In Dorothy Peel’s My Own Cookery Book, (1923), we are told how to make aspic and savoury jellies. As a child on summer holidays with great grandparents in Murray Bay, Canada, I remember sitting in front of aspic moulded into an oval shape, within which was a pretty picture of half a boiled egg with finely sliced vegetables surrounding it, seen through the perfectly clear jelly. I am afraid that though it holds visually fond memories, they are not palatably fond. I also remember a finger bowl being placed beside us with a pansy floating in it. One of us ate the pansy, though I can’t remember who!
In the words of Granny Dot
‘1 1/2 pints of meat stock; 1/2 gill of tarragon vinegar and malt vinegar mixed; the strained juice of 1 lemon; 1 onion (sliced); 1/2 teaspoonful of salt; 2 oz. of gelatine; the white and shell of 1 egg; parsley; 8 peppercorns; 1 gill of water.
Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and whisk steadily over the fire until boiling. Simmer without stirring for 5 minutes. Just move away the froth so that the liquid can pour clear and strain through a jelly bag or clean cloth wrung out in boiling water. Strain a second or third time if needs be until the liquid runs clear. Leave to set.’
(My Own Cookery Book, 1923, Mrs C.S. Peel)
The first time I made this, I did not know whether the stock I took from the freezer was fish or chicken. It turned out to be fish and the friends who came for dinner loved it (photo above). They said it reminded them of oysters (must have been fish stock!). When I made the same with chicken stock, it was not as popular, so fish is my preference. I think homemade is essential. Traditionally, a calf’s foot is used to make aspic, but I have simply followed the instructions of my great great granny which do not involve feet of any kind. (I did however pick up a couple of pig’s trotters last week in the Women’s Institute so will have a go using them next time.)
Makes 8 shallow moulds as photographed above.
1 1/2 pints stock plus 142 mls water
142mls vinegar (white wine, tarragon, sherry)
2 egg whites and shells
1/2 tsp salt
sprig of parsley
1 onion sliced
Juice of 1 lemon
A few peppercorns
6 sheets of gelatine (softened by soaking in cold water for 5 mins)
1. Put all of the ingredients in a pan and stir them gently with a balloon whisk until the mixture begins to boil. Remove the whisk.
2. Do NOT break the crust that has formed on top.
3. Remove the pan from the heat and let the bubbles subside.
4. Leave for 2 minutes and then bring it to the boil again, and again remove it from the heat and leave it for 2 minutes.
5. Peak at the liquid under the crust and if it is not clear, repeat this. If it is still not clear, strain the mixture through a muslin and put it back on the heat with a fresh egg white and shell. Repeat the whole process until it is clear, strained through a muslin.
6. Now pour it into a mould and let it set in the fridge.
7. If you would like to prettify it, then pour some of the liquid aspic into a mould (I used ramekins) and leave it to set for a couple of hours before adding brown shrimp, finely chopped tomato, chives, or whatever you like.
8. Pour more aspic on top so that the ‘decorations’ are covered. You may need to get a toothpick or chopstick or something to push the ‘decorations’ back in place if they are displaced by the liquid.
9. Carefully put the moulds back in the fridge for another 3 hours or so to set.
10. To turn out, put the mould in boiling water for about 10 seconds to loosen it, before putting a serving plate on top of it and tipping it over to remove it from the mould.
I have made this 3 times and the second attempt was a disaster. During the third attempt I used two or three additional egg whites, determined to conquer the clarification process. I finished with an aspic satisfyingly clearer than ever. So, if something goes wrong, strain it and re-heat with another egg white and shell. Once is has boiled up and formed a crust, remove it from the heat and leave it for a few minutes to give it a chance to clarify itself. I think you’ll find it will.