Here’s a tribute to aspic: a savory, gelatin-like food made from meat or fish stock. A classic French dish created centuries before the day of commercial gelatin* it was very difficult to prepare. In the beginning, cooks relied on the natural gelatin found in the meat to make the aspic set. In modern times, unflavored gelatin is used to ensure success.
*Gelatin was made in ancient times by boiling the bones; powdered gelatin was invented in 1682 by Denis Papin. The concept of cooking it with sugar to make dessert dates to 1845 and an inventor named Peter Cooper.
Recipes dating back to the Middle Ages show that clarified meat broths were turned into transparent, savory jellies. To make aspic, beef, fish, pork or poultry is cooked slowly to make a dense consommé, which is strained and clarified with egg white until it is clear. The clarified broth is then molded, can be served sliced or diced, served with a salad or as a garnish with meat and fish.
In the days before refrigeration, aspic covering boned meat or fish kept the proteins from spoiling: The gelatin keeps out air and bacteria.
Vegetables, herbs, slices of meat or fish, sliced hard-cooked eggs and pieces of cheese can be added. Like the pretty Jell-O fruit molds that came much later, aspic was an opportunity for the cook to show off his or her creative skills.
There are also vegetable aspics, the most popular of which is tomato aspic, made with tomato juice and gelatin. Unlike regular conventional aspics, tomato aspic is opaque.
Aspic became popular in the early 20th century. Wealthy people had cooks who could spend the time to create them. Aspics were de rigeur on a buffet table.
But with the wane of heavy French cuisine in the 1960s, in favor of California cuisine and International fare, savory aspics faded away.
Make A Savory Aspic Or A Sweet Gelatin Mold
You can find recipes and create a classic recipe, but most Americans prefer sweetened gelatin molds. Try this classic, made with orange juice, pineapple juice, lemon juice, chopped oranges and shredded carrots—plus unflavored gelatin, sugar and salt. We like to add diced cucumber, celery and sliced radishes for crunch and reduce the sugar for more of a sweet-savory balance.
Gelatin molds are retro fun, and a cool dessert or snack in this hot weather. You can also serve it on the side with a green salad, or mound the salad on top of the sliced gelatin, as we showed in yesterday’s tip.
For classic savory aspics, take a look at:
Gazpacho Aspic, a variation on tomato aspic by Emeril Lagasse
Poached Salmon In Aspic
UPDATE: Dang it! Two days after we published this post, the orange-carrot recipe was removed from circulation—can’t imagine why! Here’s a similar recipe: