I love mayonnaise. But not just any store purchased mayo; I mean real mayonnaise in its grandest iteration . . . aioli. Aioli has its own compartment in my cockles, and it is hard to find the real thing in restaurants. Many restaurants use the word aioli for a flavored mayonnaise, but truly it needs to be scratch-made and chock-full of lemon and garlic and olive oil.
Is the word mayonnaise so bad that it cannot be used as a menu description? I don’t think so and neither does Steven Brown. He uses the word mayonnaise on the lunch menu at Porter & Fry, and it reads great. But many other restaurants must think the word too pedestrian or passé. Many chefs have a jar of Hellman’s tucked in the corner of the cooler. Hellman’s can be a very useful tool in the kitchen in a pinch. It can add body to a salad dressing or vinaigrette, plus it is a quick and easy way dress up a baguette for an egg and bacon sandwich as an after-service snack. But let’s talk about what it is not . . . the base for aioli.
Aioli is made by mashing fresh garlic cloves into a paste and whisking it in to an emulsion of egg yolks, lemon, and olive oil. My friend Abbott, a great cook at Eli’s, recounted his experience with making aioli at jP’s (R.I.P.) in the traditional mortar and pestle and hand whisking it to perfection. Only when the cooks could master it by hand were they allowed to use a mixer to make it. Making aioli and mayonnaise is an art and a basic technique in sound cooking. Many sauces, such as hollandaise and vinaigrettes, are rooted in the emulsification technique.
Increasingly it seems that many restaurants grab the Hellman’s, add a flavoring or two, and call it aioli. So, for restaurants that can’t or don’t make aioli, why can’t the menu read—fried calamari with red chili mayonnaise instead of fried calamari with red chili aioli?
Below is the recipe I use for basic aioli.
2 garlic cloves
1 large local, organic egg yolk or 2 T. of pasteurized yolks
1 T. fresh lemon juice
Minced zest from 1/4 lemon
1/2 t. Dijon mustard
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
3 T. canola or grapeseed oil
Sea salt to taste
Fresh pepper to taste
Mash garlic to a paste using the side of a chef’s knife and then mince finely. Whisk together egg yolk, lemon juice, zest, and mustard in a bowl until frothy, add the garlic paste. Combine oils and add a few drops at a time to yolk mixture, whisking constantly, until all oil is incorporated and mixture is emulsified. The aforementioned step is the critical step in aioli. If it breaks or separates, stop adding oil and whisk until the mixture comes together. Season with salt and pepper. If your aioli is too thick, you can whisk in a few drops of water to loosen it up.
This is a great base for adding any number of flavors, such as red chili, saffron, and herbs and spices of all types.