Sunday, October 11, 2009

Aspic, Headcheese and Other Nightmares

My grandmother could suspend any food in clear geletin. It was some kind of badge of honour for her. She absolutely loved a food unit called headcheese. It's not cheese. It's head parts floating in strange thickened jelly. My grandmother was really skinny but she still managed to suffer from gout. I loved telling people my grandmother had gout and teasing my grandmother about it because it was always something I associate with medeval robber barons or some wealthy royalty in the Rennaisance.

I always checked "behind the curtain" when my grandmother was cooking because she was evil in being able to make the most repulsive sounding body parts and food taste amazing. And I used to try and avoid any scary food I thought she was smuggling into my system.

The scariest thing my grandmother cooked...who I must really qualify was an amazing chef...but like a lot of great chefs they love making scary food...

Sorry...about tangent ...but the scariest thing my grandmother made was a real party favourite with her girlfriends and her when they played bridge. When my grandmother had a bridge party the dreaded jelly salad was not far away. Jelly salad. Doesn't that just sound wrong? My grandmother had one ridiculous recipe she made which had avacados, lime jello, marshmellows and god knows what else. I'm not making thisup. It was something she found in a magazine in the 1960's. I ate it...but it was hideous. And my sister and I have been known to fall on the floor laughing remembering this hideous salad. Some day I'm going to surprise my sister and show up at her door with this nightmare party favour.

And this bloody salad came to my memory this week when we met up for book club this week. We all met up at a friends house to discuss YouTube movie Kymatica. (click on hyper text to watch all 9 segments. We had a potluck dinner together before our discussion, very nice). I made some pesto...but I also made some deviled eggs. I had the clear container especially designed above for transporting deviled eggs. Yeah, really, they make containers for deviled eggs. It was funny because I took public transit and everyone was staring at these deviled eggs and smiling. When I got downtown to transfer a homeless guy asked "Are those deviled eggs?" I said, "Yep" and he said" I love deviled eggs" And I said, "Well you better have one then". I thought of my grandmothers crazy jelly salad because I wasn't sure if my container was for transporting deviled eggs or setting aspic. It's probably for eggs because it's so huge and thin...but I could easily imagine that Green jello/avacado/marshmellow salad in it. Shudder.

Aspic is a dish in which ingredients are set into a gelatin made from a meat stock or consommé. It is also known as cabaret.
When cooled, stock made from meat congeals because of the natural gelatin found in the meat. The stock can be clarified with egg whites, and then filled and flavored just before the aspic sets. Almost any type of food can be set into aspics. Most common are meat pieces, fruits, or vegetables. Aspics are usually served on cold plates so that the gel will not melt before being eaten. A meat jelly that includes cream is called a chaud-froid. Historically, meat jellies were made before fruit and vegetable jellies. By the Middle Ages at the latest, cooks had discovered that a thickened meat broth could be made into a jelly. A detailed recipe for aspic is found in Le Viandier, written in around 1375.
Aspic is an ingredient rather than a dish. Aspic, made from clarified stock and gelatin, is used for many things; it can be used as a binder to hold other ingredients together in terrines, or sealers in such foods as pate en croute.

Deviled eggs
The origin of deviled eggs can't be attributed to one specific person, company, date or town. It is a culinary amalgam of history and taste. The concept of deviled eggs begins with Ancient Rome. Spicy stuffed eggs were known in 13th century Andalusia. The name is an 18th century invention.

Not long after the Ancient Greeks and Romans domesticated fowl, egg dishes of all kinds figured prominently in cookery texts. Eggs were eaten on their own (omelets, scrambled) and employed as congealing agents (custard, flan, souffles). The ancestor of deviled eggs? Ancient Roman recipes for boiled (to various degrees) eggs served with spices poured on top:

"Boiled eggs. Are seasoned with broth, oil, pure wine, or are served with broth, pepper and laser."
--Apicius: Cooking and Dining in Imperial Rome, edited and translated by Joseph Dommers Vehling [Dover:New York] 1977 (p. 180)
"Soft-boiled eggs," The Classical Cookbook, Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger [J.Paul Getty Museum:Los Angeles] 1996 (p. 177)
---features pine kernels, lovage, celery leaf, fish sauce, honey, white wine vinegar, and black pepper

"Pine nut sauce for medium-boiled eggs," A Taste of Ancient Rome, Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa, translated by Anna Herklotz [University of Chicago:Chicago] 1992 (p. 47)
---features medium boiled eggs, pine nuts, vinegar, honey, pepper & lovage

The first recipes for stuffed, hard-boiled were printed in medieval European texts. These cooks stuffed their eggs with raisins, cheese and sweet spices. Platina's De Honesta Voluptate [15th century Italian text] instructs cooks thusly:

"28. Stuffed eggs
Make fresh eggs hard by cooking for a long time. Then, when the shells are removed, cut the eggs through the middle so that the white is not damaged. When the yolks are removed, pound part with raisins and good cheese, some fresh and some aged. Reserve part to color the mixture, and also add a little finely cut parsley, marjoram, and mint. Some put in two or more egg whites withspices. When the whites of the eggs have been stuffed with this mixture and closed, fry them over slow fire in oil. When they have been fried, add a sauce made from the rest of the egg yolks pounded with raisins and moistened with verjuice and must. Put in ginger, cloves, and cinnamon and heat them a little while with the eggs themselves. This has more harm than good in it."
---Platina: on the Right Pleasure and Good Health, Critical edition and translation of De Honesta Voluptate et Valetudine, Mary Ella Milham [Medival & Renaissance Texts & Studies:Tempe AZ] 1998
The Making of Stuffed Eggs, An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the 13th Century, translated by Charles Perry

The practice of hard boiling eggs was popular in Tudor England: "By the later sixteenth century the boiling of eggs in their shells in water had become a common practice. Prepared thus they were more digestible that roasted eggs; but less so than poached eggs, which always earned the highest praise form the medical men."

---Food and Drink in Britain, C. Anne Wilson [Academy Chicago Publishers:Chicago] 1991 (p. 144) From The Food Timeline

Speaking of scary...that is our dinner above simmering away. It's poached chicken in za'atar and beer. Just throw together sumac, ground black sesame seeds, kosher organic sea salt and thyme. Yum!

Related Links:

1) Hideous recipe for Green Jelly Salad...
2) Avacado lime jello recipe, gag...
3) Jello-Salad
4) More scary Granny recipes...


Gardenia said...

This post is making me smile, big time! My grandma, too, cooked wierd things - but I thought they were normal at the time. Pickled beef tongue. The first time "H" saw a tongue compelte with taste buds boiling in a pot, I thought he would croak on the spot.

Headcheese - yes, my grandma too, only I never ate it - something about the congealed stuff. The Avocado, marshmallow, etc. salad makes me giggle.

Fascinating history with boiled eggs - its tempting to try the recipe with the sauce just ot see what happens!

Fun post! My favorite granny recipe which I love but refrain from is fresh garden lettuce, young and tender, drenched in warm bacon grease with a little vinegar and sugar, lots of salt and pepper - oh my!

So - how did the poached chicken turn out - it sounds good, but the pic looks kind of weird like the ratatouille pic I posted with the slimy looking eggplant strips.....


Bloggerboy FFM said...

Head cheese. My entire life I've had family members who enjoyed those thinly-sliced suspended meat dishes. Every down-to-earth restaurant here offers such a cold plate. I've tried them once or twice, but they don't do much for me. Head cheese is a terrible name. I saw a documentary about how that stuff is produced, and it primarily comes from pig cheeks (jowls), a fairly lean cut.

Ever heard of the King Crimson album "Larks Tongues in Aspic"? It is a great, if sad, album.

mister anchovy said...

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

Wandering Coyote said...

This is a great post Candy! I especially loved the first line, "My grandmother could suspend any food in clear geletin." LOL! That killed me! Aspic is just evil and I never understood it, yet it always showed up at church dinners! I do love deviled eggs, though!

Janet said...

My grandmother loved making aspic...and lime jello with pears & maraschino cherries LOL, among many other things!