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Oil and garlic


Spaniards love their food. They are convinced that it is the best in the world. The Spanish talk about food a lot.

There is a movement in Catalunya for independence from Spain which does not sit well with most non Catalans. As a result lots of Catalan achievements are disparaged by other Spaniards but nobody had a bad word to say about those nice Roca brothers when their restaurant in Girona was recently chosen as the best in the world.

One of the traditional dishes from Cartagena and the Mar Menor area is caldero which is basically a slushy rice and fish stock dish. Three of us were talking, in a gruff voiced, manly, sort of way about caldero. I asked whether the alioili or al-i-oli usually served alongside the rice is a vital ingredient or not. Just for the moment think of alioli as garlic mayonnaise. The atmosphere stiffened when one said yes and the other no. My father and I used to have a similar discussion about the pros and cons of lamb with or without mint sauce

I hadn't realised where I was going with my innocent question but this led to a couple of full grown men arguing the pros and cons of various alioli recipes. Later I Googled for the truth. The fact is there is controversy; there are various truths.

My main informant described a simple alioli production process of adding three or four garlic cloves to an egg and then mixing the whole lot up with a hand blender whilst slowly adding olive oil until everything emulsified. A sister, or it may have been sister in law, used milk in place of eggs, non traditionalists used sunflower oil because it was easier to digest. I learned that anyone who still makes their alioli in the traditional pestle and mortar style is unlikely to take the easy option of adding egg but is also likely to expire of old age because the process of getting the ingredients to emulsify is so long and laborious. Anyway only dinosaurs don't use blenders and egg to hasten the process.

I wanted to keep up with my end of the conversation so I chipped in that near Culebrón, in Petrer, the restaurant la Sirena is well known for its varieties of alioli. There different varieties of garlic in different states are blended with oil and natural flavours to produce hundreds of different aliolis. Hmm? said the two, almost in unison They were sure that food preparation and handling legislation prevents restaurants from using anything but factory produced alioli because of the potential for salmonella infections from the home produced stuff.

I bet that, at la Sirena, just like in the traditional pestle and mortar households there is no egg so no salmonella. And though I don't suppose there is a lot of caldero in Catalunya can you imagine those Roca boys spooning packet alioli all over their carefully crafted dishes?

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