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The Big One


One recent sunny Sunday, we went to Alain Giraud's Los Angeles home for a Big Aioli.

Giraud, born in Paris, raised in the South of France, is the chef of Lavande in Santa Monica, former chef of Citrus in Los Angeles and the veteran of several two-star restaurants in France. Aioli is a garlic mayonnaise (the name comes from the Catalan language of northeastern Spain, where all--changed to ai in French--means garlic and oli is oil).

Aioli-the-meal began as a modest Friday dinner, consisting of boiled potatoes and a piece of poached cod, with aioli as a sauce. Le Grand Aioli is that same basic Friday meal elevated into a feast with many more vegetables and maybe andouiette and/or chicken, rabbit, shrimp--whatever aioli tastes good with, which is practically everything.

The Giraud home looks like any number of nicely kept California Mission revival stucco houSes. Inside, however, it's pure Provence, with white plastered walls, French antiques, pine tables. Katherine Giraud has a Provencal fabric importing business; windows, tables and pillows are dressed in bright Provencal prints in blue, white and bistro yellow.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday January 27, 1999 Home Edition Food Part H Page 9 Food Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
In "The Big Aioli" (Jan. 20), there was a discrepancy between the story's description of how Alain Giraud made his aioli and the recipe. The recipe is correct: 2 cloves of garlic and 3/4 cup of oil per each of the 4 eggs used.

A few guests wander off to sit outside in Parisian park chairs on the small walled patio off the living room. There, papyrus sprouts from a small pond where several goldfish drift. A ficus provides leafy shade. The culinarily curious, however, crowd into the small, jam-packed Giraud kitchen to watch the chef at work.

Giraud is a handsome, sparkly-eyed, sturdy Frenchman whose good nature and high humor seem to increase under pressure--at least here, in the comfort of his own home. "You'd say something else if you saw him on the job," says his friend Patrick Kuh dryly. Kuh is a former sous-chef to Giraud and has come today to help him cook.

The kitchen, however small, is a main thoroughfare in the house. Giraurd's two children, Camille and Antonin, run in and out. Guests squeeze in to get a cup of coffee, a refill on water or wine. The stove top is covered with pots and pans--lots of things need to be boiled: eggs, potatoes, an entire produce section of vegetables and, of course, the salt cod, which comes out of the refrigerator, where it's been soaking in water for more than a day.

Salt cod, or bacalao, has been exported to Mediterranean countries by northern traders since the Middle Ages. "Christopher Columbus ate it all across the Pacific," says Giraud. "You must soak it a minimum of 24 hours and change the water a lot--at least four times."

Giraud rinses the cod and carefully sets each nice thick wedge in a deep Calphalon saute pan. "You can buy the fish at Portuguese and Italian markets," he says. "There are various qualities, but the thicker it is, the better."

He pours fresh water over the cod until it is covered by an inch and adds bay leaves and sprigs of thyme. He turns on the heat and brings it to a boil. The cod must simmer for eight minutes. Although there is an hour or more before dinner, it's fine to cook the cod now and either warm it briefly later, or serve it at room temperature.

"You're not worried it'll get overcooked?" I ask.

"Everything in a traditional aioli is overcooked," Giraud says cheerfully. "It's a country dish. There are none of your California blanched vegetables!"

He turns next to making socca batter. Socca is a simple pancake made from chickpea flour, water and oil, with a bit of salt and thyme for seasoning. The batter must sit for half an hour before frying. Since chickpea flour varies (this flour Giraud purchased at a Middle Eastern market), you may have to add a little more water, but start with the amount in the recipe and wait until it sits before adding more.

While the socca batter sits and Kuh steams various vegetables (broccoli, carrots, green and wax beans for starters), Giraud turns next to the aioli itself. He uses eight cloves of garlic and 3/4 cup of oil per egg. He peels the garlic and, slicing open a clove, points to the green "germ."

"In the spring, it is important to remove this," he says.

"Why?" I ask.

"It has a sour taste," Giraud says. "And I've heard it can give you cancer."

Kuh, at the stove, laughs out loud. "Such quintessential French thinking," says Kuh, an Austrian. "It tastes bad--oh, and by the way, it also can kill you."

"Of course! We know what really matters," Giraud agrees, laughing, then returns to his demonstration.

"You first make a paste of the garlic. In the restaurant, we do everything by hand with a knife, chop the garlic very, very finely until it's almost transparent. That takes a very long time. And you have to do it fresh the day you use it because the garlic won't keep. Here, which is better, we'll pound it in a mortar in the traditional way." Giraud pounds, having wrapped a twisted tea towel around the base of the mortar to keep it from traveling. He smiles slyly. "I'll make a confession," he says in confidential tones. "This is the first time I've ever pounded it."

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