Friday, June 4, 2010

A dollop of aioli

I love that TV show, "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations". It's an unpretentious tour of the world of food and Bourdain is as likely to find himself at some dodgy street food joint as he is a 5-star Michelin restaurant. The other day I watched him visit Provence and eat some of the simplest yet most delicious-looking food. Fish or poultry with vegetables and a heavenly aioli (garlic mayonnaise) made by one of the town's grannies in a mortar and pestle. It reminded me that it's been years since I've made mayonnaise from scratch. Doing so requires patience and courage. Forcing egg yolk and olive oil to emulsify can be a tricky thing, particularly because the two elements just don't want to combine. Over the years I've had several disasters with the whole mixture separating.

So last night, when I started the process in my little mortar and pestle, Richard looked at me incredulous. "Why don't you just throw it in the blender," he asked. A good question that I really had no answer to, except to say that I felt like trying to make mayonnaise the way the Provençal granny had. A generous teaspoon of sea salt, a clove of garlic and an egg-yolk. And I start to pound and mix. I add the olive oil a few drops at a time and Richard is even more incredulous. A few more drops. Pound and mix. A little bit of nice mustard. Pound and mix. And more pounding and mixing. Nah boy - this thing hard! And tiring! And... lemme just use the whisk instead!

As I whisked I could see the mixture starting to emulsify and take shape. I tried to get Richard to taste it, but he declined, saying it was too yellow and mayonnaise is white. "It's only white if it's store bought," I told him. I'm using olive oil. It's always going to be yellow. I kept on though. Adding the olive oil more bravely by this point as I knew it would hold together. When I'd got the mixture to about a half-cup in volume I stopped adding oil and whisked until I was blue in the face. Then it was ready! I made salad with croutons, lettuce, parmesan and beefsteak tomatoes. And I stove-top grilled a piece of chicken for each of us.

A dollop of the creamy, glossy mayonnaise on each plate, along with the salad and chicken. It was delicious! So simple and so decadent. I almost licked the plate clean! Yum! Richard, by the way, nearly licked his plate too!