Referenced content taken from Gourmet’s online archives.
There are some foods that are meant to be eaten because they are covered in delicious goodness, and there are others where you aren’t sure if you’re to just look at them and think “aw, how cute” or actually tough and ingest them. Unfortunately, these treats were touched, consumed and written about in magazines and newspapers, and the recipes were handed down from mother to daughter. One such treat was published in Gourmet‘s July 1956 issue by Louis Diat entitled “Classes in Classic Cuisine: Aspics – I“. Until reading this article, I had no idea what an aspic was or even looked like. But a quick search told me all I needed to know.
A gelatin dish popular at church potlucks everywhere mid century garnered enough attention to be published in Gourmet as a classic. Julia Child herself included aspic in Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Julie Powell made four for dinner once. Suffice to say, I have never made aspic, and I’m not sure that The Gent would even let me unless I finally threw one of those vintage cookbook parties I’m always wanting to hold and used cheaper meats that wouldn’t mind being suspended in a bowlful of Jell-o.
Yes, Aspic is a meat based gelatin food. Yes, probably the ones that you are thinking of. Similar to those jellied salads with the carrots and celery suspended in limbo waiting for someone to come along and chomp mercilessly through. In all honesty, I usually think that these jellies are flavoured with regular Jell-o and sometimes I wonder if the flavours of artificial orange and carrot would go well together. Regardless, Diat says that:
Cold jellied dishes have always been popular in the great houses of Europe and wherever eating is considered a fine art, and there are extant pictures of elaborate molded masterpieces that date back to the early nineteenth century. These intricate designs look hours of painstaking work, and while they were most effective artistically, we would not today consider their artificial appearance very appetizing.
And art they are.
Diat’s suggestions for making aspic include both an easy kitchen way to create your masterpiece, and the professional chef’s way.
Easy Kitchen Aspic
Use 1 envelope of gelatin to congeal 1 ¾ to 2 cups of your liquid. Begin by softening the gelatin for five minutes in ¼ cup of cold liquid, and add 1 ½ cups boiling bouillon. The Boullion of course, being of your own making or your favourite kitchen variety.
The Trained Professional’s Aspic
Gelatin is created from the bones of an animal. Suggested are calves feet, veal shin bones or six or seven chicken’s feet in order to get the maximum amount of gelatin for your aspic. From this stock, the chef would add lean beef and egg white in order to clarify the aspic before adding ingredients, layering and cooling to the correct temperature.
Diat includes exaclty 14 recipes for different aspics in his article, and below are his exact instructions for creating this aristocratic … erm … treat(?).
Put in a large kettle 3 pounds each of beef bones and veal shin bones. 6 calf’s feet (above), 3 carrots, 3 onions and 3 leeks, all sliced, 1 stalk celery, 2 tablespoons salt and 2 gallons water. Bring the liquid to a boil, skim it and boil gently about 5 hours, skimming as needed. Strain the stock, cool it and remove the fat from the surface.
Clarify as fallows: Beat slightly 4 egg whites, mix them with 1 pound lean chopped beef and add the mixture to the cold broth. Add 12 peppercorns, 1 tablespoon salt, 4 sprigs each of tarragon and chervil, 6 sprigs of parsley and 1 bay leaf. Heat slowly, stirring constantly just until the boiling point is reached, and simmer the Stock very gently for 30 minutes.
Strain the stock through fine muslin and add 1 glass (4 ounces) Sherry or Madeira. If calf’s feet were not available, add to the hot strained broth 2 tablespoons gelatin softened in ½ cup cold water.
Chill the aspic. If it does not congeal, reheat it and add more gelatin. When ready to use, melt the aspic by reheating.