Saturday, July 25, 2015

Aïoli – Aioli. France's Much Loved Garlicky Mayonnaise Version was the Original Aïoli. Aioli on French Menus. Enjoying Le Grand Aioli in France.

Behind the French menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated June 2021

Aïoli – Aioli
Photograph courtesy of Tim Pierce

Aioli  - France's Garlic Mayonnaise

Aioli was the name originally given to France’s garlicky mayonnaise and is often associated with Provence. For such a famous sauce, aioli’s recipe is simple: egg yolks, crushed garlic, oil, and lemon juice. The chef may add mustard or other flavors. 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 Aïoli in France.

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 of Nice from the Promenade Anglais.
Photograph courtesy of Richard Whitaker.
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, sometimes 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.

Aioli is now an internationally famous sauce and on menus with tens of different accents from Japan to Thailand to Australia, North America, and all of Europe. It is usually prepared and 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

Crab cakes and mustard aioli.
Photograph courtesy of stu_spivack.

   Aioli on French menus:


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 Bourgets or Buccins, whelks in English. Here the whelks are served with aioli. When you order whelks in a small seaside restaurant, it will serve them with mayonnaise or aioli accompanies Frites, French fries, chips, on the side. If the French fries are not included, then order them separately. Whelks, aioli, and French fries is one of the tastiest ways to eat whelks. As the Belgians have mussels and French fries so 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.     


Swordfish Carpaccio, Poached Ocean Trout with Aioli

Photograph courtesy of Alpha


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.

Photograph courtesy of Mike Czyzewski


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.



Ronin Burger - Angus beef, caramelized onions,

Japanese cole slaw, miso goma dressing, fried egg, Katsu BBQ, Yuzu citrus aioli

Photograph courtesy of City Foodsters


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, garlicvinegar 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 the accepted 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.  

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 Étang de Thau, 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 courtesy of Mike McBey


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.
Photograph courtesy of The Wednesday Chef, Luisa Weiss.

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 vegetables 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.



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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2015, 2021
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