Explore mayo's upscale friend: aioli

Saffron aioli.
STEPHANIE HAYES | Times Saffron aioli.
Published February 21 2018
Updated February 21 2018

Mayonnaise does not have to be pedestrian. Mayonnaise, like life, is what you make of it.

The link below is devoted to America’s love-hate relationship with the white stuff in the jar. Yours truly provides a defense for using it as a cooking agent, to keep food brown and crisp. It’s also a secret weapon for dynamite baking.

In the mayo magnum opus, I touch briefly on mayo’s upscale counterpart, aioli, but let’s explore it a little further here. Aioli, like mayo, is an emulsion of eggs and oil, though one with a garlic focus. It’s different depending on what part of the world you’re in, but here, the word typically denotes a flavored mayonnaise.

RELATED: Let mayo be your secret weapon

For a recent dinner party, I prepared Le Grand Aioli, a Mediterranean staple as magnifique as it sounds. It’s a laid-back presentation, perfect for spring, as the main event or something to set out at a gathering. Simply put, it’s an array of fresh produce accompanied by an aioli for dipping.

Technically, Le Grand Aioli should have six components, minimum. The platter often contains seafood such as shrimp or a light fish or crab. Since I was serving it for a large group before a main course that included shrimp, I kept it vegetarian.

On my spread: hard-boiled eggs sprinkled with sea salt, fingerling potatoes, asparagus, haricot vert (green beans, if you please), radishes, fennel and endive. I arranged it on some marble lazy Susans and wooden charcuterie boards, a little bowl of aioli on each. Casual, inviting, dippy.

The key here is to lightly blanche the beans and the asparagus about three minutes and then give them a quick ice bath so they stay crisp and beautifully hued. Boil the potatoes to tender and cut lengthwise. The endive, radish and fennel can be left raw. To achieve a not-so-hard center on the eggs, boil for eight minutes or less and submerge into an ice bath for two minutes.

About that aioli. I went with Food & Wine’s latest incarnation, which includes saffron. You can certainly leave the saffron out, as it’s a pretty luxurious addition. But it’s also kind of fun. Down with mayo haters, this is fancy!

Food & Wine suggests a sprinkle of piment d’Espelette, made from Basque region peppers, atop the aioli. If you can’t find it, hot paprika is a good stand-in.