I like to think of a grande aïoli as an updated version of a classic prawn cocktail. I have an ongoing love affair with aïoli – spicy garlic, bold young olive oil, fresh lemon: what’s not to love? This dish graced my table on Christmas day last year, but it’s a simple, light and elevated starter on any hot day, especially if you keep your crudités in the fridge up until the last second, to be served cold and crisp. It also looks beautiful as a centrepiece. I love eating prawns this way, too. It’s so clean, and really lets the flavour and texture of the prawn shine through.
Pretty much anything will work for the crudités, pick your favourite vegetables, or whatever looks fresh and delicious at the market. This amount will serve up to 8 people comfortably, but scale it up or down as needed.
500g asparagus, blanched and revived in ice water, then drained and chilled
4 soft-boiled eggs, halved or quartered
1 small bunch of radishes, cleaned (keep the leaves, they’re delicious too) and halved
1 head of baby gem lettuce, leaves separated
1 head of witlof, trimmed
1kg kipfler potatoes (skin on), boiled until just soft, then chilled and halved lengthwise
200g sugar snap peas, stringed, blanched quickly and chilled
8 baby cucumbers, quartered
4 baby carrots, halved
2 baby fennel bulbs, cut into wedges
Lemon wedges, to serve
4 egg yolks, plus 1 whole egg
6 garlic cloves local purple garlic
1 tablespoon hot Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1L very nice extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice, plus extra to taste
500g raw Skull Island prawns
Start by prepping your crudités and get them chilling.
For the prawns, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. As your water’s boiling, peel your prawns. I like to keep the heads and tails on for presentation. Be sure to devein them, this is easiest to do with a small pair of tweezers. Start from the back of the head and it should pull out in one piece. Blanch prawns for 2 minutes or until just cooked through. Gently remove them from the water and plunge into iced water to stop the cooking. Once cool, transfer to a tray lined with paper towel to drain and pop into the fridge until ready to serve.
The most important thing about making aïoli is to choose a good oil. I prefer an oil that is nice and peppery with a good amount of spice, and that isn’t too fruity. Whatever your olive oil tastes like, that’s what your aïoli is going to taste like, so pick something delicious and you can’t go wrong. Aïoli can be made by hand with a whisk, but it’s far easier to make in a food processor. To make yours, combine egg yolks, egg , garlic, mustard, vinegar, 2 big pinches of salt and a tablespoon of water in a food processor and blitz to a smooth paste. With your oil in a small jug and the motor running, very slowly, drop by drop, start to emulsify your oil into the base.
You’ll see your aïoli start to form, take your time. What we’re doing here is forcing oil and water molecules to bond together to make a creamy emulsion. It takes a little time and a delicate touch. Just go slow, making sure the oil is incorporating. If it starts to get too thick, or look like it’s going to split, add a teaspoon of iced water. Once all your oil is incorporated, add your lemon juice and taste it. Now is the time to adjust to your preferences, it’s all about balance. Can you taste the garlic? Does it need more acid? If so add a little more lemon. Is it salty enough? If it’s too acidic, add a little more olive oil. Keep adjusting until you’re happy.
To assemble your platter, arrange your crudités around a large central bowl of aïoli, being sure to show off your prawns. Garnish with a few fresh wedges of lemon.