Low Aspic-tations

I've had my heart set on making a terrine ever since I read the short story, Bobcat, by Rebecca Lee. It's a beautifully written story that takes place during a dinner party the narrator is hosting. Read the below and tell me you're not the least bit curious in the terrine-making process. Lee makes it sound both romantic and revolting, both imperative and ridiculous.

"It was the terrine that got to me. I felt queasy enough that I had to sit in the living room and narrate to my husband what was the brutal list of tasks that would result in a terrine: devein, declaw, decimate the sea and other animals, eventually emulsifying them into a paste which could then be riven with whole vegetables. It was like describing to somebody how to paint a Monet, how to turn the beauty of the earth into a blurry, intoxicating swirl, like something seen through the eyes of the dying."

And so while I've showcased a few other recipes from David Tanis's A Platter of Figs, the photographs and recipe of his jellied chicken terrine is what originally sold me on the bookI had just been waiting for hot enough weather to make it. Isn't this the most beautiful picture?

David Tanis's version:
"Two caveats:" Tanis says in the intro to the recipe. "You have to like aspic, and you have to make it the day before you serve it." Aspic? It rang a bell, but what exactly was Mr. Tanis talking about? I looked the word up. Aspic: a savory jelly, often made with meat stock, used as a garnish, or to contain pieces of food such as meat, seafood, or eggs, set in a mold. So, you must like savory jelly that houses pieces of food to enjoy this dish. I'd never had a savory jelly that housed anything before.

Perhaps you are wondering, but what is a terrine then? Well, I looked that up too. Terrine: a meat, fish, or vegetable mixture that has been cooked or otherwise prepared in advance and allowed to cool or set in its container, typically served in slices. Without mention of the gelatinous part, this definitely describes the cold jellied chicken as well. So, an aspic by definition seems to be a terrine, but a terrine may not necessarily be an aspic?

Of all my recent, intense attempts, I was weirdly excited about this one. It just seemed so epic and foreign to me. Savory jelly? This was going to be a real food adventure. Yet my excitement was not infectious. Those I relayed my aspic plans to responded with half-frowns and general non-enthusiasm. "But have you tried an aspic before?" I asked each person.
"You might love it!"I was like the aspic spokesperson.
And though I had originally planned for Matt and me to test the aspic by ourselves, egged on by everyone's blind aspic assumptions and a little bit by Tanis's suggestion to enjoy this labor of love with friends who'll appreciate it, I decided to invite over a couple of our braver foodie friends who I thought would "get it" if not maybe, (possibly?) even like it.

It wasn't until after the invite had been extended and accepted that I actually began to make it, and also when I began to really doubt the aspic's tastiness myself. I mean, here's the thing, it is a lot like making chicken soup—lots of simmering and straining and chopping of herbs and vegetables. But then, who wants their chicken soup cold and molded?

While waiting for the broth to chill completely in the refrigerator before the final simmer and adding of gelatin, I called my grandma to tell her what I was up to. I thought she might reassure me by saying something like: Aspic? Yummerzz! 
But the conversation went more like this:
"Grandma! I'm making an aspic!"
"A tomato aspic?"
"No, a cold, chicken one."
"Mom told me you liked aspics, Grandma."

It was too late to stop me at that point. And Matt and I were already knee-deep in an aspic pun game with our friends via email (i.e. "Are you going to be using the Lumix for the photos, or do you want us to bring our camera so you can try a different aspic ratio?" -Jodi) to cancel aspic night.

The prevailing attitude became: Let's just get through this. And although I stand by the experience and the outcome, I think I can say, fully and without reservations, I do not like aspics.

our version:
Tanis says to serve the jellied chicken with soft-center hard-cooked eggs, which he seems pretty serious about"Simmer for nine minutes exactly."—and butter lettuce leaves.
The bottom line: Clear aspic, full plates, CAN lose. (p.s. I love Friday Night Lights.)
What the aspic has taught me: texture and temperature account for a lot. When I was simmering and tasting the broth to adjust the salt level, it was deliciouseven tastier than most homemade broths I've made. I guess I just don't want my chicken soup cold and jellied. Maybe if I'd grown up eating aspics, I would feel differently. I don't know. The eggs were delicious though. I wrapped them in the butter lettuce and dipped the little roll into mayonnaiseafter all, we had to eat something.

But hey, if you've never tried an aspic, don't let me decide for you. All things considered, I was thrilled when I lifted the terrine dish and saw this shiny, plastic-like square tube with pieces of chicken floating in it. But as far as taste goes... all aspics were bad. Zing!!

Jellied Chicken Terrine via A Platter of Figs

5 pounds whole chicken legs (with thighs)
2 cups dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1 small celery stalk, plus 2 tablespoons finely chopped celery leaves
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon peppercorns
salt and pepper
1 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons finely chopped tarragon
1 bunch scallions, slivered
1 tablespoon capers, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 or 3 heads butter lettuce, leaves separated, washed, and dried
6 soft-center hard-cooked eggs

Remove the skin from the chicken legs. Put them in a heavy-botomed pot with water just to cover. Add the white wine, bay leaf, celery stalk, garlic, coriander, peppercorns, and a good spoonful of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Skim off and discard any surfacing fat and foam. Simmer the chicken legs until they are tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the legs and set aside to cool. Leave the broth at a low simmer.
When the legs are cool enough to handle, tear the meat from bones. Return the bones to the simmering broth and cook the broth for another 30 minutes.
Roughly chop the chicken meat and put it in a bowl. Add the parsley, chopped celery leaves, tarragon, scallions, and capers. Season with salt and pepper and a pinch of cayenne. Mix well, and transfer to a 2-quart terrine or deep serving dish and refrigerate. Strain the broth through a fine-meshed sieve, then put it in the refrigerator to cool completely.
When the broth is completely chilled, remove any congealed fat from the surface. Pour the broth (it will be partially jelled) into a pot. Be careful not to include the sediment that has settled at the bottom. Heat to just under a simmer. Taste for salt and adjust, then turn off the heat.
Soften the gelatin in the white wine vinegar and then dissolve in the broth. Allow the broth to cool to room temperature, then ladle it over the hciken. Cover and refrigerate overnight so that the terrine sets completely.
To serve, invert the terrine onto a large platter and unmold. Surround with leaves of butter lettuce and halved or quartered hard-cooked eggs.
Serves 8 or 10.


Anonymous said...

This was a super fun experiment, but altogether the meal was kinda aspicable. XOXO
- matt

Jodi said...

I went in with my hopes high and my puns flowing...but sadly, though flavors were great, cold gelatinous chicken soup was not for me. The company though, excellent!

Danielle (elleinadspir) said...

Huge props for trying it and for even making it. Looks beautiful....and gross. No way I'm following it. Sorry. Reading about it was plenty for me!

Jessica said...

Thanks for another great post! Will have to check out Bobcat -- sounds amazing. As always, love your writing, if not the jellied meat :-)

- Jess

Andrea said...

How long have you been waiting to weave a riff on "clear eyes..." into a post? Well done.

I admire your sense of adventure, and the photos are actually really nice.

penelope said...

It sounds aspic-ially bad. ZING? !!

Megan Taylor said...

Oh totally reminds me of 'Julie and Julia'! Yours looks great, by the way!

Amelia Morris said...

penelope: bravo, major ZING.

mary anne: nice try. ;)

Mary Anne said...

p.s. ZING.

Laurin said...

Wow, I'm glad you made this so I never am tempted to make it own my own. It does look beautiful though.

Sofya @ The Girl's Guide to Buns and Gutter said...

I love, love, love aspic! Though my husband says, he has a hard time eating something with "that name." Anyhow, in the old country, people would boil a cow's head (headcheese-style), then chill the stock which would give you aspic - LOVE IT!!!! Or eat it hot for breakfast the next morning with lots of garlic and vodka. You knew you were not in Kansas anymore. Not that I'd been to Kansas at that point.

Amelia Morris said...

sofya: hot aspic with garlic and vodka?? i am speechless.

Unknown said...

"Clear aspic, full plates, CAN lose." might be the best food blog line I've ever read. Well done. That's hilairous!

brooke said...

I come from germany where cold cuts of aspic are served ratehr often. as a kid I used to Hate this. seriously it look icky and I wanted my chicken soup hot and my jelly sweet. Then I had a kid and was stuck in teh hospital for 4 days and they served well aspic for dinner. And since then I love it. Now you had a french recipe I understadn and that may be different but I can tell you from your fotos right off teh first thing that turned out *wrong* and that is the consistency. Basically a sülze (a dish where you put meat in aspic let it cool and eat it preferrably on bread possibly with eroupean butter) is a way to stretch your money it also will provide you with a relatively calorie low way of serving a nice cut of meat over a couple of days probably normally used for leftovers. SO what you are looking for is a consistency like jello or firmer. you wnat to be able to cut it in neat slices. anotehr great way to utilize the flavor if you liked it to that extend is when you make a buffet you can coat little breads with meat on them and that way keep them a bit longer. The real problem is (but that also work once you start eating it in your favor: if it is too warm it will melt basically marinating the meat in the flavor of your aspic.

If you liked the flavor all I am saying is, try to add some gelantine next time once it is firm enough to be cut into slices the double thickness of deli slices it is right. It shouldn't taste like chicken soup (a flavor I don't like at all if the grease is still in it) in Germany there is a certrain acidic clean aspect to the flavor that as a *supertaster*(stupid word but you get teh picture) I really appreciate. ANotehr issue may be that the ingredients are not the same in any country and the differences are sometime staggering.

Good luck with your next thing. Good for you: trying out things. (I tried a recipe from the 5th century a couple of month back and it has become part of our cuisine right away, and I normal didn't cook with any of the main ingredients.

YOu can only find treasure if you are looking, I just feel I am honorbound to point out that the texture must have been too much *inbetween* from the pictures and what you are saying.

Amelia Morris said...

Brooke! I love that you took the time to explain all of this! That's really good to know about the texture/consistency and I will most definitely keep this in mind for my future aspic-attempts. I think I want to try an tomato aspic... Thanks for looking out!

xxgurlyxx said...

Wow. I happen to actually like aspic, but I've never heard of it made with chicken before. I usually eat the ones made from pork--as in head cheese. Sorry that you weren't that into it! The pictures look amazing, though. :)