How to Make Garlicky, Creamy Aioli with a Mortar and Pestle

It only takes 20 minutes and serious arm strength.

Aioli, which translates to “garlic oil,” is an incredibly versatile condiment—velvety smooth and mayo-like, it elevates any sandwich, pairs beautifully with fish and poultry, and also makes for a great dipping sauce. In a recent F&W Cooks video, Andrea Slonecker shows viewers how to make a classic garlic version with a mortar and pestle, which she says is one of the most ancient sauce-making techniques around. The recipe is incredibly simple, comprised of garlic cloves, sea salt, an egg yolk, olive oil, and water; as an added bonus, it serves eight people and comes together in 20 minutes, making it ideal for entertaining. Read on for some of her key tips for making the sauce.

Adjust your garlic usage based on the season

In the beginning of summer when garlic is fresh at the farmers’ market, Slonecker uses “quite a bit” of garlic in this sauce. However, in the winter when it’s older and more potent, she only uses about two cloves. (Still, they’re big cloves—this is all about garlic flavor, after all.)

Use medium-grind sea salt

This kind of salt has tons of texture, she says, creating friction that works in conjunction with the garlic and pestle.

Start by pulverizing the garlic …

In the beginning, you’re basically pounding the garlic with the pestle, pulverizing it so that it releases juices and becomes almost liquid-y.

… and use the table for support

This aioli is one big arm workout, so Slonecker recommends moving the mortar to the edge of your work station (e.g., where the leg of the table would be) for extra support.

Then, grind

Once the garlic has become liquid-y, start grinding it in a circular motion, pressing the pestle against the wall of the mortar. Use it as a spoon to help scrape the garlic off the edges of the mortar, too.

Add the egg yolk

When the garlic has become a nice, fine paste, add the egg yolk, which will take about one to two minutes to combine with the garlic. It acts as an emulsifier—one egg can emulsify one cup of extra virgin olive oil, Slonecker says.

Speaking of oil …

Use a squeeze bottle so you can slowly add the oil in, drop by drop, to the garlic and egg mixture. The process takes about 10 minutes total, according to Slonecker—at first, you want to add it in slowly, but once the emulsion has formed and the sauce starts to thicken, you can add the oil much more quickly.

No matter how tired you get, don’t stop turning the pestle

If you do, Slonecker says the aioli could break, resulting in a very oily-looking sauce. Instead, you want a sauce that resembles the color and texture of lemon curd.

Add a little water

When the aioli starts to sound "crackly" while you stir, add a tiny bit of water so it's easier to stir.

Grab all the veggies

Slonecker serves the aioli right in the mortar with a “smorgasbord” of produce from the farmers’ market. She likes to include a mix of raw and cooked vegetables, for texture; jammy eggs are also a good match with the sauce. (Basically, if it’s good with garlic and oil, it’ll be good with this aioli.) To finish everything off, Slonecker seasons the spread with freshly ground pepper.

Pair with rosé

To complement the garlicky flavor of the aioli, Slonecker recommends a fresh-tasting Provençal rosé.

Get the recipe here.

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