The reductive pleasure of this very simple meal is hard to convey. Plain poached cod surrounded by plain blanched haricots verts, asparagus, English peas and little beets. I would have liked baby carrots but we had a bag of the large workhorse variety so I cut them up and didn’t give it a second thought. Baby turnips and long French radishes would also have been elegant, modern and springlike but I came from 2 hours of standing in the fiercely cold rain for kid soccer and when I got to the market I just wanted to get out and get home. Fancy vegetables can wait for next time. (Believe me, there will be a next time) The glory of le Grand Aioli is of course the aioli, with its velvety opulent burn. Seriously, it takes less than 2 minutes to make. After demolishing the plate of fish and vegetables, which we plunged into the aioli, we went through half a loaf of toasted Colombia bread that had been slicked with a very green olive oil, spreading silky aioli over it thickly too. After that, I nabbed all the crusts of this excellent bread from the plates of my children (what a drag it will be when the kids figure out this is actually the best part) and wiped the little aioli bowl clean. It was that kind of dinner.
Of course, in my mind le Grand Aioli is meant to be enjoyed on a sunny terrace, cracked granite underfoot with a glass of very cold very crisp mineral-y white wine and white threadbare very soft linen napkins somewhere in the south of France or in a garden in England under a trellis of lilacs on an unseasonably warm late spring afternoon. We ate at our dining room table with a perfectly lovely Malbec my dad brought over and 3 children who initially complained bitterly about the meal and then suddenly ate everything in sight. And the sun came out too. I credit the aioli.
Le Grand Aioli – serves 4
You will have to make a court bouillon but most likely you have all the ingredients stored anyway. It’s very quick. Start with the court bouillon and everything else will fall into place.
- 2 pints water
- 2 carrots
- 1 large onion
- 1 stick of celery
- 2 cloves
- 7 peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp sea salt
- 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
In a large non-reactive saute pan with a lid (unless you are one of those people who owns a fish poacher in which case now is the time to haul it out), combine all of the ingredients and bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 20 minutes. Now it is ready to use.
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 clove garlic smashed in a mortar and pestle with 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
- freshly ground pepper
- 1 cup vegetable oil (or 3/4 cup vegetable oil, 1/4 olive oil – I find all olive oil to be too strong)
Place all ingredients in the tall narrow cylindrical container that comes with an immersion blender and blend for a few seconds until the oil is emulsified and the aioli is thick.
If you have no immersion blender, this can also be done in a food processor or blender, in which case you must leave out the oil and very slowly in a very thin stream add it to the rest of the ingredients as the blades are spinning.
- 4 ounces haricots verts
- 1/2 pound asparagus, rinsed and trimmed
- 1 pound English peas in their pods, remove their pods
- 4 little beets
- Baby carrots, peeled and greens trimmed short — or big carrots, peeled and cut to the size of a baby carrot.
1 1/2 lbs skinned cod fillet
Consider also baby turnips, radishes, small potatoes (fingerling), baby artichokes, spring onions. Next time I make this, it’s going to be crazy and even more beautiful. You can also include quartered boiled eggs and garnish with parsley. I was too cold and too tired to do this.
Fill a 4 quart saucepan with water, cover and bring to a rolling boil. Add 2 tbsp sea salt and start blanching vegetables in batches. If you plan to steam the beets, set up a steamer alongside.
Scrub the beets and trim their tails and tops. The beets take longer especially if you prefer to roast them as I do: 1 1/2 – 2 hours in a 400F oven, wrapped in foil, but they can also be steamed and then peeled. I would steam them for 15-20 minutes if they are small.
The haricots verts, asparagus and English peas will take 2-4 minutes in the boiling water. Carrots take 2-5 minutes depending on their diameter. Start checking everything after 2 minutes. Blanch everything separately so you can carefully control when it is perfectly done. The vegetables should be crisp tender. A device called a spider is useful here, for fishing everything out quickly at the right time.
After boiling these tender green vegetables, it is nice to dump them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. I have no ice maker so I pull them a little early and lay them in one layer on a rimmed sheet pan on a dish towel.
As the vegetables are cooking (they’ll be served room temperature), bring the court bouillon to a simmer and lay the cod in it. It will not cover the fish. Put a lid on the pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the cod to sit in the broth until you’ve finished the vegetables. About 15 minutes.
Carefully remove the fish to a large white platter that can accommodate it with all the vegetables. Serve with toasted crusty bread that has been slicked with olive oil and the aioli. A little dish of coarse sea salt would be lovely for sprinkling over everything.