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You may find yourself reading through the lists of strange-sounding words on a restaurant’s menu. One word that might pop up? Aioli. You might’ve heard that it’s similar to mayonnaise. But what is it, really? Aioli can be made many ways, all equally delicious.

Aioli Isn’t Just Mayonnaise

People tend to describe aioli as mayonnaise, but that’s not entirely true. Both sauces do contain similar ingredients: eggs, oil, and lemon juice. The difference lies in the way each sauce is made. First, mayonnaise is usually emulsified within a blender or food processor. Aioli, however, is traditionally made with pestle and mortar. When making aioli, chefs pound garlic into a paste. Then, they whisk the garlic paste along with egg yolks, lemon juice, and oil. The kind of oil makes a difference, too. While mayonnaise is made with canola oil, aioli is made with olive oil. The consistency of aioli can range from thick and paste-like to a creamy texture.

The History of Aioli

Aioli comes from the Mediterranean. Originally, aioli consisted of garlic salt ground into oil. In other regions, like France, cooks also added egg yolk and lemon juice. Current French aioli is closer to garlic mayonnaise than traditional aioli. The Spanish Catalan, however, don’t consider that true aioli. Instead, they only consider the eggless recipe to be aioli.

 

European Dishes That Include Aioli

Europeans traditionally serve aioli with fish or vegetables. The Spanish serve aioli with codfish and boiled vegetables like tomatoes, onions, and peppers. During the summer, they hold feasts where people bring their own fish and vegetables to dip into the host’s aioli. People in the Provence region of France celebrate a similar tradition. It’s called aioli monstre, or “grand aioli,” and it is, indeed, a grand celebration for foodies. Diners pile meats, fishes, and vegetables on their plate and then dip them in the aioli. Aioli is also a popular side dish during a French Christmas Eve dinner called the Gros Souper, or The Great Supper.

American Dishes That Include Aioli

In the United States, aioli is used as a catch-all term for flavored mayonnaise. This is especially true of garlic mayonnaise. In many fine dining restaurants, chefs use aioli on scallops and other seafood. Aioli can also be used as a spread on sandwiches in the US. Spanish food purists, however, would probably not consider this aioli. Still, the same basic ingredients ring true: cloves of garlic and canola oil.

You Can Make Your Own Version of Aioli

The main ingredient for today’s aioli? Creativity! Garlic and olive oil are the only constants in the recipe. You can add vegetables, like artichokes or beets. Or you can even add in meats, like fish or chicken. The best part is that aioli can be prepared well in advance of a meal. Wash and chop the ingredients, then put them in a food processor. And voila! You have a unique – and delicious! — dipping sauce for parties and other festivities. Serve up your aioli with steamed vegetables, meat, fish, or shellfish. A home-made aioli is a quick and easy way to add variety to left-overs, or create new and exciting flavor combinations along with prepared foods. For instance, this lemon-garlic aioli is delightful and delicious with Market Table’s pork tenderloin. Make orange peel aioli as a mouth-watering addition to Market Table’s smoked chicken. Finally, this savory jalapeño aioli adds just the right kind of spice to burgers and beef dishes, like our seared flank steak.

 

Text by Jonathon Page