What Is Aioli?
The commonly used condiment can finally be understood
It’s all over menus — aioli this, aioli that. In the past few years, aioli started to become all the rage in restaurants and it’s still holding its ground today. But what exactly is aioli? So few people actually know, but love it anyway because it has the same endearing traits of mayonnaise — it’s silky, indulgent texture adds depth to any burger or vegetable. But despite their many similarities, aioli is something entirely different from mayo, and it’s time to understand why.
Dating back to the early 19th century, aioli made its mark as a classic Provencal tradition. Served with seafood, meats, and vegetables, its creamy existence and universal flavors made it a likely addition to any meal. Aioli’s literal translation is "garlic oil," which is exactly what it is. Made from oil, garlic, and egg, aioli is an emulsion that binds the fattiness of oil with the thick compounds of an egg yolk. The use of extra-virgin olive oil differentiates it from its counterpart (mayo), resulting in a much richer, more defined taste.
Traditionally, aioli is made by using a mortar and pestle, although today most people use a bowl and whisk to get it done. In addition to the three main ingredients, Dijon mustard and lemon juice often find their way into the elegant sauce as well. The first step of making aioli is to mix together the garlic, egg yolk, Dijon, and lemon juice, and then slowly drizzle in the oil until a smooth, thick substance forms. Arm strength is key when making aioli, for the faster you whisk, the better emulsified it becomes.(Photo courtesy of flickr/photobunny).
While the basic aioli recipe is all about garlic, many variations have been created throughout the condiment's history. The addition of smoky, adobo chipotle chiles make it the perfect condiment to a Latin American feast, while adding fresh herbs like chopped rosemary or oregano transform it from a mere cousin of mayonnaise to a sophisticated component of a seafood dish. Some chefs have even been known to play around with the types of oils to evoke differing tastes. Its versatility makes it a great addition to just about anything, which is why we see it in so many places. Here are my top three favorite ways to use aioli:
1. Steamed artichokes. While melted butter with lemon juice does the trick for many, I can’t sink my teeth into an artichoke leaf without the indulgent contrast of aioli. Trust me, you’ll never eat artichokes any other way again.
2. French fries. The pairing of aioli and french fries is what makes french fries such a common standalone dish today. The best part? The fried starch goes well with just about any flavor of aioli, so it’s a great way to play around with different versions. (Photo courtesy of flickr/muyyum).
3. Turkey burgers. The often bland flavor of a turkey burger is immediately elevated with the addition of a classic garlic or spicy aioli.
The uses of aioli go on and on, and as long as you know the basics of what it is and how to make it, the possibilities are endless. Paprika, saffron, lime — you name it, and you can probably make an aioli with it. With such flexibility and great flavor, it’s no wonder aioli is so widely used in the culinary world today.
Here's a basic recipe for aioli, along with some other dish ideas on how to use the condiment:
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Anne Dolce is the Cook Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @anniecdolce