Handmade aioli – dairyfree butteriness

Buttery aioli so thick, its almost like a dough

Buttery aioli so thick, its almost like a dough


 Earlier last month, I spent one entire Sunday evening making four batches of aioli in a mortar and pestle. Round and round and round with the pestle till my arms fell off and I finally figured how to get it right. The proportions were right and the basic recipe bang on (1 yolk, 1 cup oil, some garlic and salt). There was just a tiny problem. Me.
In my determination to do things the old fashioned way (despite all subsequent events, I still think there is great magic in how a batch of mayo comes together as you turn the pestle round and round ) I had decided to eschew the whisk in favor of my brand new ahem, unseasoned,  stone mortar. Newfound aesthetic notwithstanding, things went juuust a tad wrong. The first batch of mayo slowly turned the dirtiest grey color I have seen. Gritty enough to feel like you were eating sand mixed into cream. Yep, just like my friend Andre’s mom had warned me, the grit was coming off the new mortar.



Look at that texture. It’s interesting to me that handmade mayo or aioli is so yellow whereas whisked or blender made versions are inevitable paler. All that air that gets incorporated I guess.


 Not to be deterred, I trashed the batch and decided to try things out with my cherished Japanese ceramic mortar and pestle. This time texture was A-ok. Brilliant even. I admired how clever the Japanese are; smiled at the ease with which the entire exercise was done; marveled at how the liquid egg and oil turned into thick velvety almost sliceable cream and wondered at why the French looked at aioli making as an exercise of faith. (Or the Catalan depending on which part of Europe you hail from. Some say its was the Catalan influence on Province that lead to the French adopting this sauce). It seemed simple enough. Very pleased with myself this time, I dipped my finger into the luxurious cream and tasted it – only to spit it out. It as bitter as.. salt. Sigh!

The proof of aioli when it's ready is that the pestle or fork can stand in it with no support. So here - look ma, no hands!!

The proof of aioli when it’s ready is that the pestle or fork can stand in it with no support. So here – look ma, no hands!!


Confident that my next batch would be perfect, I decided to put my money where my mouth was and went in with a cup of my very best extra virgin olive oil – only to find that the result was bitter and thin. The oil and egg refuse to emulsify – no matter how hard, long or fast I tried. And that’s how I learnt conclusively from painful experience time and again that extra virgin olive oil has properties that can inhibit emulsification and also turn bitter with the churning action. What’s more, having gotten cocky because of how lovely the texture had turned out last time round, I had poured the oil in far too fast. Cursing myself but but refusing to be deterred, I gave the whole thing another last shot patiently. With my head firmly on my shoulder this time. And – perfect!! A lot of lessons learnt. Not the least of which was self restraint and a calm head in the kitchen.


Handmade Aioli

Serves: 1 cup

It's really not that difficult at all though it does need some elbow grease. And just a wee bit of patience. "Aioli...is in effect a garlic mayonnaise. But it is not just a sauce; it can take the form of Aioli garni which is a whole dish in itself, traditionally served on Christmas Eve and incorporating beef or a boiled chicken. Among the items which aioli accompanies are potatoes, beetroot, fish and other seafood, and boiled salt cod. It may also be amalgamated with fish stock to make a thinner and pale yellow sauce to be poured over the fish in the famous Provencal dish called Bourride." ---Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2nd edition, 2007 (p. 8)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 cup or 250 ml flavourless oil (I used rice bran but olive oil would be great too. Not extra virgin)
  • pinch of salt
  1. Sprinkle salt over the garlic and crush to a paste. With a whisk or fork or a pestle using a round clockwise motion) mix in the egg yolk.
  2. Gradually mix in the oil into the yolk mixture, allowing it to fall drop by drop to begin with. After some time, you will see the mixture begin to thicken.
  3. Only after the mixture begins to thicken can you switch to adding the oil by tiny spoonfuls at a time and stirring till its absorbed before you add the next. You could also add it in a very thin thread with your left hand, all the while stirring/turning the pestle round and round with your right. Remember that each bit of oil needs to be absorbed straight away so that you never see a pool of oil in your bowl and the aioli never thins down. If you pour in too much oil at a time, the mixture will not emulsify.
  4. As you keep adding oil, the aioli will thicken. When your fork can stand up in the middle of the bowl without support, enough oil has been added (about one cup of oil in all).
  5. (Aioli is eaten thick but if you would like your can thin out the consistency by adding teaspoonfuls of water or lime juice.)
- A mayo is a delicate thing. Learn from the likes of me and remember that there is definitely such a reality as too much of a good thing. Go easy on the salt and the garlic. Better than throwing out precious batches of otherwise perfectly good mayo because of lack of restraint.
- Remember to start pouring the oil drop by drop till the mixture thickens before increasing your pouring speed to a very thin stream. This can make or break your mayo. Pour too much oil in one go at the beginning and the batch is ruined. So remember, from start to end, the mixture should never get liquidy.
- In aioli, the emulsifying agent is the garlic. So you need to make sure that you use at least 3 to 4 cloves mentioned to ensure you get the emulsion.
- More oil = thicker aioli. On the other hand, if you want, you can thin out your mayo with a teaspoonfuls of lemon juice/vinegar or water
- If you aioli breaks, remove almost all of it into another container, add a yolk to the remaining mayo and start dripping the broken mayo into the new mixture while whisking consistently
Aioli with steamed carrots was my evening snack today!

Aioli with steamed carrots was my evening snack today!

And now I’m off to season my mortar and pestle. Ta.


PS: About the Catalan Allioli
A unique use for garlic was as a base for emulsion condiments and sauces made by pounding the garlic and incorporating olive oil. The first apparent mention of anything resembling allioli is in the writings of Pliny (A.D. 23-79), who was the Roman procurator in Tarragona, on the Catalan coast, for a year and writes that when garlic is ‘beaten up in oil and vinegar it swells up in foam to a surprising size.’ There is no doubt in my mind that mayonnaise…was an evolutionary development from allioli. Whtether all of the emulsions known throughout the Mediterranean are derived from this usurping is less certain. There is a good possibility of serendipitous culinary invention. Unlike the ailo of Provence and the aillade of Languedoc, the true Catalan allioli…is made without eggs, using only garlic, olive oil, and salt. The garlic is placed in a mortar with salt and pounded until completely mashed and smooth. Then olive oil is slowly drizzled in, almost drop by drop, as the continued pounding incorporates the oil into an emulsion with garlic…”
A Mediterranean Feast, Clifford A.



  1. […] My handmade aioli from last week totally soothed my butter craved soul but I still needed to conquer the white mayonnaise. I realised that Aioli, made with a pestle or a fork, is yellow and thick. Much more like softened salted butter than mayonnaise as we know it – both in texture and in taste. On the other hand, there is also something definite to be said about the modern day mayonnaise as well. You know – the pale, creamy, whipped emulsion with a bit of a sweetness  that one can make tartar sauce with or slather on burgers, corn, serve with fried fish, make chicken and egg salad with… yum!!. […]

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