Meat Gelatin: The Worst Gelatin?

One of the advantages of being married is that you find out all kinds of information which you would otherwise never encounter.

Yesterday, Betsy said, “You should do a blog post about aspic.”

I said, “What’s aspic?”

Aspic, it turns out, is meat gelatin – or, in the words of Dictionary.com, “savory jelly.” Imagine a plate of Jell-O, except that instead of being sweet, it tastes like beef, because it’s made of beef. And it usually has other stuff in it, like eggs, vegetables, or “[a]lmost any kind of food” (Wikipedia).

Yes, that’s right. It turns out that if you have congealed meat stock, you can put pretty much anything you want inside.

Evidently this has been going on since at least the Middle Ages, but it didn’t get popular in the U.S. until the 20th century. You can find all sorts of recipes from the ’50s to the ’70s for things like aspic-glazed lamb loaf, “turkey in aspic” with eggs and asparagus, jellied chicken salad, and creamy dried beef mold. People really made this stuff, and presumably even ate it.

The question is: why?

To be fair, I have never tried it. And, being of the “try anything once” camp, I would have a bite, given the chance. But I really, really can’t imagine it could be any good. And I’m not alone. A British food critic once described the dish as “like a big wine gum of pus, only not that nice.” (For you non-Brits out there, like me, a wine gum is similar to a gumdrop.)

According to this blog, the real reason people made aspic had nothing to do with the taste:

We’ve all wondered what the hell could motivate someone to create Jellied Bouillon with Frankfurters — well, it was simply so they could brag about owning a refrigerator. You can’t solidify gelatin without refrigeration, and so you couldn’t serve Jellied Bouillon with Frankfurters unless you were above a certain income level.

Don’t know if that’s true, but it certainly makes more sense than the “people liked to eat it” theory.

But the icing on the cake (or the shaped turkey mold) is the etymology. Feast your eyes on this:

1780-90; < French; perhaps so called because the form or color resembled those of an asp.

In other words, they named it that because it looked like a snake.

I admit this confuses me, because when I see aspic, I don’t think “snake-like.” But I do think “poisonous,” so maybe that’s the connection.

Anyone actually eaten this stuff? Give us the inside scoop! Metaphorically, please.

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8 responses to “Meat Gelatin: The Worst Gelatin?

  1. I have eaten a lot of aspic (and isinglass, which is jellied fish juice). Most pork pies have a layer between the meat and the pastry in the UK.

    It isn’t my favourite thing, but a good savoury jelly adds variety to a pie.

  2. I was going to say that I’ve never eaten aspic, but that food in the picture looks awfully familiar, so I’m not sure,,, I don’t remember the experience, that at least is for sure.

    However, being (::cough::) of a certain age, my major association for “aspic” is the series of songs by King Crimson called “Lark’s Tongues in Aspic” (my person favorite being part two: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vy3UiXb2uDQ).

  3. I’ve had head cheese and Wikipedia says its a style of aspic. I like head cheese quite a bit.

  4. It’s big in Russia, and it’s delicious. Pork meat gelatin although I’ve had it made with chicken. It’s called Holodets which appropriately translates to “cold guy/thing.”

    I haven’t had it in years but I love it. There is also a variation of a chicken gelatin that they make into a sausage kind of thing and you slice pieces of it off and have it on bread, but I don’t remember what it’s called. Also delicious.

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