Thursday, May 21, 2009

Vinaigrette, mayo and aioli

When one of my sons was five, a friend who made hand-painted sweatshirts asked him what he liked. He told her, and received a white sweatshirt with "J'aime la vinaigrette" on the front.

With more fresh vegetables available by the week, I once again appreciate an assertive vinaigrette; just a scant teaspoon drizzled over blanched vegetables lifts a plate.

There is no real recipe, just a general proportion of 3 parts oil (I like cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil) to 1 part vinegar (of medium strength), and salt, pepper, mustard, wine and chopped herbs according to taste. The teaspoon or so of mustard helps emulsify the oil and vinegar, and a clove of peeled, minced
garlic is a pungent delight.

Mayonnaise is the next stop on the oil-and-vinegar pleasure tour, and if you have practiced basic emulsification on vinaigrette, creating this magical suspension is easy. You will never eat the bland gunk in the supermarket jar again. You have to finesse it a bit, slow and steady, and don't make it in an impending thunderstorm- that old tale is true. The humidity makes emulsification impossible.

Here's a great illustrated recipe that walks you through the simple steps: How to Make Mayonnaise.

Can there be something better? Yes, aioli.

This mayonnaise, laden with a very generous lashing of fresh garlic, is superb with vegetables, chicken or fish.

To make aioli, pop four or five (peeled) and very finely chopped cloves of garlic in with the eggs and vinegar (or lemon juice) before you start adding the oil. It’s that simple.

"This is so good we should share it!"

In Provence, grand aioli (or aioli monstre) parties happen in summer, but you can do an one just as successfully in spring, and to me it's even more heartening to see all those beautiful vegetables right now. The party is easy to prepare because everything can be done ahead and is intended to be served room temperature.

The attitude is like a picnic: set a long table simply, and prepare for an festive time. In southern France, you show up with your plate and cutlery, pay your fee, grab a chair, and dig in. The appetizers are bowls of olives, cherry tomatoes, sliced hard sausage, roasted almonds; keep it light.

For the grand aioli, serve heaping, colourful platters of raw, grilled or blanched vegetables. (Asparagus, zucchini, carrots, fennel, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, broccoli, beets- really you can use anything.)


Sometimes sauteéd chick peas (in olive oil, bay leaf, garlic and herbs) are on the platter. And more platters: boiled new potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, roasted chicken or fish (poached salt cod or salmon is traditional). I've also seen shrimp, calmari, mussels and tiny snails offered on the platter.

Strew baguettes and many bowls of aioli about the table. Provide rafts of rosé and carafes of water. (I had to add that water part just to sound responsible.)

Guests fill their plate with a bit of everything, and add dollops of aioli for dipping. Fingers are fine!

Our dinners have been so enthusiastically received that Le Duc has to repair to the kitchen to make
more aioli, which is harder after a few glasses of rosé.

Dessert is simple; I like to serve fruit gelato and homemade almond cookies.

A warm, relaxed and memorable party for people who love garlic. (You could always make a few bowls of tarragon mayo for anyone who doesn't eat it.)


8 comments:

Deja Pseu said...

Back when my ex was in grad school in the early 80's, we had some Belgian friends who used to make their own mayo. Yum! I'll have to try that recipe you've linked.

Your aioli party idea sounds delightful!

Frugal Scholar said...

One of my grad school friends--French--used to make mayonnaise in a little bowl. Just an egg, oil and a fork. She looked amazed when I said it was supposed to be difficult!

Everyone in the US is too scared to eat raw eggs these days.

diverchic said...

OMG! I am salivating just reading your recipes. Thanks for the tips.

Duchesse said...

Pseu: Don't even THINK about how many points!

Frugal: Make with absolutely fresh eggs (I get them from the supplier) and eat within 2 days. In truth our mayo is usually eaten that day.

diverchic: One way to convert anyone to vegetarianism: aioli on grilled organic vegetables. (To the rest of you: diverchic is a marvelous vegetarian cook.)

materfamilias said...

Great post! Megan (my daughter, the cook, changing careers, btw) attributes her entry into cooking to her dad's vinaigrette.
We used often to make our own mayonnaise, altho' we haven't for ages. Life shouldn't be too busy for such a simple pleasure.
And I remember a lovely meal I had on my own in Arles years ago, which began with raw veg and a bowl of aioli flavoured with anchovies. Yum!
In the winter, we've done a meal that must be a cousin of the grand aioli -- the Italian bagna cauda. the vegetables are cooked, though, and the garlicky oil/butter is warm and soupy

lagatta à montréal said...

I do confess to keeping a small jar of good mayonnaise in the fridge - most kinds without sugar or other gunk are French or Belgian, but there is a local (Québec) brand available in some gourmet shops here. The reason? An egg's worth of homemade is often too much for my needs. But homemade is much, much better.

Do you use prepared dijon-type mustard or dry mustard in your vinaigrette?

Belgians eat their frites with that delicious mayonnaise, and a variety of flavourings. Bit of harissa livelies things up!

It will be very warm today (28c) and this will bring a lot more fresh greens to our local markets! (I live very close to our largest and best one, marché Jean-Talon).

Duchesse said...

lagatta: We never miss a trip to Jean-Talon to bring back a stuffed cooler! Can't resist a crepe on the spot.

We use prepared dijon in vinaigrette.

Do you know Frite Alors!, the small chain in Montreal? They offer over a dozen different sauces for their fries, served in the classical cone. Also the wonderfully-named "Vladimir Poutine".

lagatta à montréal said...

Yes, in the clement months, Frite Alors! has a stand at Jean-Talon market. I've managed to resist so far, but will treat myself on upcoming (alas) birthday.

I live about ten minutes' walk from the market, five by bicycle (I used to live only two minutes from the market, so this seems like hardship in the wintertime, but I have a sunny flat in a housing co-op, so the short move was worth it). As a result I obviously can't overindulge in goodies on my daily forays to the market, for obvious dietary as well as financial reasons. But I have the freshest possible vegetables and eggs!

I have friends from Nîmes and from Marseille here, and of course contribute my own Med-inspired dishes - looking forward to the first meal outdoors at the place where the Nîmois lives (with his Québécois wife and their children), where there will also be friends from Algeria, Morocco and Italy at least, from the Med.

And copious rosé (the Maghrebi friends are NOT particularly observant Muslims). As a result I walk (a longish walk) or take the bus, not my bicycle!