Le Grand Aïoli
(French Provençal cod and vegetables with garlic mayonnaise)
This garlic lovefest is an old favorite for the people of the Provence region of France. Hand-made garlic mayonnaise is served as a wonderfully pungent accompaniment to platters of poached cod and a variety of seasonal vegetables. Le grand aïoli is especially popular at large village gatherings.
Sometimes called l'aïoli monstre or simply l'aïoli. Aïoli is a contraction of the Provençal words for "garlic" and "oil."
4 to 6 servings
For the Platter
- Onion, quartered and studded with 3 or 4 cloves -- 1
- Small boiling potatoes -- 1 pound
- Carrots, peeled and chopped into large chunks -- 1 pound
- Green beans -- 1 pound
- Cod fillets, cut into serving pieces -- 2 pounds
- Hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved -- 6
For the Aïoli
- Garlic cloves -- 8 to 10
- Salt -- big pinch
- Egg yolks -- 2
- Olive oil -- 1 1/2 cups
- Lemon juice or vinegar -- 2 teaspoons
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, reduce heat to medium-low and keep the water at a slow boil. Add the potatoes and cook them until they are tender and just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove them to a serving platter.
- Next add the carrots to the liquid and simmer them until they are just cooked through, usually around 7 or 8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and arrange them neatly next to the potatoes.
- Then add the green beans and cook them until they are done to your liking, about 5 or 6 minutes. Set them nicely next to the carrots on the platter.
- Finally, add the cod filets and let them simmer until cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove to the platter. Add the hard-boiled eggs to the platter. Cover the platter loosely with foil and set aside.
- Add the garlic cloves and a big pinch of salt to a large mortar and use a pestle to mash the garlic cloves to a puree.
- Add the egg yolks and grind them into the garlic puree until the mixture is smooth. Very slowly dribble the olive oil down the side of the mortar, grinding the pestle all the while and always in the same clockwise or counterclockwise direction. The sauce will begin to thicken.
- After about half of the olive oil has been added, grind in the lemon juice or vinegar. Then resume adding the olive oil. You can pour it a little faster at this point. The egg yolk and olive oil will form a thick emulsion.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with the room-temperature fish and vegetables. Dab every bite in a little bit of the garlicky sauce. Serve with a nice rosé wine.
Le Grand Aïoli Variations
- Using salt cod: Salt cod is the more common choice for le grand aïoli in Provence. To use salt cod, place it in a large bowl and let it soak in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours, changing the water 3 or 4 times. This will remove excess salt. Pick out any bones and poach as directed above.
- Other meats and seafood: Le grand aïoli is often served with a variety of meats and seafood in addition to the cod, especially roast lamb or chicken, stewed snails (periwinkles) or octopus, or steamed mussels.
- Other vegetables: The vegetables listed above are the most common on aïoli platters, but use as many different types of seasonal vegetables as you like. Try artichokes, asparagus, tomatoes, cauliflower, beets, chickpeas, leeks, turnips, fennel or celery.
- To Prepare the aïoli in the modern way: Place the garlic, egg yolks, lemon juice or vinegar and salt in a blender and puree until smooth. Then, with the blender running, slowly dribble the olive oil into the yolks. This will make a firmer, smoother aïoli, but it won't have quite the character of one that is handmade.
- If your aïoli breaks: If your aïoli starts to look like oily curds, the emulsion has broken. Simply remove the broken sauce to a bowl and start over by grinding the broken sauce into a new egg yolk.