What could be better than lunching at Les Deux Garçons in Aix-en-Provence on a sunny day, watching the colorful characters parade by, sipping a rosé, and contemplating the menu du jour? Which is just what Ron and I were doing last week.
And the daily special was this: Aioli. Now you may know that aioli is one of the classic French sauces, a rich garlicky mayonnaise. But did you know that in Provence, it is also a dish which is classic comfort food?
In France there are rules for everything, so you know you’ll get the traditional ingredients with an Aioli, sometimes called a Grand Aioli. You’ll be served a large plate which contains steamed salt cod, a couple of sea snails, a boiled potato, a boiled egg, and several vegetables which are likely to include haricots verts, and carrots. Then on the plate there will be a little dish of that wonderful sauce. Which is exactly what I got, with cauliflower and beets thrown in as well.
An Aioli is fun to eat. For this dish you must eat like a European, with fork in left hand (turned upside down) and knife in right. Spear a bite of something with your fork on the left, and dip your knife into that sauce on the right, slathering it all over that perfect bite. Eat, repeat. Butter up your baguette with the sauce from time to time, if you please. Photo right, Les Deux Garçons in Aix.
You really must try this at home some night—any old night you’re serving ordinary fish and vegetables will do. The fish could be any mild white fish, and it could be grilled, baked, steamed, or broiled. Try some combination of the veggies above; broccoli, asparagus, artichokes or fennel would also be great. Throw a red potato in the microwave and add it to the mix. The important thing is to make the sauce from scratch, and it’s super easy. I can even see this being a fun company dish—it can be served at room temperature, so you can make it ahead. In Provence it is often served at village fétes.
Ron didn’t order it that day, he didn’t think it sounded interesting. When I gave him a bite, this is what he said: “That sauce would make cardboard taste good!”
RECIPE: An Aioli from Provence
In the classic Grand Ailoi, you soak the salt cod, then poach it, cooking the vegetables in the poaching water first. (if you’re a purist, you can find that recipe at whats4eats.). But I just baked some regular cod, called cabillaud here (any mild white fish will do) and steamed my vegetables. I skipped the sea snails. Photo right: the Grand Aioli in Aix, sea snails and all.
Serve it with boiled potatoes and maybe a boiled egg , and any vegetable you like. Each person should have their own pot of sauce on the plate, and should be instructed on the proper method, as the Anglo method of holding the silverware will be most awkward for this dish.
Feel free to make the sauce in the food processor if you’re pressed for time (but smash the garlic first, as described). Doing it by hand is the French way, and they say it makes it better, plus it’s more fun.
For the sauce:
Makes 1 cup.
- 3 cloves of garlic (the purple kind, if you can find it)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 large egg yolk, room temperature (pasteurized, if you’re worried about raw eggs)
- 1 cup of your best olive oil
Put the salt and garlic in a deep bowl or mortar, and crush it with a fork or a pestle, mixing it together well. Continue crushing it until you have a nice smooth paste. Add the egg yolk. With the fork or a whisk, add the oil just a drop at a time, whisking constantly. As it begins to thicken, add the oil in a slow steady stream and continue stirring. It’s done when it’s nice and thick, like mayonnaise. If it’s too thick, stir in a touch of warm water. It’s best served that day, at room temperature, but refrigerate it if you plan to serve it later.
In the COMMENTS: Margaret has taken the Patricia Wells app and food glossary out for a test drive. Frank, too funny, glad you've found a near-cure for your French garden envy. We'd all like a tour! Mary Christopher, glad you had fun in Beaune. Natalia, hope your drought (and fires) are over soon.
Favorite Reads: Susan Vieth had a cute post last week, a photostudy of French shoes and feet, at A Small Village in France. Take a look at her French tea towels while you're there, featuring paintings from the French countryside by her husband Tom---great gifts for Francophiles.