While living and cooking as a young chef in Spain, Jose Garces, who now leads more than a dozen restaurants in New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere, fell for the balanced flavors of the region. And when it came to classic tapas dishes like patatas bravas, he quickly learned an important lesson: "The sauce makes it—it's all about that combination of smoked paprika and garlic."
Back at home in the Northeast, he continued cooking and exploring how to deftly bring smoke and spice into all his kitchens. "When you put smoke into an ingredient, it's going to have a more robust, hearty flavor and more depth," he says. And there's no better way to showcase these flavors than with his smoked paprika aioli (see the recipe).
The key to applying smoked paprika to a traditional aioli, which is composed of egg yolk, garlic, lemon and vegetable oil, is subtlety: Too much paprika, and it overwhelms. When brought together with a skilled hand, Garces's aioli lends umami-rich comfort and offers big, bold flavors to light and hearty dishes alike.
"It transforms a dish altogether," he promises. Here are five ways to use this versatile sauce.
Classic Patatas Bravas
For this quintessential comfort dish, make a Spanish-inspired potato (try our double-cooked crispy potatoes with garlic, parsley and lemon). Right before serving, swipe a bit of smoked paprika aioli on the plate, then mound just enough potatoes for sharing. Dollop more aioli on top for maximum coverage.
A Soufflé like No Other
Eggs might just be the most magical food item on the planet, and the powerful yolks in Garces's aioli recipe work wonders of their own. When blasted in a broiler, the aioli puffs up like a soufflé, adding incredible flavor and crunch.
At Amada (locations in New York and Philadelphia), the chef uses this method in an open-faced application of piquillos rellenos: He stuffs red peppers with crab filling, layers them in a casserole dish and pours aioli over the peppers in a play on gratin, which gets baked at 500 degrees until it puffs.
To replicate this at home, whisk some crème fraîche or mayonnaise into the aioli to loosen it up a bit. Add lots of crabmeat and Manchego cheese to the sauce, and pour over anything your heart desires (maybe those Spanish-style potatoes). "Caramelize and create a crunch on top. When you crack through, it's creamy," Garces instructs.
Finish it off with toasted almonds for texture, and you've just won Sunday brunch.
Smoky Sandwich Spread
"There's an art to sandwich building," Garces begins, "and a part of my toolbox as I'm building the sandwich is this aioli type of sauce. This one is versatile—it's got the garlic and paprika that lend themselves to so many things."
Steak, pork, turkey and chicken work particularly well with his smoked paprika aioli, because they stand up to the garlic and smoke, and contrast well with the lemon (looking at you, Thanksgiving leftovers). For a grilled chicken sandwich, think layers of bacon, shredded romaine and Manchego. For steak, go sweet: "With caramelized onions, sliced tomatoes and this aioli, you're pretty much set. Maybe blue cheese, too," Garces says. Whichever your combo, consider using a baguette as your bread; the chew and crunch contrasts the creamy aioli particularly well.
Simple Sauce for Steamed Fish
For a lighter application, thin down two and a half cups of aioli with a quarter cup of water and the juice of one whole lemon. Then use it as a plate sauce for white flaky fish like hake or cod, or for simply steamed whole potatoes. Think simple sides, too, like steamed sautéed greens. The extra lemon adds brightness so as to not overwhelm the lighter ingredients, while the smoke and garlic add flavor to what might otherwise taste too neutral.
Prefer fattier fish like arctic char or salmon? Don't hesitate—the aioli holds its own.
Better Roast Vegetables
For a play on romesco (a Catalan roast pepper and almond sauce), thin the aioli with a little water and lemon juice. Chop and toast some almonds, then stir them in for texture. Add this sauce to grilled or roast vegetables, like cauliflower or charred asparagus. If vegetables are the main event, top with slices of avocado and chopped herbs. "It's about the highest-quality vegetable you can get; let that be the star and use the sauce as a backdrop of flavor and texture," Garces recommends.
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