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Worrying about aioli

"Casting salt and a squeeze of lemon juice aside, the recipe only has three ingredients: get one of them wrong and the whole thing loses its raison d'être." Nigel Slater - The Observer

Right there - in Nigel Slater's words are my worries summed up. Well actually, to be fair, just a few of them. It's really the 'get one of them wrong' phrase that's the worry. Why am I worrying? Well it's the grandchildren again.

Tonight is the grand final of the National Rugby League. This year it is being played in Brisbane - live to a stadium of people - not capacity I think, but anyway, lots of people. A whole world of worry in itself.

Why should I care anyway about rugby league? Well my Sydney born and bred, almost daughter-in-law and the mother of my two grandsons is a fan and will be watching the final. Apparently she hasn't been able to pass her enthusiasm on to the two boys, but doubtless they will be polite enough to watch at least a part of it. They are really soccer tragics and good players too, and will also watch AFL - well they are Melbourne boys. Anyway my other daughter-in-law suggested we do hamburgers and oven-baked fries for our cooking lesson today as this was easy to do in advance. Good idea but then stupid me thought we could also make some aioli to dunk the fries in. And tomato ketchup too - but that's another problem. Well actually not a problem. Dionne has a really good very simple recipe which basically consists of dumping a few things in a saucepan and cooking it.

But back to the aioli. I thought of the aioli, not just because of the dunking aspect, which has definitely become an Australian thing. Maybe elsewhere as well, but definitely an Australian thing. Indeed one foodie maintained that it was the best use for aioli.

But also because I love making mayonnaise, and consider it one of those things that we are all scared of but which, if you are careful, is actually pretty easy to make. It's quite magical. I've only once had it split, and then I took somebody's advice and just whisked it into a new egg yolk which fixed it. Nigella says you could first try pouring in a little bit of boiling water and whisking like crazy as an alternative. And if that doesn't work try the new egg yolk thing.

This is a cooking lesson after all and making mayonnaise is something worth knowing, because, like the books and the bloggers say, it really is a whole lot better than the stuff you buy in the supermarket - even the good stuff. So should I take short cuts - like using a garlic press rather than bashing the garlic into a paste - or should it be 'real'?

A couple of words about the history. It is very ancient. Pliny the Elder from ancient Rome saw the Spanish making their version - allioli - way back then. This was/is a very simple emulsion of oil, garlic and lemon juice. No eggs. And the French made it like this for centuries too. Maybe they still do in some places, but somewhere along the way it became a mayonnaise - an egg, oil and garlic emulsion - often with the addition of mustard and lemon juice.

And there we go. Variations. There are always variations. Felicity Cloake doesn't do aioli but she does do mayonnaise and pretty much covers most of the variations. The main one seems to be whether to be using exclusively olive oil - like Elizabeth David - or a mix of a lighter oil and olive oil, even a mix of extra virgin olive oil and a light olive oil, or even no olive oil at all. But surely that's just wrong! Of course once you get into that you have all sorts of variations of the ratios, and the types. I think I'm going to go for 1/3 olive oil and 2/3 vegetable oil or whatever I have in the pantry. I have made it with pure extra virgin olive oil before, and I think I agree with those who say that it's too much. Too bitter.

Having now perused almost countless different versions, I think my main problem is when to add the garlic. Most of the recipes say to start with the garlic - and yes, of course, it should be top quality, fresh garlic - none of that stuff you get here. Well I think you'll have to grow your own to get that. I shall be making do with my Australian garlic from the supermarket. You're supposed to crush your garlic in a mortar and pestle with some salt first.

"traditionally, aioli should be made in a pestle and mortar, but, failing that, a bowl and a whisk or, if you are not in the mood to be energetic (or are of a lazy persuasion) then an electric mixer will do. But no blender or whole eggs, please." Simon Hopkinson

Well for starters I know my grandsons won't have one of those - a pestle and mortar - so it's a bowl. I do have one, but really it's too small. And lots of the gurus said yes it can be done in a food processor but there were all sorts of caveats and warnings about lack of control. I think I tried it once, and apart from anything else it's not nearly as satisfying.

There were also comments that starting with the garlic made it thinner. Besides I think if you start with the garlic you've committed to how much haven't you? And surely that's a matter of taste? Elizabeth David might say:

"A true aioli is a remarkable mixture of the smooth mayonnaise combined with the powerful garlic flavour which tingles in your throat as you swallow it." Elizabeth David

and various cooks recommend alarming amounts, but really it's a subjective taste thing. This beautiful looking version here is made with roasted garlic - we won't be doing that - and three heads of it at that. It's from Donna Hay. I think I'm going to add it at the end - you can adjust the taste then. Add a clove at a time. Generally they seem to go for two cloves to one egg yolk.

Then do you add mustard? Yes I think I will - at the beginning, as in my favourite mayonnaise recipe, and as in various others, because I think the mustard definitely helps the emulsifying process. Lemon juice? Again because of my favourite mayonnaise recipe, I shall be adding this halfway through when the mixture has thickened, because I believe this allows you to add a little more oil.

The real trick, as you probably all know is to add the oil very, very slowly at the beginning. I hope the children will be able to do this. I've sent them the link to this video from Jamie below, because I think he does an admirable job in demonstrating the potential problems.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall had a pretty reasonable recipe too.

And oh dear I've just thought they are a bit nervous about actually separating out egg yolks. And as Simon Hopkinson says a whole egg will not do - even though some bloggers suggested this.

So I hope they will be successful and that they will be able to dunk their chips - or anything else they fancy into it. And if there are leftovers they can use it in all sorts of other ways - even have a layer of it in the burgers they make. Or in a sandwich. There was no need to include this particular photograph but it looked so tempting. Pretend it's a hamburger.

And if the aioli thing fails then there's always the home-made tomato ketchup for dunking.

"aioli is a true light in this dark world we live in." Alex Delany - Bon Appétit

In France it's called 'le beurre de Provence' - the butter of Provence. Yes it should be golden - from the oil and the egg and perhaps the mustard too.

I'll report tomorrow on whether it was successful or not.

And just to conclude - in France, specifically in Provence, of course, aioli is actually a meal as well. And indeed I should have included it in my piece about platters the other day. True the vegetables you provide to dunk in the aioli are generally cooked, but they can be raw. Salt cod is a traditional component too. It's a major feast and a traditional Christmas Eve one at that. Here are a few pictures I gleaned from here and there to show you. We once had one many years ago with friends, son and then future daughter-in-law in the Luberon area of France. Alas no pictures of that.

The bottom one is less authentic because the vegetable are raw and it features prawns rathe than salt cod. Plus there is some other kind of dip in there. But still - next time you have friends around for a feast - when will that be - try a Grand aioli.


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