aspic. there’s a reason no one makes it anymore.

Hey kids!
I’m still on vacation, but here is a dooooozie for ya.
Jayne. As in, Jayne, The Barefoot Kitchen Witch.

I met Jayne on our trip up north. Yes, I know what she looks like, and, no, I’m not telling. She’s done a marvelous job of keeping herself well hidden! She’s so funny, so dedicated – and such a real kitchen she has!! I have pegboard envy, I do!!

I’d like to tell you that you are going to run right out and make her upcoming recipe, but well, ummm…let me just say it now.

Jayne? I told you so.

And now, I give you our guest blogger. Enjoy!! Thanks Jayne!

Attempting Aspic

Last week, in a moment of apparent weakness or desperation, Susan asked if I’d write a guest post for her this week. I asked if she’d been feverish lately, and when she said no, really, she was fine, she really was, I agreed to do it. I asked if there was anything in particular she’d like me to write about, and she said – and I quote – “Write about anything.”

Ohhh, Susan, you are regretting those words now, I’m sure.

For those of you who have no idea who I am – and no, I’m not a wacky relative taking advantage of blogging nepotism – I’m Jayne, and my main blog is Barefoot Kitchen Witch. Like Susan, I write about food and my family, among other things, I’m a member of Tuesdays with Dorie, and unknown to Susan, I have an evil streak a mile wide.

Not long ago, Susan wrote a post about making creme brulee, and said some pretty harsh things about flan (“congealed old milk”), and so initially I wanted to do a post about flan. Just ‘cuz. But I thought that would be kind of silly, since she’d just written about creme brulee and I had already recently written about flan. Enough with the egg custard stuff. She’d also mentioned, in the same paragraph of this post I’m talking about, that the only thing more hideous than flan would be aspic. “Aspic is like a big, fat mistake….Who thinks of crap like that?”

And it is for that reason that I decided to try my hand at making aspic.

Now, to make an aspic you need some sort of stock, to begin with. Beef, fish, chicken, pork, vegetable, or veal. Different animals’ bones produce different amounts of gelatin, so it’s sometimes necessary to add additional gelatin to create a successful aspic. Veal, I’ve read, provides a lot of gelatin, but I don’t happen to have any. I have a few varieties of chicken stock, some fish stock, clam broth, and crab stock, at the moment. Oh, and beef stock, too. I really should keep a list.

Anyway, I decided to go with the crab stock. It’s very flavorful stuff, because when we cooked the crabs that produced this stock, we used all sorts of seasonings, including some Old Bay. And as far as what to put IN the aspic (because what’s the point of aspic if you can’t suspend stuff in it?), I went with shrimp and vegetables, because, again, that’s what I’ve got on hand.

So, first thing – how do you make aspic? I purposely avoided Julia Child’s books, because, well, I was being lazy, and her recipes are so detailed you need a GPS to follow them. I googled “aspic recipe” and found one on AllSands.com. I haven’t tested this recipe, and in fact, as I type this, I haven’t even finished making my aspic – it’s chilling in the fridge. So I won’t even have an opinion about it until I’ve taken a picture of the final product. Exciting, huh?

Per the recipe, I needed the following basic ingredients:

4 cups of well-seasoned stock – check!

2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin – check!

3 room temperature egg whites – check!

I thawed two 2-cup bags of crab stock in separate pots, and then, even though it doesn’t say to at this stage of the game in the recipe, I strained the liquid, just in case any teeny tiny crab bits remained from when I froze it.

Next, as directed, I sprinkled, the gelatin over one 2-cup portion of the stock. You have to “bloom” gelatin before you can use it, and to do this you simply sprinkle the gelatin over some cold liquid – in this case, the stock – and let it sit for 5 minutes. During that five minutes, the dry gelatin particles absorb some of the liquid and soften. That’s blooming. Simple stuff, right?

While the gelatin bloomed, I separated my eggs and set the yolks aside for something else. (Maybe a flan…) Then I whisked the whites until they were frothy, as directed, and whisked the whites in with the other 2-cup portion of the stock.

By the way – and off topic a bit – I’ve been seeing this commercial on TV for an egg-cracking contraption, and I’m just curious, does anyone out there own one of these? The way the commercial plays, you’d think we’re all a bunch of incompetent ninnies with regard to egg crackage. My five-year-old daughter can successfully crack and even separate eggs with less angst than the miserable folks in this commercial. I have not once had to pick shell out of anything I’ve cooked. Why do these commercials have to tell us we’re helpless? It’s just an egg! Do we really need one more gadget? Hands work just fine! Really!

Okay, tiny rant over.
After the gelatin bloomed, I whisked the egg white and stock mixture into the gelatin and stock mixture and then heated the whole thing on medium high until it boiled. I was supposed to stir constantly, but I didn’t. Why stir at all? And what’s with the egg whites, anyway?

Well, I’ll tell you. The egg whites are there to attract any remaining proteins floating around in the stock. The whites act like…well, okay, try this analogy – you know when you have something packed in styrofoam? Like, oh, the Christmas village houses you finally got around to packing up last night? And you know how those tiny styrofoam balls break loose and, through the magic of static electricity, they stick to your fingers and clothes and you have to stand in the wake of a jet plane just to get them to STOP STICKING ALREADY!! – you know that? Well, the egg whites are like you, and all the tiny bits of protein are the styrofoam. And in this instance, that’s…to quote Martha…a good thing. And the stirring helps keep those tiny bits of protein moving around, so they’re more likely to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to the egg whites. Fewer tiny proteins = clearer aspic.

Egg whites, incidentally, are also used for this purpose sometimes in beer and wine making. Just thought I’d share that.

Anyway, you want to boil the stock mixture until, according to the recipe, “a dense foam appears.” This foam is the egg whites and the proteins. At this point you remove the stock from the stove and let it cool. The foam will stay foamy – it won’t dissolve back into the liquid – yay! And when it’s cooled (but not too cool, because you don’t want the gelatin to set up yet) you strain it to get rid of those ucky proteins once and for all. I used a very fine mesh strainer and a tight-weave cotton tea towel that I dampened first. I think that’s sort of what the article means by “cup towel.”

And just to keep this as up to the minute as possible, I just took my cooling stock out of the fridge, and sure enough, the foam is all huddled together in a big frothy mass, and the rest of the stock looks pretty clear. I’m going to strain it now – I’ll be right back.

~~~

I’m back. I actually let the stock get too cold – it started to set, so I’m warming it just for a moment on the stove, just enough so I can strain it. I am notorious for trying to multitask too many things at a time, and this is what happens. My aspic starts to set. Will I ever learn?

I got out 5 ramekins and brushed the bottoms of them lightly with oil. Then I ladled a little of the aspic into the ramekins and put them in the fridge to set. Twenty minutes later, I added two pieces of cooked shrimp arranged in the shape of a heart and some tiny bits of roasted red pepper, cut in heart shaped pieces, as garnish. A bit more aspic, then back into the fridge. One more addition of roasted red pepper and the last of the aspic, and back into the fridge until serving time.

My first victim was Alex. I’d dropped Julia off at a birthday party, and Bill had a faculty meeting, so it was just the two of us. I took one ramekin from the fridge, ran a knife around the edge of the aspic and warmed the ramekin in some hot water for a minute or so. Then I inverted a plate on the ramekin and flipped it over. I lifted the ramekin gingerly, hoping it would come out okay, and tilted it slightly, because that seems to help in situations like this.

Moments later, my shrimp in aspic slid out onto the plate, minus the first layer of aspic, which slid right off the shrimp and onto the side of the plate with a cloudy, gelatinous shiver. No matter, it still looked pretty enough without that layer, so I tossed that into the sink and proceeded with my garnishing. I took a few pictures, and then I summoned the boy.

“Alex!” I called. “Come here and try this!”

I did my best to sound enthusiastic. It would have helped if I had a plate of chocolate chip cookies instead of the aspic, but hey, life’s tough, kid. Sometimes you have to eat a little aspic.

Well, sometimes you do. And sometimes, you will do anything within your power NOT to eat it. Which is what my handsome little son did. He ran. He ducked. He sidestepped. He laughed at my offer to pay him a dollar if he had a taste, saying “I have plenty of dollars, Mom, I don’t need it.” I begged. I cajoled. I pleaded. All to no avail.

“But, Alex,” I said, ridiculously hopeful, “this is for my website (I meant Susan’s, but that would have taken too much explaining) – I have to let people know what you think!”

“Tell them I think I don’t want to try it,” he told me.

“You like jello, right?” I said brightly.

“No.” he said.

“Well, this is better!” I’m so lame.

Finally, by wearing him down, or appealing to his sense of pity, I got Alex to agree to one itsy bitsy little taste. He said he would touch a bit of the aspic with his tongue. I held out the spoon, which contained a bit of shrimp and a bit of aspic, and he – brave soul – touched the aspic portion with about a square half milimeter’s worth of his filiform papilae (the bumps on the tongue). And then he made a horrible face and ran from the room in a terror-stricken, zig-zag pattern.

Duly noted.

Bill arrived home a little later, after Alex had recovered. I switched back to my happy homemaker persona and asked “Care for some shrimp in aspic?” He looked at me dubiously, then looked cautiously around the room as thought the shrimp in aspic were hiding in the cupboards, ready to jump out at him. “Ohhhhkaaaaayyyy….” he agreed. I quickly plated up another of my concoctions – this time that first layer of aspic stayed put – and handed him a spoon.

He looked at the cloudy blob and looked at me with an expression very similar to Alex’s look earlier. Then, bravely, because he has taken that “for better or for worse” part seriously all these years, he spooned up one of the shrimp, greyish aspic clinging to it, and put it in his mouth.

Then he spun around and ran to the garbage can and…well…eliminated the aspic as best he could.

“That’s F***ing horrible!” he said. “I don’t think I ever want to eat that again.”

Two down.

I had hopes for Julia. She eats fish eyes, after all. Granted, seven o’clock in the morning isn’t optimum aspic-eating time, but fortunately she doesn’t care about stuff like that. I unmolded yet another of my concoctions and told her what it was. She was worried more about the little bits of red pepper. “Are they spicy?” “Oh, no! They’re the sweet kind.” I asked if she wanted to try a bite of the shrimp first. She nodded, and added “Just a little bite.” No problem. With the spoon, I cut one off about a third of one of the shrimp and scooped up a bit of the aspic. She ate that without a hitch, and then, when I asked her how it was…

She nodded, and gave it two thumbs up.

No, really, she did. Honest.

And then, when I asked her if she wanted the rest, she nodded and then…her head changed direction…and she was shaking it from side to side. “Mom,” she said sadly. “I hate to tell you this…but…I don’t like it.”

Okay. I surrender. Aspic was a big FAIL in our house. I don’t even know if I liked it or not. I think I wanted to like it…and I was pleased that I was kind of successful, though the aspic isn’t as clear as it should be. I liked my little two shrimp in the shape of a heart design, and the little tiny roasted red pepper hearts.

But.

Okay, unless someone actually hires me to do so, I won’t be making this again. Probably. Although there is a part of me that really wants to get it PERFECT, just once. Even if that perfectly clear aspic ends up in the trash. Or on the stove – the flavor wasn’t horrible…it was our own crab stock, after all. It was just…well, it was very weird to eat very cold crab stock, but it might taste better as a hot soup. But then..it wouldn’t be an aspic.

Okay, Susan. With regard to aspic, you win.

I should have done the flan post.

My flan rocks.

Comments

  1. Just like Kerri Buckley (above) I stumbled into this blog while searching for Aspic recipes. I do like aspic probably because I am french and have fond memories of pate and pressed meat from my youth in the 50’s. From what I remember the typical aspic was very stiff and clear golden gel. It should taste good if made from good ingredients and stock.