Aspic is savory meat gelatin made from consommé, clarified stock, or bone broth. It gets its jiggly texture when the consommé cools.
- Origins: Around since the late 1300s
- Other Names: Aspic jelly or aspic gelee
- Varieties: To make it vegetarian, avoid using gelatin.
What Is Aspic?
Aspic is essentially a thickened meat broth that turns into jelly when cooled. In France, it is known as chaud froid which means "hot cold" in French. This refers to foods that are prepared hot and served cold. Aspic was initially used for meat and poultry dishes. The meat sauce adds both moisture and flavor to foods and the gelatin consistency keeps the meat from being spoiled, by keeping out air and bacteria.
Aspic is used to set foods into a mold. The molded foods could be meats, vegetables, or eggs. The aspic mold is chilled, sliced, and served. The gelatin in aspic seals off oxygen and prevents bacterial growth.
While its most recent American heyday came to an end during the early 1960s, aspic has maintained its popularity in Russia and the countries of the former Eastern bloc, where it's regarded as a winter treat. Called kholodets, this meat-based aspic is made with pigs' feet and bones and often served with horseradish and vodka. Closer to home, tomato aspic is no stranger to those living well south of the Mason-Dixon line. Ask any southerner and you'll likely get a rave about a relative's tomato aspic or a turned-up nose.
How to Cook With Aspic
Making aspic at home is time-consuming, so some cooks speed the process along by adding gelatin to a basic clear stock. Choose your bones carefully and pick bones with plenty of cartilage. Pigs' feet and beef or pig knuckles work well, and so do chicken feet. The more tendons on the bones, the better.
Bring the bones to a boil and add thyme, parsley, onions, celery, and carrots. Boil gently for several hours. Remove the bones and strain the stock through cheesecloth. You may have to strain your broth several times because you want your aspic to be clear.
Pour the cooled stock into ramekins or molds. If you want, you can cut up vegetables, cooked chicken, fish, or meats and put them in the containers before you pour your stock. Refrigerate your aspic overnight.
Even if you don't set out to create an aspic, you still might find that you've made it incidentally. For instance, if you make a chicken soup and serve the cold chicken afterward, the gelatinized substance that clings to the chicken bones is essentially aspic, and that's what gives the cold chicken its flavor.
What Does It Taste Like?
If made from meat, aspic has a mildly meaty taste. It is usually served in thin slices. When you consume aspic, the heat from your mouth will melt the aspic. This forms a warm broth in your mouth that surrounds the food that has been placed in the aspic. When aspic is mixed with vegetable juices like tomato juice, it can taste like tomatoes and whatever other ingredients are in the gelatin (like vinegar, alcohol, etc.).
For a faster process, you can create aspic by adding unflavored gelatin to water or soup stock. If no meat is involved and it's a sweet aspic, substitute Jell-O. For a vegetarian option, you can create an aspic using agar, which does not include gelatin or meat by-products.
Where to Buy
Aspic is a hard food item to buy on its own. To buy something made in aspic, it's best to go to a European fancy food store. Gourmet shops and online retailers sell aspic molds, gelatin, and food items preserved in aspic. For example, premade foie gras is often made with a layer of aspic.
Aspic can be made ahead and stored in a refrigerator for two days. Cover your item so it doesn't absorb any odors from the fridge or get knocked into by something.