Tuesday, November 30, 2010
I tend to think of the golden, garlicky glory that is aioli as a summer dish--a glistening bowl of it surrounded by raw or crisp-blanched vegetables straight from the garden, or a pungent spoonful melting over a piece of grilled chicken. But when I whipped up a batch recently, and served it with root vegetable oven frites (parsnip, celery root, carrot, potato), then with roast beets and sliced red onion, a sprinkling of toasted walnuts, I found a whole new appreciation for that grand emulsion.
Indeed, mixed-root oven fries with aioli is my new favorite dish. With summer vegetables, the bright flavors of aioli are almost redundant. But with the deep, caramelized, earthy, both sweet and savory flavors of the roasted roots, the aioli is a perfect match and counterpoint. With the beets, something similar occured, though less profound. There the garlic and the lemon tartness mellowed the dirt flavor of the beets, and tempered the sweetness. I owe the inspiration for that salad to our friend Tata, whose Russian version uses grated beets mixed with loads of oil, mayonnaise, chopped garlic and walnuts.
That steak wasn't bad, either, nice pan-roasted porterhouse with a red wine-shallot sauce, and when the sauce bled into the aioli on the plate, well, that was something rather special, too.
And maybe it seems silly to pay homage to a single egg yolk, but I do believe that the Blue Gentian Farm egg that went into that aioli made it one of the best I've ever made. That, and the wonderfully sharp, sweet garlic that we got from a young farmer named Evan (didn't get his last name) near Turtle Lake.
Beets, Menomonie Farmers Market, red onion from Morgan and Ben, walnuts, well, probably from California. We're local, but we're not dogmatic. I really like walnuts.
And in parting, let me offer a couple of aioli-mayo tips, recently discovered though I've been whipping together oil and eggs for years. I use 3/4 cup of oil to one egg yolk, and I like the oil to be 1/2 cup canola, 1/4 cup extra virgin olive. I whisk the egg yolk with a scant teaspoon of Dijon mustard, then start adding the oil. Instead of pouring the oil at the beginning, dip a spoon into the oil, straight up and down, and then just let whatever oil clings to the spoon drip off into the egg yolk as you whisk. Do that a few times until you see the emulsion starting to form. Then you can start pouring in the oil in a slow, steady stream as you whisk. I add lemon juice partway through the whisking, for flavor and to lighten the mix. I add the very finely chopped garlic--at least one very large clove--and salt at the end. Adding a bit of salt to the garlic as you chop it helps to break it down so you can produce a virtual puree of garlic.
Oh, and this time I made my aioli in one of our 8-quart stainless steel mixing bowls, and when I was finished I did not have to spend a half hour cleaning spattered oil from counter, walls, and myself. Ya lives some and ya learns some. Whisk on, friends.
Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw