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Published April 30, 2013, 11:40 PM

Home with the Lost Italian: Aioli a perfect sauce for fish tacos

As a child I was a very picky eater, but I like to think that I’m pretty adventurous now when it comes to food. My allergy to shellfish already prevents me from enjoying an entire family of strange and exotic dishes, so I try to keep my food aversions to a minimum in an effort to shake off the fickle palate of my childhood.

By: Tony and Sarah Nasello, INFORUM

As a child I was a very picky eater, but I like to think that I’m pretty adventurous now when it comes to food.

My allergy to shellfish already prevents me from enjoying an entire family of strange and exotic dishes, so I try to keep my food aversions to a minimum in an effort to shake off the fickle palate of my childhood.

I’m happy to say that I have overcome most of my food phobias from those days, some of which were entirely created in my head, as I was often too stubborn to try anything new. But there is still one food that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up, one food which gives me goose bumps when I think of it, one food that can ruin an otherwise beautiful sandwich or salad: mayonnaise.

Hi, my name is Sarah, and I have Mayo-Phobia, an irrational, incurable fear of mayonnaise. I’m not alone in this group, but we are definitely a minority. Mayonnaise is the No. 1-selling condiment in America, easily besting my personal favorites, salsa and ketchup.

When Tony told me he wanted to feature a recipe for aioli, a sauce that is often considered interchangeable with mayonnaise, I knew that I had to make one thing very clear: Contrary to popular belief, a freshly-made aioli is nothing like a jar of store-bought mayonnaise. I know this, because I really like a good aioli.

To be fair, both sauces are thick and creamy, and made from a combination of eggs and oil. But the texture of an aioli is slightly grainy due to a healthy dose of garlic, unlike the preternatural slipperiness of processed mayonnaise.

Aioli is a traditional sauce from the region of Provence, France, and literally means garlic (ai) and oil (oli). Tony loves the versatility of this sauce, which he describes as “easy, fast, simple, tangy, and divine.”

A basic aioli is made of garlic, oil, lemon juice and egg yolks, and is a great complement to fish or fresh vegetables. For different flavors and colors, add ingredients like red pepper, saffron, chipotle or lemon, and feel free to experiment with herbs and other vegetables, too.

We use both olive oil and vegetable oil in this recipe, as the flavor of olive oil alone would overpower the sauce. You may use a whisk to make the sauce entirely by hand, but a food processor or blender will speed up the process. The key to making an excellent aioli is to emulsify the liquids, which, by their very nature, don’t want to mix together.

To do this, it is imperative that the oils are added to the other, combined ingredients in a very slow, steady stream while whisking or running the machine. This emulsification process will ensure that the oil is evenly distributed and the proper texture is achieved.

Fresh aioli will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator, and is great when served as a dipping sauce, on sandwiches and hamburgers, or even as a salad dressing when thinned out with a little water.

Cinco de Mayo is Sunday, so we’re featuring Baja Fish Tacos with Roasted Red Pepper Aioli. I love fish tacos and would never consider ruining them with mayonnaise. But fresh aioli? Absolutely. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Basic Aioli

Makes approx. 1 ½ cups

Ingredients:

1 cup roasted red peppers

1 heaping tablespoon chopped garlic

4 egg yolks or 4 oz. pasteurized liquid egg yolk

1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed

1 teaspoon chili pepper sauce (i.e., Sambal, Tabasco, or even red pepper flakes)

4 oz. olive oil

8 oz. salad oil

Salt to taste

Directions:

Combine all ingredients except the oils in a food processor. While machine is running, add the oils very, very slowly to emulsify. It is imperative to add the oils in a slow, steady stream to achieve emulsification. Serve immediately or store in refrigerator for up to one week.

Tony’s Tips:

To make Roasted Red Pepper Aioli, add 1 cup of roasted red peppers and 1 teaspoon of chili pepper sauce (like Tabasco).

When adding other ingredients to a basic aioli, start with small quantities and adjust as desired.

To make an aioli into a salad dressing, slowly whisk in warm water, one tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is achieved.

Baja Fish Tacos

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

2 lbs. fresh Mahi-Mahi, cut into strips 3 inches long, 1 inch wide, ½-inch thick (grouper, halibut, and swordfish also work great in tacos)

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper

2 fresh avocados cut lengthwise into strips, 1/4-inch wide (or guacamole)

1 container pico de gallo or chunky salsa

1 cup roasted red pepper aioli

10 6-inch flour tortillas

Cabbage Slaw:

3 to 4 cups white and red cabbage, shredded (packaged mix is fine)

2 jalapenos, cut into thin strips (julienne), seeds removed

2 tomatoes, cut into strips, insides removed

1/3 cup cilantro leaves

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

Salt and pepper

Mix all cabbage slaw ingredients together in a large bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

Directions:

Lightly season the mahi-mahi strips with salt and pepper and coat with olive oil.

Grill the fish for two to three minutes on each side, to achieve grill marks and ensure that the fish is cooked through. Avoid overcooking, or the fish will be dry.

Follow the directions on the package to heat the tortillas (we use a hot grill or pan for about 30 seconds on each side). Lay the warm tortilla on a flat surface and place one to two tablespoons of cabbage slaw in the center. Add two pieces of grilled fish, followed by two to three slices of avocado, a half tablespoon of pico de gallo, and one dollop of roasted red pepper aioli.

Fold the bottom third of the tortilla upward, then fold each side in toward the center, overlapping each other. Serve and enjoy.

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple own Sarello’s restaurant in Moorhead and live in Fargo with their 8-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at dine@sarellos.com or http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com

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