Cheat’s Aïoli (and cheat’s rouille) And 20+ Things To Do With It

 “Aioli epitomizes the heat, the power, and the joy of the Provençal sun, but it has another virtue – it drives away flies.”

Frederic Mistral

Aïoli is generally accepted these days to be a form of garlic mayonnaise which originates from Provence, or at least thereabouts. For more about its origins (some forms not including egg) and development go to the paragraph at the bottom of this post. But for the purposes of cheats, an adapted form of mayonnaise is what we are after.

Nigella Lawson, in her book, How to Eat, declares she had never heard that mayonnaise could be difficult to make and thus, minus the baggage of fear, was able to make mayonnaise first off without any trouble.

She may be right, but I didn’t have such a protected-from-mayonnaise-making childhood and for me, Life Is Too Short.

Instead, I use a good quality bought mayonnaise and transform it, shamelessly, into aïoli.

There is also another very similar sauce, a rouille, added to the famous bouillabaisse, a fish stew from Provence. It’s made from egg yolks and oil – effectively a mayonnaise – thickened with breadcrumbs (I find these are optional), garlic, saffron and a bit of heat – maybe a pinch of cayenne pepper, I use Urfa pepper flakes.

Recipe for making cheats’ aïoli – and rouille (for the rouille, add saffron – see above)

Makes about 240 ml/a cup

NOTE: garlic cloves vary in size and strength – we recommend you peel and crush one at a time, add, and then taste before adding the next clove.


  • 180 ml/¾ cup of good quality mayonnaise (I use the excellent Dr Will’s – follow this link to find out why)
  • 5 fat cloves of garlic (if you are able to wrap your garlic bulb in foil and roast for 20 minutes first it will gain a heavenly sweet flavour), crushed with
  • 1 teasp smoked salt… or a little Gentleman’s Relish or anchovy paste
  • 1 lemon – use the juice and garnish with the zest
  • a few grinds of white pepper


Mix all together, and leave to rest for as long as you can, covered in the fridge.

You can also add:

  • parsley
  • a few strands of saffron soaked in a tbsp boiling water… if you add in a few breadcrumbs you will have made a sort of cheats’ rouille, which you can add to a fish soup
  • membrillo, or quince paste – this makes it taste more middle eastern… or Spanish
  • wasabi – to 2 tbsp aïoli add 1 tsp freshly grated wasabi – good with wasabi butter and steak
  • you can make a sort of smoked aïoli by adding ½ tsp of semi-sweet smoked paprika and using double the amount of smoked, black garlic.
  • roasted, slightly charred tomatoes – this goes very well with roast lamb.

And here are some very surprising additions which I discovered in Monika Linton’s Brindisa, The True Food of Spain:

  • honey
  • dark chocolate
  • squid ink
  • add walnuts and a touch of PX vinegar to the membrillo to transform the aïoli into an aïoli de Nadal – a Catalan Christmas aïoli. Serve with soft, warm hunks of bread at a Christmas Eve vigil. Catalonia is just across the border, and around the corner, from Provence, in Spain.
  • Emily Nunn, who writes the Department of Salad newsletter, makes a dressing using a base of two parts mayo to three parts sour cream and adding red onion and anchovies. She comments:

“And I really like this dressing. I’m calling it White Goddess Dressing, because it is white, I happen to be white, and it makes me feel like a goddess. Use it on anything, but make it your standby, for those times when you have no energy to be creative: This dressing will do all the work for you.”

I would substitute the red onion for a snipped-in spring onion; and the anchovy for some Gentleman’s Relish.

Uses of aïoli:

  • with croquetas de jamón (Spanish croquettes)
  • with seafood
  • with crab fishcakes
  • a dollop in fish soup
  • with olives
  • with plain boiled Jersey Royal potatoes
  • with chips or wonderful wedge lemon roasted potatoes
  • dip in halved, roasted Brussels spouts
  • with roast asparagus
  • with hamburgers
  • in a tomato sandwich
  • with hard-boiled eggs and shrimps
  • as a dip, with raw vegetables such as courgettes or cauliflower
  • it’s quite good on boiled green beans
  • with roasted aubergine
  • with almost anything roast; fish, beef or lamb
  • with poached chicken (poule au pot)
  • with deep fried mussels
  • serve, as Nieves Barragán Mohacho, of Sabor, does, with griddled spring onions or calçots. Griddle the onions about five minutes each side in hot oil to get them softly charred. Squeeze over a little fresh lemon juice.
  • at Brindisa in south Kensington they serve tortilla española with aïoli
  • In a Grand Aioli – a fantastic spread, there’s a great article in The Guardian which describes a modern version… and you can also read more in the paragraph at the bottom of this post
  • at The Port House in London you can enjoy cauliflower fritters with black garlic aïoli.
  • at Melanie Arnold’s and Margot Henderson’s considered food at the Rochelle Canteen, they serve braised cuttlefish (soft as butter!) with fennel and aïoli – heaven!
Braised cuttlefish (soft as butter!) with fennel and aïoli – heaven!

The origins and development of aïoli

“The culinary landscape Curnonsky [a famous food writer of the first half of the 20th century] painted of Provence was, even then, in part, an artificial bourgeois vision at least one step removed from the rural original. The aioli enjoyed by the first generation of middle-class Parisians to spend their holidays in the Midi was Le Grand Aïoli; garlic mayonnaise served with salt cod, snails, artichokes and sometimes a leg of lamb. The simple rustic version – a garlic sauce served with potatoes, carrots and whatever other vegetables might be at hand – wouldn’t have appealed.”

Michael Raffael, Provence: Twelve Journeys With a Gastronome

The stripped-back original

Michael Raffael is right. Aïoli means garlic and oil. The simplest versions involve putting garlic and salt into a pestle and mortar, and grinding, grinding, grinding whilst adding, slowly, with infinite patience, the oil in order to form an emulsion. It was a long, hard task. If the oil was added too quickly the sauce would not emulsify.

Small wonder then, that those who could afford it would add egg yolk into the mix, in order to help the emulsification process, as well as the taste, along. The next thing was to include the entire egg, thereby resulting in a sauce very akin to mayonnaise with garlic. Further developments included additions of lemon juice and mustard.

But the original, no-egg version of this sauce could be very good taken in its context. I imagine that, served over potatoes, it would have been similar to the potato version of the Greek skordalia – something I find very moreish indeed. In terms of texture and viscosity it was very similar to mayonnaise, and it looked quite like it too.

This is a sauce originating not just from Provence, but from areas adjacent, in particular, Catalonia.

Le Grand Aïoli

Say what you like about the bourgeoisie, they didn’t do things by halves. Le Grand Aïoli (sometimes known as aïoli garni) is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

It’s a thing of beauty, because it achieves WOW factor in spades.

“’The preparation of this dish’, says JB Reboul, one of the maîtres de cuisine in Provence, ‘demands a great deal of artistic arrangement’”.

Larousse Gastronomique

And it’s a joy forever, because, for the exhausted and/or lazy (the majority of us?) as The Guardian puts it, it’s “the dinner to cook when you can’t be bothered cooking”.  It’s a monster spread (indeed, it’s also sometimes referred to as aioli monstre) of all kinds of seasonal vegetables, as well as fish (the cod especially on Ash Wednesday), seafood and snails (a favourite at Christmas).

Le Grand Aïoli

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You should know better

Aioli isn’t made with mayonnaise!!!!

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