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Aspic is a dish in which ingredients are set into a gelatin made from a meat stock or consommé. Non-savory dishes, often made with commercial gelatin mixes without stock or consommé, are usually called gelatin salads.
When cooled, stock that is 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.
Nearly any type of meat can be used to make the gelatin: pork, beef, veal, chicken, turkey, or fish. The aspic may need additional gelatin in order to set properly. Veal stock provides a great deal of gelatin; in making stock, veal is often included with other meat for that reason. Fish consommés usually have too little natural gelatin, so the fish stock may be double-cooked or supplemented. Since fish gelatin melts at a lower temperature than gelatins of other meats, fish aspic is more delicate and melts more readily in the mouth.
Vegetables and fish stocks need gelatin to maintain a molded shape.
Historically, meat aspics were made before fruit- and vegetable-flavored aspics or 'jellies' (UK) and 'gelatins/jellos' (North America). 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 or around 1375.
In the early 19th century, Marie-Antoine Carême created chaud froid in France. Chaud froid means "hot cold" in French, referring to foods that were prepared hot and served cold. Aspic was used as a chaud froid sauce in many cold fish and poultry meals. The sauce added moisture and flavor to the food. Carême invented various types of aspic and ways of preparing it. Aspic, when used to hold meats, prevents them from becoming spoiled. The gelatin keeps out air and bacteria, keeping the cooked meat fresh.
Aspic came into prominence in America in the early 20th century.:514 By the 1950s, meat aspic was a popular dinner staple throughout the United States as were other gelatin-based dishes such as tomato aspic.:292 Cooks used to show off aesthetic skills by creating inventive aspics.
Aspic can also be referred as aspic gelée or aspic jelly. Aspic jelly may be colorless (white aspic) or contain various shades of amber. Aspic can be used to protect food from the air, to give food more flavor, or as a decoration.
There are three types of aspic textures: delicate, sliceable, and inedible. The delicate aspic is soft. The sliceable aspic must be made in a terrine or in an aspic mold. It is firmer than the delicate aspic. The inedible aspic is never for consumption. It is usually for decoration. Aspic is often used to glaze food pieces in food competitions to make the food glisten and make it more appealing to the eye. Foods dipped in aspic have a lacquered finish for a fancy presentation. Aspic can be cut into various shapes and be used as a garnish for deli meats or pâtés.
In central, eastern and northern Europe, aspic often takes the form of pork jelly, and it is popular around the Christmas and Easter Holidays. Among the Newars of Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, buffalo meat jelly is a major component of the winter festivity gourmet. It is eaten in combination with fish aspic, which is made from dried fish and buffalo meat stock, soured, and contains a heavy mix of spices and condiments.