Aïoli is a sunny gift from Provence, a cornerstone of the region’s peasant cuisine. It is both a sauce and a dish. As a sauce, aïoli combines the finest flavors of the region—fragrant olive oil and garlic—into a creamy emulsion that resembles mayonnaise. As a dish, it includes the sauce served alongside the season’s freshest vegetables (blanched or boiled) and, on feast days, salt cod, too.
In my cooking classes, I have taught students to make aïoli hundreds of times. There were instances early on in my teaching career when a student would be whisking the ingredients together and, suddenly, for seemingly no reason, the sauce would “break” into a soupy mess. I could always fix it by whisking the mess into an egg yolk, very slowly, until it re-emulsified.
The breaking always mystified me, though, so I sought out the reason why. Whom did I ask? Provençal farm cooks, of course. And each one had a different explanation: “Don’t make it during the waning moon.” “Only make it when the barometric pressure is low.” “Don’t let a stranger come into the kitchen while you’re making aïoli.” “The ingredients
must be warm.”
Cute theories, but the real reason eluded me until I met Gilbert Canot, grand master of the Compagnons de l’Aïoli de Solliès-Toucas, a group dedicated to maintaining the tradition of aïoli in Provence. “Broken aïoli?” Canot said. “The oil was added too fast. Simple as that.” Now I do as the compagnons d’aïoli do. I add the oil drop by drop at first, and
then in a fine, fine stream. It is possible (albeit tres inauthentic) to make aïoli in a food processor, but you still must respect the rule of slow.
I hope my recipe entices you to make aïoli, and do it often. (Repetition, after all, is the key to mastery.) And if a stranger walks into your kitchen while you’re carefully stirring or whisking, forget the folk tale; there’s no need to shoo them away—welcome them instead!