Mayonnaise has a number of close relatives and variations, from Caesar salad dressing to butter-based hollandaise sauce. One especially zesty condiment is aioli, which derives its potent flavor from high-quality olive oil and an eye-watering concentration of fresh garlic. Like most mayonnaise-style dressings it's usually made with an uncooked egg yolk to act as an emulsifier, but that's not the only -- or indeed the most authentic -- way to make it.
A Long-Developing Recipe
Aioli and its regional cousins, such as the Catalan "allioli," have a long and distinguished history. Ancient Roman writer Pliny the Elder was an administrator in Catalonia in the first century, and wrote of a local sauce made by pounding garlic into an emulsion with local olive oil and a bit of vinegar. Garlic doesn't make a strong emulsifier, but egg yolk does. That's why aioli only came into its own when the modern mayonnaise-making technique, incorporating eggs, became widespread in the 18th and 19th centuries.
If you'd like to make an aioli without a raw egg yolk, try the traditional technique. It's usually done in a mid-sized mortar and pestle, though you can experiment with your blender, if you prefer. Pound five or six large garlic cloves to a paste in the mortar, adding a pinch of salt. Drip in 1/2 cup of flavorful extra-virgin olive oil, a drop at a time, mixing it well into the garlic paste. If you work carefully, the oil eventually comes together with the garlic in a smooth paste. It's difficult, even for experienced chefs, but you can stack the deck in your favor by pounding a small piece of boiled potato into the mixture. The potato's starch helps bind the sauce.
It's possible to make a good aioli through the traditional method, but it's chancy and the emulsion only forms with difficulty. The egg-yolk method is much more reliable, but food safety demands an extra step. You can make a safe aioli with pasteurized egg yolks from the refrigerator case of your supermarket, or by purchasing pasteurized eggs in the shell and separating a yolk. After you've mashed the garlic to a paste, add the egg yolk and incorporate it thoroughly. Drizzle 1 cup of olive oil into the mixture in a thin stream, whisking briskly -- or with your blender running -- until it's all incorporated.
There may be times when you want a carefully crafted artisanal sauce, and times when you just want a zesty mayonnaise with a hefty garlic punch. On those latter occasions, there's no need to mess around with eggs at all. Rather than making your aioli completely from scratch, mash the garlic into a paste and then whip it into a cup of store-bought mayonnaise. Beat in 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of good olive oil, thinning the mixture slightly with lemon juice if it's too thick. This quick substitute isn't true aioli, but it's a credible alternative if you're in a hurry and don't want to worry about food safety.
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