Monday, July 31, 2017

Garlic Aoili with Crudités

 "You have your way, I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist." Friedrich Nietzsche After experiencing a moment of culinary angst last week, those words, combined with taking a deep breath, and reframing the moment with a yoga inspired intention enabled me to get a grip on myself. So what caused me to have an irrational, temporary moment of emotional regression? Well, it all had to do with making aoili. I had taken it a bit too seriously. Not only was my reaction to a failed attempt a bit out of character (it's not the first time something didn't exactly go as planned), so was the way I had usually approached making a new recipe. Instead of doing a fair amount of research and triangulating multiple recipes/sources of information, I made a new recipe without doing either or both of these things. This is not to say we shouldn't allow ourselves to have those blind faith moments. Because we should. Just not all of the time. Or at least for me, not in making aoili. As it turned out, throwing out the unsalvageable olive oil and (farm fresh) eggs turned out to be a blessing in disguise. While I didn't go into full doctoral dissertation research mode, I took a step back and spent some time learning a a bit more about making aoili and mayonnaise. Without going too far down into the aoili rabbit hole, I learned fairly quickly was there are a fair number of variations in both ingredient proportions and technique. Discovering some respected chefs have shared multiple recipes for their take on a good quality aoili and/or mayonnaise was reassuring. It seemed on any given day, one's choice of aoili recipe might depend on prior success, personal preference, and/or allegiance to a particular culinary belief. In an odd sort of way, this was proof there was no one right aioli making way.

If I could, please indulge my need to share some of what I learned during this aoili and mayonnaise learning quest. Feel free to skip ahead. Using the highly regarded Larousse Gastronomique as a reference, a Bon Appetit article helped to explain some of similarities and differences between these two sauces. "Mayonnaise is a 'cold emulsified sauce consisting of yolks and oil blended together', while an aoili is an emulsified sauce that must contain garlic and olive oil." So technically, a mayonnaise could be considered an aoili, if it's made with garlic and oil, and an aoili could be considered a mayonnaise as long as it is made with a yolk. However, don't expect everyone to agree on this interchangeability viewpoint. 

How the oil is incorporated into the yolk mixture can be achieved in a variety of ways, some more foolproof than others. Food processors, immersion blenders, whisks, and a mortar/pestle are some of the tools used. Some recipes provide directions specify the use of only one of these tools, while others offer directions for multiple options. Owning an immersion blender, food processor, or a mortar/pestle will not prevent anyone from making it. A larger sized, balloon shaped whisk and strong arm muscles will work. However, success will in large part be due to the amount and rate the oil is added to the yolk mixture.

The inherent oppositional qualities of oil and water (two common mayonnaise/aoili ingredients) can make achieving a thick, velvety, smooth texture somewhat challenging (there are reasons for this, scientific ones actually!). The classic aoili/mayonnaise technique (as summarized by Kenji Lopez-Alt) begins with whisking the egg yolks, a bit of mustard, a small amount of water, and either lemon juice or vinegar. Once combined, the oil is ever so slowly trickled in while simultaneously being rapidly whisked. Adding the oil too quickly will prevent the emulsification necessary to create the rich, lush, creamy sauce some of us love. 

All of this was good information, but I wanted, or rather still needed, to know if there was a best or definitive egg yolk to oil ratio?  After looking at significant number aoili/mayonnaise recipes from some highly respected food sources, I discovered there was a fair degree of variability. Even in recipes claiming to be classic versions. The ratios ranged from one egg yolk to a half-cup of oil; to one egg yolk to 3/4 cup (or 12 Tablespoons) of oil; to one egg yolk to 10 ounces of oil; to one egg yolk to 1 1/2 cups of oil. Michael Ruhlman, the food science guru and author of the Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, cited the one egg yolk to 1 cup of oil as the perfect ratio while my favorite cooking goddess, Ina Garten, used a one (extra-large) egg yolk to 3/4 cup olive oil ratio. Discovering all of these different egg/oil ratios could have caused an aoili head spinning moment if I hadn't kept repeating the mantra 'in cooking as in life, there is no one right way to do anything'. There might be best ways, favorite ways, better ways, or for no good reason ways. On the remote chance was there only one right way, I doubt the egg yolk to oil ratio would qualify for entry into such an exclusive category.

Then there was the nagging question: Was there one best oil to use? Some recipes called for olive only; some for a combination of a neutral oil (vegetable, canola or grapeseed) and an olive oil; and still others called for the use of peanut oil. Olive oil appeared to be prevailing choice, but best appeared to be a matter of taste.  Adding another layer to the oil decision making process was learning the powerful blades of blenders and food processors could actually be responsible for creating a bitter-tasting sauce. It seems olive oil is actually made up of tiny fragments. If sheared apart from one another, they can go from being delicious tasting droplets to bitter-tasting fragments in the blink of an eye. 

As I was finally nearing the end of semi-exhaustive research endeavor I began to wonder if I should put aoili in the category of things I shouldn't make. Wouldn't mixing some finely chopped garlic into some already pre-made mayonnaise might be easier? Couldn't I use a semi-homemade or homemade version of aoili to serve with the gorgeous vegetables I had picked up at the Farmer's Market? Would anyone really care? Maybe, maybe not. Could anyone tell the difference between the two? I am pretty certain they would. But would they prefer one over the other? Well, I'd like to think given the choice between eating a semi-homemade aoili and homemade aoili, the flavor and texture of the homemade one would be the hands down favorite. On the chance this assumption is incorrect, I felt a comelling need to experience the triumph of, with or without any adulation, making a really, really good garlic aoili. The farm raised, freshly picked vegetables deserved to be served with nothing less. 

As I embarked on the second, non-melt down garlic aoili making attempt I felt certain there would be a successful outcome. But I had several decisions to make first. Beginning with which tool to use. The food processor method didn't work the first time (for a number of reasons I now realize), I don't have an immersion blender, and I may not have the patience required for using a mortar/pestle. Which left me with one choice: the whisk. Next I to decide which oil or oils to use. Being partial to the flavor of olive oil helped make that decision. And lastly was settling on an egg yolk to olive oil ratio. I had done enough reading to realize any number of the yolk to oil ratios would work as long as I was patient with adding the oil. After a bit of deliberation, I decided on Plan A (aka the 1 egg yolk to 1/2 cup oil ratio). And if, by some chance the aoili was too thick and/or it didn't meet the taste test, I would go to Plan B and add more oil. Either way I didn't think I could go wrong this time, nor lose my sanity.

When selecting vegetables for a crudité platter, there are no hard and fast rules. Choose what you like, what you think everyone would enjoy. All steamed, all raw, or grilled vegetables or a combination of any of these would work. Choose a wide assortment of or several different kinds of vegetables. Create a platter with vegetables all having the same color or make it colorful. Add hard boiled eggs, olives, and/or bread. Or not. Garnish with fresh herbs and/or flowers. Or not. Make it as an appetizer or transform it into a meal. The Garlic Aoili with Crudités  possibilities are endlless.

But definitely have a bowl of homemade garlic aoili on the platter. Like the Plan A recipe below. The one having a rich, creamy, and almost perfect consistency. Not only did it exceed all of my expectations, it restored my culinary confidence. Let the happy dancing commence!

Key to its' success the second time around was adding the olive oil ever so slowly. Starting with only drips of olive oil, gradually increased to half-teaspoonfuls while rigorously whisking well during and after each addition contributed to its' emulsification.  If I could have figured out how to add the the oil in a slow, think steady stream at a certain point, I would have. But I only had two hands. You might think the aioli making process is little time consuming. Maybe slightly. But surprisingly it didn't feel that way. 

While I am more informed about aoili/mayonnaise than I was only a week ago, I am by no means an expert. It's quite possible the next time I make an aoili, I rush the process and fail to experience aoili nirvana. It is also not outside the realm of possibility I will try and fall deeply, madly in love with another aoili recipe I was somehow lulled into making. For the moment, I am over the moon smitten with this version. 

As far as most of my blog posts go, this one may have rambled on a bit more than usual. So let me thank you for taking the time to hang in there. The day cooking and/or baking stops becoming or feeling like an adventure is the day I should probably put away my measuring cups and spoons, the large assortment of kitchen gadgets, and collection of copper pots. The hundreds of cookbooks and stacks of magazines would also have to find a new home. And most importantly, the day I stop learning from and appreciating the culinary perspectives of others is the day I should....well, let's just say I hope that day never comes because I am not certain what the best thing to do would be. Here's hoping we all continue to be kind and encouraging toward one another while experiencing the trials, tribulations, risks, and rewards awaiting us all in the gray world of cooking, baking, and making a homemade garlic aoili.

Garlic Aoili with Crudités (inspired by Bon Appetit's Real Deal Aoili recipe)

2 large egg yolks, room temperature
3 -5 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped (Note: The more garlic, the more intense the flavor. I love garlic and used only 4 medium garlic cloves.)
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup good quality olive oil
Assortment of raw and/or steamed vegetables (e.g., cherry tomatoes, carrots, string beans, baby red potatoes, artichokes, radishes, sugar snap peans, asparagus, cucumber slices, kalamata olives, etc.)
Hard-boiled eggs
Grilled Bread

1. Whisk egg yolks, salt, garlic, lemon juice and dijon mustard in a medium sized bowl to combine. The mixture should be creamy.
2. Using a large balloon whisk, add olive oil in drops whisking to ensure the mixture remains emulsified after each addition. After using about a 1/4 cup of the oil, begin to add oil in slightly larger amounts (think half teaspoons) or a very, very thin stream, whisking during and well after each addition. Note: If oil is added too quickly the aoili will break down and the oil will separate.
3. Continue whisking until all of the oil is incorporated and the aoili is thick enough to hold its' shape when spooned. Season with additional salt if necessary.
4. Serve immediately or cover and chill. Can be made a day ahead. Will last for at least a week in the refrigerator. 
5. Choose an assortment of steamed and/or raw vegetables; hard-boiled eggs; and/or grilled bread. Arrange on a platter. Serve with bowl of the garlic aoili. 

Notes: (1) Use a good quality olive oil and dijon mustard. It is not necessary to use extra-virgin olive oil, just a really good olive oil. In fact you can use a combination of olive oil and a neutral oil (like canola or vegetable oil. Maille is my favorite go-to dijon mustard. (2) The flavor of the garlic will intensify the longer the aoili chills in the refrigerator, so you might to use only 3-4 cloves of garlic the first time you make it. (3) This garlic aoili would also be a great condiment for grilled meats, burgers, chicken and/or seafood. It would even elevate any number of sandwiches. And oh, french fries dipped in this garlic aoili would be insane! (4) I didn't provide directions using immersion blender or any other tool as I have only made it using a whisk. If you have had aioli success with any other tool, feel free to use it. 

Farmer's Market bounty. (July, 2017)

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