Nobody can be indifferent to garlic. People either love it or hate it; many good cooks seem to belong to the first group. Tom Stobart, in his book, "Herbs, Spices and Flavourings," wrote that garlic plays an important part in all countries noted for their cuisine, ranging from France to China.
Garlic is certainly popular in France, especially among the southerners. According to Provenc,al food authority Escudier, "There is no Provenc,al cuisine without garlic." Alexander Dumas was even more forthright: he claimed that the air of Provence is healthful to breathe because it is impregnated with the perfume of garlic.
Many consider the flavor and odor of garlic powerful, pungent, acrid, even violent. Yet the "truffle of Provence" can be mild. It's the technique by which the garlic is prepared that counts.
Depending on whether it is cooked or raw, whole or chopped, strained out of or present in a sauce, garlic produces a very different effect. Raw garlic is the strongest in flavor and aroma; the longer garlic cooks, the milder it gets. Blanching whole garlic cloves in water makes them much less pungent so that they can become the basis for a pure'e, like any vegetable. Peeled whole garlic gives a stronger flavor to a sauce than unpeeled. The flavor of chopped garlic, whether raw or cooked, permeates a sauce more than that of the whole cloves. If chopped garlic remains in a sauce, its character will be more evident than if it is removed by straining. (Whole cloves are nearly always discarded before a sauce is served.)
When peeling garlic, put it on a chopping board, hold a large, heavy knife flat and hit the garlic once. Don't use all your strength, or the garlic will be mashed.
If you want to chop the peeled garlic finely, hit it again with the knife so it is crushed. Then chop it with the knife. Cooks often prefer knives to garlic presses because much of the garlic gets caught in the latter.
In French garlic sauces, one or several rich, mild ingredients, such as butter, cream, oil or egg yolks, are added to soften the taste. Most garlic sauces can be quickly made because garlic acts immediately to flavor sauces and requires only a short time to become tender.
Probably the best-known garlic sauce is aioli, from Provence and Languedoc in southern France. Aioli is essentially an extremely garlicky olive oil-mayonnaise. Here the garlic is in its most powerful state. Since it is raw and either chopped or pounded until smooth in a mortar, all its character is allowed to come through. In addition, it is added in generous amounts. However, the garlic in southern France is usually fresh and therefore relatively mild compared to dry garlic. Aioli, often referred to as the "national" sauce of Provence, is considered by inhabitants of that region to be a condiment fit for the gods.
On the other end of the spectrum is French garlic butter, for which the garlic is blanched until tender and mild, then combined with a large quantity of butter. Equally delicate is garlic cream, for which the garlic simmers in white wine, then in cream, so that its flavor infuses slowly into the sauce. The sauce is strained to remove the garlic, so its influence remains discreet.
What to serve garlic sauces with depends on personal and cultural preference. In Provence they accompany even delicate foods such as artichokes, fish and eggs, but in refined "restaurant cuisine" in the rest of France they would generally be reserved for red meats. Garlic and lamb are a traditional combination in all styles of cuisine throughout France.
The French writer Leon Daudet believed that eating garlic sauces like aioli regularly is "the sure way to escape illness" and to live a long life. Whether you agree with him or not, garlic sauces will surely add zest to your cooking.
Aioli comes from two words in the Provenc,al dialect meaning garlic plus oil. It is so loved that it has even been a popular subject among Provenc,al poets, such as Mistral, who wrote: "Aioli concentrates in its essence the warmth, the force, the cheerfulness of the sun of Provence, but it also has a practical virtue: it chases away flies."
The sauce is traditionally served with poached salt cod or fresh fish, snails, hard-cooked eggs and cooked vegetables: green beans, potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, carrots, cauliflower, artichokes and beets. When a selection of these elements is served together with the sauce, they constitute a whole meal, especially popular in Marseille on Friday. The fish is served on one platter, and the vegetables are arranged in piles on another and garnished with the eggs. All are hot or at room temperature. Poached beef or mutton from pot au feu used to be added to this meal, but today this is no longer the custom.
Aioli can be served as a sauce for any one of the vegetables as a first course or side dish, or with fish or eggs as a main course. It is also used to give a creamy texture to the famous Provenc,al fish soup called bourride.
The amount of garlic used varies according to the cooks' and diners' tastes. Some use up to 2 cloves per portion. There are cooks who insist that aioli must be made with a mortar and pestle, but today many prefer the much quicker method specified here. AIOLI (Makes 1 cup) 6 medium cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped 1 egg yolk Salt and white pepper 1 cup olive oil Juice of one 1 lemon 1 teaspoon lukewarm water
Be sure the olive oil is at room temperature. Process the garlic, egg yolk, salt and white pepper in a blender or food processor until smooth. With the blades still turning, very slowly pour in the oil, in a thin stream. Add the lemon juice and water and blend again briefly. Taste for seasoning. The sauce can be made 2 days ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator, but tastes best if made a short time before serving and not refrigerated. Serve at room temperature. LIGHT GARLIC CREAM (4 to 5 servings)
Here the garlic is strained out before the sauce is served, so that no garlic bits are left in the smooth sauce. Serve this subtly flavored sauce hot or cold with fish, chicken or lamb. 2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved 1/3 cup dry white wine 2 tablespoons water 1 cup whipping cream Salt and white pepper 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
In a heavy-based saucepan, simmer the garlic in the wine and water over medium-high heat until the liquid is reduced to about 3 tablespoons.
Add the cream and a tiny pinch of salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for about 7 minutes or until the sauce is reduced slightly and thick enough to coat a spoon. Taste for seasoning.
Strain the sauce into a saucepan, ready for reheating; or strain it into a bowl and refrigerate, if making the sauce 1 or 2 days ahead. To reheat, bring nearly to a boil. Add the parsley just before serving. DELICATE FRENCH GARLIC BUTTER (4 servings)
This compound butter, which is not heated, is delicious with hot fresh pasta, green vegetables, seafood or as an accompaniment to steaks. It also makes a good spread on bread for a snack or with sandwiches. It is excellent as a canape with salami or roast beef. 12 medium cloves garlic, peeled 6 tablespoons butter, softened Salt and white pepper
Put the garlic cloves in a saucepan containing enough boiling water to cover them generously. Boil the garlic for 4 minutes. Drain well. Chop the garlic, then crush to a fine paste with a fork. Add to the softened butter and mix well. Season lightly with salt and pepper. The butter can be kept in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 days.