Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tarragon Aioli – Keeping it real!

Many of you have never had real “aioli.” Oh, you’ve probably had garlic flavored mayonnaise-based sauces and dips many times. But today we’re talking about “real” aioli. Modern aioli comes to us from the south of France and is commonly used as a dip for vegetables, potatoes, as well as fish and meats. It’s more ancient origin is probably the Italian “Aglio Olio” which simple means “garlic oil.”

The reason I say that you may not have ever had “real” aioli is because 95% of what is served as aioli in American restaurant is nothing more than garlic mayonnaise. What’s the difference? Let me explain. Most cooks simply chop, or mince, or blend garlic with mayo, add other flavors, and call it aioli (some freaks of nature even use roasted garlic!!). Now, I don’t want to sound like some kind of food fascist. I have no problem with roasting garlic and stirring it into mayo, but call it a “roasted garlic mayo.” The only real way aioli is made is by using a mortal and pestle. When you crush the garlic in this ancient culinary tool, you are completely pulverizing the cells of the garlic clove which sets off crucial chemical reactions that you don’t get by simply chopping or blending. There are compounds formed during this crushing that produces something called “allicin,” which gives real aioli its amazingly sharp and intense flavor. The follow excerpt is from

“Odorless and stable, alliin is the most abundant sulfur compound in whole, unbruised Garlic. It is stored inside one kind of Garlic cell; in a separate type of cell, an enzyme called alliinase awaits. When the cells are broken open, alliin mixes with alliinase, and in about ten seconds all of the exposed alliin has been converted into a new group of compounds: allicin and its close relatives, which give off the aroma of fresh Garlic.

The beauty of aioli made in the traditional method, with a mortar and pestle, is that a small amount of garlic can flavor a large amount of mayo. Also, this real aioli is so strong and powerful that you don’t need half a cup of mayo on your grilled fish. Just a teaspoon of my version is so intense; it will fully flavor a whole piece of meat or pile of veggies. Also, the legendary health benefits of eating raw garlic are largely derived from this allicin production. Fair warning: if you don’t like garlic, don’t even attempt this recipe. It could kill you. But, if you do love garlic this demo may change your life. And by all means, get a mortar and pestle! I use it for other things besides aioli, like crushing whole spices for dry rubs, etc. Once you have your plain aioli recipe down you can start to experience with various fresh herbs, like the tarragon I used here. I served this under my Salmon Cakes recipe, and it was really good.

2 garlic cloves
pinch of salt
tbl of fresh tarragon
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup mayo
dash of cayenne


Anonymous said...

Yummy! Thanks for the postings.

I'm looking for a pestle/mortar & am considering between granite vs a more coarse material (like the lava rock-ish type). Would you have any recommendations on which to go with?

Chef John said...

granite is better for grinding things like garlic cloves since the lava is too course and its hard to get all the garlic flesh out. Those are better for grinding whole toasted spices and nuts, etc. Its nice to have both! If you get a granite one make sure its not toooo smooth, some are like glass and too slippery. You want it to have a bit of texture. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

I love this blog! Been recommending it to all my friends :) Anyway, was wondering.. How long can you keep this sauce?

rosertp said...

Hey! I really LOOOVED your website!!
I love your recipes... the way you teach us them...

I am from Barcelona ( Spain, Europe)and I would like to say some things about that "sauce".
All-i-oli is the name for the sauce in Catalonia and it means literally Garlic AND Oil. It's usually made only of Olive Oil and Garlic (that wasn't a smart thing to say...).

The only thing that you have to do is mash (a lot) the garlic and keep adding oil while you stirr... and don't stop for half an hour.

Old Ladies and grannies use that traditional recipe but most of people prefer yours. Because it's easyer and less intense.

Thanks a lot!

Dr. Debs said...

I love Tarragon Aioli. It is perhaps my favorite indulgence, with plain boiled potatoes and some poached salmon. Thanks for this great recipe. Never tried it with the cayenne, but it would add a nice zip to the mix!

Chef John said...

Thanks. I could live on Tarragon Aioli, boiled potatoes and poached salmon. Of course I would need some good wine.

Anonymous said...

can you use a molcajete insted

Chef John said...

maybe too coarse for this one

Sy said...

I second 'bgz' question. How long with this keep, assuming there's any left, that is.

BBTGoss said...

Hi Chef John,

I just recently started to learn how to cook. Your videos have been such a great help! Tonight I'm making your chicken with chipotle / green onion gravy and your recipe for mashed potatoes. Both have turned out great in the past. I'm also making your simply roasted artichokes for the first time.
I am thinking about making this aioli to dip the artichoke in. I have some fresh parsley; could I use that instead of the tarragon? Alternatively, could I just leave out herbs altogether and still have a good garlic aioli?
Thanks for any help! Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Hi BeeBeeTee! Chef John is out on a well deserved vacation and I will be answering the questions meanwhile. Fresh parsley would be fantastic in the aioli. Parsley tends to be more mild in flavor than tarragon, so you could use a little bit more of it. Give it a taste and add more, if needed. And yes, you can leave out the herbs completely, the garlic flavor will be delicious with artichokes on its own. Happy cooking!

Unknown said...

Could I freeze this in an ice cube tray and just use a portion when required?

Unknown said...

This sauce rocks by itself by the spoonful! I've used it in all the "regular" ways but it's also yummy on a plain mushroom/swiss/grilled onion burger! Thank you!