perfect for grilled vegetables like eggplant, portobello mushrooms, or zucchini. Add a dollop to your gazpacho or sopa de tomate. Add some dimension to it by mixing in some fresh herbs like tarragon or basil (out of your herb garden of course). It will go with just about anything you can fire up on the grill, just remember, it has a very strong flavor so just a little bit does wonders.
- 1 large egg yolk (or not)
- 1 ½ tsp water
- ½ tsp white vinegar
- 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
- 1 ½ Tbs lemon juice or to taste
- 1 tsp garlic paste
- 1 C extra virgin olive oil
Combine the egg yolk (or not), water, vinegar, salt, garlic and some lemon juice in a bowl and whisk together.
While whisking, slowly drizzle the olive oil into the bowl. Start out drop by drop, then gradually increase the stream until all of the oil is incorporated. Taste and adjust seasonings.
One note on making aioli, since its main ingredient is olive oil you want to use a lighter extra virgin olive oil. The heaviness and flavor of the oil will be represented in the finished product. A heavy, strong, fruity olive oil will give you a heavy strong fruity aioli. Taste your olive oil before committing. Like the flavor? Use it. Too strong? Try another one.