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A few days back I was making garlic bread. I had pressed garlic into olive oil, added a little salt, and forgot about it for a good half hour or so. When I came back to it, I stirred it up a bit, and it seemed to thicken slightly. Intrigued, I whisked some more and it ended up extremely thick, with self-sustaining peaks.

Tonight I tried to recreate this phenomenon, and it really didn't do anything to speak of. After whisking hard for about 45 minutes, I still basically had a bunch of pressed garlic sitting in a pool of olive oil.

What did I do wrong the second time, and what did I do right the first time?

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2 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Congratulations, you accidentally made allioli, a Catalan emulsified sauce requiring only garlic and olive oil to thicken and emulsify. Unfortunately, it's harder to make and less stable than the other aiolis (garlic mayonnaises), which include egg yolks as emulsifiers. This is probably why you are having difficulty replicating it.

To make it more consistently:

  1. Smash the garlic up into a fine paste before adding oil
  2. Add oil slowly, starting with a drop at a time, and mixing rapidly until incorporated (traditionally this is done with a mortar and pestle, but it is easier with a mini-whisk).
  3. Optionally, cheat and add an egg yolk (beaten) for every clove or two of garlic (it is no longer a true allioli though).
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I've admittedly never made an aioli, but assuming that it works more or less like any other emulsion and requires dispersion, then you'd probably get the best results by grating the garlic into a paste using a rasp. –  Aaronut Jun 1 '11 at 23:54
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By a rasp, do you mean a microplane? (This is probably a regional dialect difference.) That's a good point, it would probably break down the garlic better than just the traditional mortar and pestle would. Also, you should totally try making an aioli from scratch... they're pretty fast and very rewarding. Oh, and you can cheat and use an immersion blender. –  BobMcGee Jun 1 '11 at 23:58
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Also, if you do use the immersion blender, definitely stay away from extra-virgin olive oil; it will turn bitter. See e.g., cooksillustrated.com/howto/detail.asp?docid=18825 for an explanation (and a workaround of starting the emulsion with a different oil, then whisking in the EVOO). –  derobert Jun 2 '11 at 17:35
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I cannot read the posted link, could you please tell us what is the explanation? –  PA. Mar 1 '12 at 8:09
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My grandmother usually added some large grains of salt with the garlic into the mortar to ease the initial smashing process of the garlic. –  PA. Mar 1 '12 at 8:11
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I have made aioli autentico several times. You must add a pinch of salt to the smashed garlic paste before you start whipping in the oil. The emulsion absolutely will not form without the salt. It only takes a pinch.

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