Zen and the art of making aioli sauce

I was at dinner the other night, speaking about food while we were eating, when Janette told us that her husband had been trying to make aioli sauce. He had first tried to make it in a blender, but had given up in frustration, but after watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s ‘No Reservations’ in Provence, France, he saw that the traditional method uses a mortar and pestle. While watching the old French woman making the aioli, Anthony says “It’s very gentle, the process…You gotta be careful. You have to keep your voice down. Show a little respect for the process…”. Janette said that after watching the show he sat down quietly and carefully made some amazing aioli. The process she described made me want to try it myself.

Aioli sauce and bread

Aioli sauce and bread

Aioli (pronounced eye-oh-lee) is similar to garlic mayonnaise, but different. The difference is hard to determine and probably comes down to its method of production. Mayonnaise can be made from different types of oil, but aioli is only ever made from olive oil. Though I’m sure you could just take some mayonnaise and mix in some crushed garlic, the process of making aioli using a motar and pestle is a reason in itself to make it from scratch, as well as the amazing, pungent, delicious sauce that results from your efforts. On a scale of 1 to 10, the taste of this sauce is 11 and it is well worth taking the effort to making yourself.

Aioli is said to be ‘the butter of Provence’, probably because of its hilly nature which is more suitable for goats, sheep and olive trees than cows. Today aioli is closely associated with Provence, though it is probably derived from the Roman sauce ‘aleatum’ which was made from garlic and olive oil. Also in Catalonia, Spain, the same sauce is called Allioli, but it doesn’t contain eggs.

Making aioli

Aioli Ingredients

Aioli Ingredients


  • 3 medium cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 0.5 tsp of coarse salt such as kosher or sea salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1.5 tsp of lemon juice
  • 0.5 cups (118ml) of extra virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper


First prepare your ingredients to hand. Take the phone off the hook, turn off the television, clear your mind and find a quiet place to work. Put the salt and the garlic into the mortar, and using the pestle crush the garlic into a smooth, creamy paste.

Garlic and rock salt

Garlic and coarse salt

Add the egg yolk and the lemon juice, and mix to combine.

Egg yolk and garlic paste

Egg yolk and garlic paste

With one hand slowly, smoothly and methodically turn the pestle around the mortar in continuous circles. With the other hand add a single drop of olive oil to the mortar while continue to turn the pestle. Add another drop once the first has been fully incorporated. Continue this process, small drops of oil at a time, until the mixture starts to thicken and an emulsion forms, then you can add a bit more oil at a time. However DO NOT try to hurry the process, as the emulsion may split and the oil separates. It should take about 10 minutes. Once all the oil has been absorbed, add some black pepper.


Aioli can last up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator if you can stop yourself from eating it all in one sitting. As well as spreading it on bread like butter, it makes a great dip for vegetables, or to accompany fish or chicken. In Provence it is quite common to have aioli as the centrepiece in ‘Le Grand Aïoli’ which is boiled fish, usually cod, but sometimes chicken, boiled eggs and a selection of vegetables such as green beans, potatoes, carrots or whatever is in season at the time.

Le Grand Aioli

Le Grand Aioli


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    • Fred on July 21, 2012 at 9:44 am
    • Reply

    Ha! Thanks Stuart. Ailoi is great on almost everything.

    A couple more tips:

    If your mortar is sliding around too much, place a damp kitchen towel around it to hold it in place.

    Also, it helps to have a nice Cotes de Provence rose handy to encourage the zenness.

    1. Thanks Fred for the tips and being the inspiration for this.

      I didn’t have anything to drink while making the aioli, but I did have a bottle of Rose while eating it. However it was from Nimes, which is just on the outside of Provence.

      I also have a post tomorrow on Bordeaux Clairet, which I did a taste test along with the Rose. Hic!

    • Michelle @ amourbeurre on July 23, 2012 at 9:01 pm
    • Reply

    I love how you served this with just veggies, never seen aioli used like that before, but I love it.

    Subscribed so that even without Buzz, I won’t miss a post! I would love it if you would follow me too!

    • Michelle @ amourbeurre on July 23, 2012 at 9:02 pm
    • Reply

    whoops…. just tried to subscribe to you… again. does that mean I’m too obsessed with all your posts?!?

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