There’s nothing better than a creamy, flavorful sauce to dip just about anything into. Some of my favorites include chimicurri (great on steaks), romesco, and the topic of this post: aioli. Aioli is a type of mayonnaise made with garlic, lemon, and olive oil. In Provence, it’s typically made very slowly by a little old lady with a mortar and pestle until a creamy sauce results from the emulsive powers of the egg and garlic. In our modern world, we have the benefit of using food processors and immersion blenders to achieve a similar sauce in much less time. I’ve made aioli many times, usually with great success, but there have been a few failures along the way. I’ll share them with you so you don’t make the same mistakes.
Failure #1: Avoid any recipe that calls only for olive oil. This was my first mistake. The result will be a lovely, creamy sauce that is bitter and inedible. Not to mention you just used about $5 in extra virgin olive oil on this mess.
Failure #2: Don’t rush. While you don’t have to sit there for an hour like the old lady in France, you still need to take your time, especially with the first drops of oil you add. This is where (pardon the pun) you make or break your sauce.
Failure #3: Go easy on the garlic. One clove doesn’t sound like much (at least to me), but it is. The flavors in garlic are fat soluble, so while it might be mild when you first taste it, the flavor gets more intense as it sits.
Failure #4: “Oh no! There’s not much liquid in the my bowl, so the blades of my food processor or immersion blender aren’t doing anything! I know, I’ll add a bunch of oil to get the emulsion going.” Nope, it won’t work. You need to add the oil slowly or you’ll never get a thick sauce. This almost happened to me the most recent attempt, so I opted for a whisk and it worked beautifully. Now a bowl, whisk, and a little effort are my preferred tools for making aioli.
So with all these issues, you may ask: is it worth it? Yes. This is what I do to make an outstanding aioli:
Whisk together a fresh egg yolk, about a tablespoon of lemon juice, a tablespoon of canola oil (or any light oil, such as peanut), and a big pinch of salt. Slowly add more canola oil until the sauce starts to thicken. This step is crucial, so go drop by drop if you have to. Once you see your sauce start to thicken up you can add the oil more quickly. You can make the aioli as thick as you want by adding more oil, but a little bit before you get to your desired thickness, switch to extra virgin olive oil to get some good flavor. Stir in a clove of finely minced garlic (I actually use a microplane to get a garlic paste) and add salt, pepper, and more lemon juice to taste. It will keep for about 3 days in the fridge, assuming you don’t eat it all. We enjoyed ours with some artichokes.