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Aspic | An Evolution of Use and Abuse

The term aspic is believed to be derived from the Greek word aspis which means shield. Indeed, when you consider the function of the cold consomme shell in the original aspics; the consomme was shielding the interior from the aromas, flavors and temperatures that may have compromised the interior salad.

During the early 1800s, Careme brought attention to the craft of preparing a variety of aspics (enhanced consommes) and the art and craft of utilizing that component in the preparation of different aspics (molds). Each aspic had a specific recipe requiring the utmost care and tremendous attention to detail. Aspic (molds) as well as aspic glazed foods enjoyed great popularity during the 1800s into the mid 1900s.

Coming out of the 1950s, aspic found itself being a victim of rising food and labor costs. Many kitchen personnel, as well as apprentices, focused more on the current culinary trends rather than becoming well versed in classic techniques. As decades rolled on, the demand to produce food quickly overwhelmed many kitchens attempting to continue classical presentations. There wasn't any time to allow a classic consomme to simmer, reduce and clarify. This process required time, product, personnel and more importantly the ability to organize the three. In reality, the time was there to perform the tasks correctly, unfortunately many culinarians couldn't think the process through successfully.

By the mid 1970s, culinarians well versed in aspic work were few and far between. Many cooks combined gelatine together with water in excessive amounts. These extremely firm and flavorless glazes were placed on food items and presented on platters. Customers were dissatisfied to say the least. This same gelatine blend was being used to glaze pate and terrine slices and even to fill the cavity created in a classic pate en croute. Aspic was being mishandled.

Talented culinarians knew that there was no way to stop the tide of food cost and labor cost. Prices would continue to increase, but that didn't stop them from changing with the times. Instead of preparing consommes from scratch, many would quickly clarify stocks with a few egg whites and a simple mirepoix. Because this clarified stock lacked the protein required to coagulated when cooled, culinarians used gelatin in measured amounts based on the task at hand. All this would be done quickly and simply because very little clarified stock was needed to complete dishes or platters prior to being presented to customers.

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