Olive sauce

What's gonna happen

There are people in this world who have a fear of olives, like my little sister. For that, I am sorry. Because such people will never taste this sauce, and there is certainly no way to get around olives in this recipe.

The distinctive flavors of raw garlic and shallots and anchovies balance well with the briny olives. It's the olive oil that adds lightness to the bold flavors. The most important elements of this sauce come from the bright acidity of the lemon, which cuts through the saltiness and sharpness of the raw garlic and shallot, and the parsley, which adds a necessary grassy freshness. Treat this sauce like a vinaigrette - crushing and combining the solid ingredients first before adding the liquid ingredients.

I like to use this sauce over a light-bodied fish, like an arctic char or skate wing, and alongside roast chicken, pork tenderloin or vegetables. With leftovers, I replace traditional tuna or chicken salad fillings with this sauce; so, you simply mix drained canned tuna or chicken with any remaining sauce. As a note, you probably don't want to make out with anyone after eating this sauce, but most of the best foods are like that.

What to know

I probably use a mortar and pestle once a day. I grind seeds and spices, I crush herbs and nuts into pestos, I pound dried corn into meal (nerd alert), I make bases for sauces and dressings, etc. While you can totally use a food processor for just about anything that involves a mortar and pestle, for me, there is something irresistible about the physicality of using it. I like how people have been using a mortar and pestle for millennia, and that the recipe you're preparing instantly takes on a charming rusticity. The true advantage, beyond my personal quirks, comes from a heightened control in texture. You can see exactly what's happening, and it's a lot more difficult to overmix or overpulse.

What you need

1/2 cup green olives, like Spanish- or Greek-style, crushed and chopped

1/2 clove garlic, minced

1/2 small shallot, minced

2 anchovies, finely chopped

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

1 lemon, zest and juice reserved

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

How it works


Place chopped olives, minced garlic, minced shallots and chopped anchovies into a mortar and pestle and crush the ingredients into a rough paste.

Using a spatula, scoop the mixture into a mixing bowl or desired serving vessel. 

Whisk in lemon juice until combined.

Drizzle olive oil into bowl slowly while whisking vigorously until the mixture is completely emulsified. Add zest and parsley and stir. Season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Serve at room temperature or cool. If removing from the refrigerator, you'll need to stir in order to re-emulsify before serving.

Illustration by Robert F. Alvarez