Saturday, July 25, 2015

Aioli in French Cuisine. Aioli on French Menus. France's Much Loved Garlicky Mayonnaise. Enjoying Le Grand Aioli in France.

Behind the French menu
Bryan G. Newman

Aïoli, also written Aioli.
Photograph courtesy of Stijn Nieuwendijk

Aioli  - France's Garlic Mayonnaise 

Aioli is France's garlicky mayonnaise, often associated with Provence. For such a famous sauce aioli's recipe is simple: egg yolks, crushed garlic, oil and lemon juice.  Mustard or other flavors may be added by the chef.   Le Grand Aioli which is connected to aioli but is sometimes confused with aioli itself is a traditional Provencal family meal. More about Le Grand Aioli in the latter part of this post.
The British and the North Americans discover aioli.
Aioli was discovered by the first English tourists who arrived on France’s Mediterranean coast in the latter part of the 19th century.  In the early 20th century, North Americans would reach France on ocean liners like the Mauretania with a capacity of 2,300 passengers in 1907.  Awaiting them was Provencal cuisine, including aioli, and the city of Nice. As a reminder of the first welcomed English invasion the promenade built along the city of Nice’s sand covered beaches is still called the La Promenade des Anglais, the English promenade.

A view in Nice from the Promenade Anglais.

Photograph by courtesy of Alessandro Baffa.
Garlic in the French kitchen
  With Provencal cuisine, the tourists were exposed to seasonings, aromas, and flavors mostly unknown at home. While Provencal cuisine uses garlic in less than half of its most famous dishes the use of garlic, sometime in robust quantities was a surprise. Garlic was rarely used, at that time, in British or North American kitchens.  When garlic is added to a dish with intensity and passion it can remain on the diner’s breath for a day or two. Aioli became famous as apart from accenting Provencal cuisine it promised to keep vampires away!
Aioli’s fame has spread.
Aïoli is now an internationally famous sauce and on menus with different accents from Japan to Thailand to Australia, North America and all of Europe. It is usually prepared so that it may be offered in a side dish like mayonnaise. The amount of garlic in the recipe depends on the chef. In Northern France, a single clove of garlic may be added for every diner; along the Mediterranean coast that number can rise to four cloves per diner.
Why desalted and rehydrated cod.
Traditionally aïoli was served, with cod or hake, the fishes, on Fridays when good Catholics did not eat meat. Cod is France’s most famous fish and it may be prepared fresh, frozen or desalted and rehydrated. In the days before refrigeration salted and dehydrated cod or hake was a critical part of the French diet.  Only salted dehydrated fish could be kept for use when needed. The recipes for desalted and rehydrated cod are still very, very popular and called morue or stockfish on the menu. Cabillaud, Morue de l'Atlantique and Morue Fraîche would indicate fresh cod.
Aioli on French Menus:
Steak d'Espadon Frais Grille Aïoli Maison – A fresh swordfish steak grilled and served with the restaurant’s own version of aioli. Maison means house in English and on a French menu it will indicate a restaurant’s version of a traditional dish. Here the chef may have added mustard or other herbs to the aioli.  Ask.
Mussels with chorizo, smoked fennel, orange segments

 and basil flavored aioli.
  Les Escargots de Mer et Sauce Aïoli – Escargot de Mer means sea snails and so this dish will star France’s much loved Bulots, also called Borgets or Buccins, whelks in English. Here the whelks are served with aioli.  When you order whelks in a small seaside restaurant, they will be served with mayonnaise or aioli with French fries, chips, on the side.  If the French fries are not included, then order them separately. I believe that whelks, aioli, and French fries this is one of the tastiest ways to eat whelks.  As the Belgians have mussels and French fries so the France has whelks and aioli. In France another popular, but much smaller, sea snail is the bigorneau, the periwinkle or winkle in English. The periwinkle may be part of the dish.

            A vegetarian dish of grilled  svegetables with aioli.
Assiette de Crevettes, Aïoli Maison – A plate of shrimps accompanied by the restaurant’s take on aioli. 
Petite Friture Aioli
A tasty entrée of deep-fried little fish served here with aioli.

Tartare de Boeuf, Poivre Vert, Lardons, Aïoli au Parmesan et Citron A Beef Tartar prepared with green pepper, bacon pieces, aioli, Parmesan and lemon. The traditional beef tartar is flavored with Mayonnaise and Worcester sauce and topped with copeaux, shavings, of Parmesan cheese. For this beef Tatar, the mayonnaise is replaced with aioli. The other additions to the original version are green peppercorns bacon pieces and a piece of lemon on the side.

Beef carpaccio with aioli.
Blancs d'Encornet Grillés, Persillade et Aïoli -  Encornets are a favorite small squid in France, a calamari; here it will be opened and flattened on the grill. The persillade is a seasoning of parsley, garlic, vinegar and oil and it will have flavored the calamari while it was grilling;  the aioli will be served on the side to add as you choose.
Aioli and mayonnaise.
Aioli developed from mayonnaise. According to tradition mayonnaise, was a sauce created in 1756 by the chef of the Duc de Richelieu. The Duke had ordered a banquet to celebrate the French capture of the Mediterranean Balearic island of Menorca from the English. The chef’s unique creation for the evening was the Sauce Mayonnaise.  (For more about the history of mayonnaise click here)
I imagine that as soon as the French sailors came home, they brought the new creation called mayonnaise. Then the addition of garlic, crushed till it became oil, would have been a very short step.
The name aioli.
In Provence, many people still speak or understand the Provencal dialect of Occitan alongside modern French. Until one hundred and fifty years ago Occitan and Catalan were the main languages spoken in Mediterranean France.  In Occitan, garlic is “alh”  and “oli” is oil. Together those two words are “alholi”; and  that became aioli. Aioli is just as important in the cuisine of Languedoc-Roussillon where Catalan is still spoken alongside modern French. Just as the city of Nice is a center for Provencal cuisine so the large fishing port of Sète is a center for Languedoc-Roussillon cuisine. If you are traveling in the region will find many Sète seafood restaurants with aioli on the menu or in the recipe of the dishes you order.
In Sete your menu may offer:

Moules Farcies à la Sétoise – Mussels, from the Thau Basin, stuffed in the manner of Sète. The mussels are stuffed with sausage meat and cooked in white wine and tomato puree.  The mussels will be served with aioli on the side or on top.

The main canal in  Sète.
Photograph coutesy of spc49
Bourride de Lotte à la Sètois -  Bourride de Lotte is a traditional Provencal monkfish stew, and monkfish are one of the tastiest sea fish with a very firm texture. Sète’s version of Bourride is a creamy stew of monkfish and vegetables all flavored with white wine and aioli. The stew will be served with more aioli on the side.
Le Grand Aioli may have begun in Provence,
Now it is a family favorite all along France’s Mediterranean coast.
In both Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon, aioli will be the dish prepared for family get-togethers. Le Grand Aïoli will be held for most large celebrations and is a delight for the eyes.

Le Grand Aioli.
Le Grand Aioli and its ingredients change with the season. However, the centerpiece will always be the traditional desalted cod. Then come the vegetables in season; crunchy fresh vegetable like carrots, radishes, and fresh cauliflower are important as they may be dipped in the aioli.  The layout of the vegetables with attractive colors is also important and so fresh tomatoes and cucumbers will be included. To this will be added hard-boiled eggs and cooked vegetables that may include France’s favorite fresh green beans, haricot vert, boiled potatoes, courgettes, zucchini, and asparagus in season. Depending on the home or restaurant seafood where Le Grand Aioli is served seafood and or snails may also be part of the mouthwatering display.
Connected posts:
Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2015.
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