Tour France: Traditional Provencal Foods, The Aioli
One of the best warm weather traditional Provencal dishes is the Aioli. Named after the garlic mayonnaise like sauce used as the centerpiece of the dish (the word Aioli comes from the words for ‘garlic’ and ‘oil’), this is quintessential Provencal fare. It has it’s roots, like many dishes of that region, in Roman times. It has been revered as a symbol of Provencal life for hundreds of years.
“Among the peoples living around the Mediterranean coasts, the use of garlic dates back to the very beginning of cooking itself. But as Leon Daudet observed, with the aioli it attained its peak of perfection, ‘the very highest degree of those truly civilized customs and habits that until health with well-being.’ So that we need feel no astonishment at learning that when the poet Mistral founded a Provencal newspaper (this was in 1891), he called it L’Aioli. The sauce had become a symbol. And he wrote of it with justice: ‘It concentrates all the warmth, the strength, the sun-loving gaiety of Provence in its essence, but it also has a particular virtue: it keeps flies away. Those who don’t like it, those whose stomachs rise at the thought of our oil, won’t come buzzing around us wasting our time. There’ll just be the family.’ And elsewhere again: ‘The ailoi goes slightly to the head, impregnates the body with its warmth, and bathes the soul with its enthusiasm…”
—The Hundred Glories of French Cooking, Robert Courtine [Farrar, Strause and Giroux:New York] 1973 (p. 137-140)
[NOTE: This book offers a recipe for Aioli de Morue. We can scan/send if you like.]
It’s served every Friday at the local cafe (because the fish monger comes on Fridays, and that’s the day of the Provencal market). It’s served at group meals –those community meals offered at village fetes and fares during the spring and summer months. This dish is a market fresh favorite.
There are many variations, but the mainstays are this:
Aioli sauce (recipes below)
Hard boiled egg
Haricots verts (the thin French green beans)
and steamed cod.
Then, the other items you might see are:
mussels (along the Mediterranean)
Everything is served room temperature (unless you have steamed mussels, which of course, are served warm). The sauce is cold. You dip each item in the sauce to flavor it.
How to make a quick and simple Aioli:
Take mayonnaise (1/2 cup) and mixed with crushed garlic clove (4-6), a squeeze of lemon, a few tablespoons of white wine (you can determine how thick or thin you want the sauce by how much wine you use), sea salt –and optional flavors such as saffron or herbs de Provence.
Mix well, cover tightly and let sit for at least 3-4 hours. Best if left overnight to allow the flavors to meld.
For a traditional Aioli, this is what Escoffier says:
“Aioli, or Beurre de Provence. Pound 30 g (1 oz) garlic as finely as possible in the mortar, add 1 raw egg yolk and a pinch of salt and gradually mix in 1 1/2 dl (9 fl oz or 1 1/8 U.S. cup) oil allowing it to fall drop by drop to begin with, then faster as a thread as the sauce begins to thicken. The thickening of the sauce takes place by turning the pestle vigorously whilst adding the oil. The consistency of the sauce should be adjusted during its making by adding the juice of 1 lemon and 1;2 tbs cold water little by little. Note: Should the sauce separate it can be reconstituted by working it into 1 egg yolk as for Mayonnaise.”
—Le Guide Cuilinaire, Escoffier, first translation into English by H.L. Cracknell & R.J. Kaufmann, 1907 edition [John Wiley:New York] 1979 (p. 29)
As the spring and summer seasons in Provence swing into action, you can be sure that people will be dining on Aioli, sipping rose, and enjoying the sunshine. It’s Bliss!
Hope to see you there!
Owner, Bliss Travels