Meat Jelly - Solidified Nectar
In the past glue was made by boiling skins and bones of animals. This has led to the loss of innumerable medieval manuscripts written on parchment, (especially in the nineteenth century) because parchment, which is made of hides of veal and sheep, made such a fine glue!
So don't be surprised when your stock has turned into a slimy blubber when it has cooled. It's the soup bones that did it.
This 'blubber' can be transformed to a beautiful golden transparant jelly that is incomparable to the tasteless (or even worse, the nasty-tasting) layers of gelatine that can be found on industrial liver pastes and other dishes.
Real meat jelly is not only good to look at, it also tastes wonderful. It melts on the tongue, just like chocolate, and slowly spreads an intense flavour in your mouth, again, just like chocolate. Come to think of it, meat jelly is the savoury equivalent of chocolate!
It is not simple to make, but if you make stock and freeze it until the moment you want to make meat jelly and start from there, the amount of work needed is not too much.
Jelly can also be made from vegetable stock or fish fumet. But if you want to make your jelly suitable for non-meat eaters or vegetarians, you'll have to use agar or carragene instead of gelatine.
Meat jelly, the short version
Start with a good, strong stock in which a good quantity of bones were used. Then strain, degrease and reduce the stock. Now it has to be clarified to get rid of all minuscule floating particles that still remain in the stock. When the clarified stock has cooled, add gelatine.
Please take care to click on the links on this page, and read everything in the recipe carefully through.
1. Making stock
As stated above: the best meat jelly is made from stock made with bones and carcasses.
On the page with tips & tricks for making stock you'll find how to do just that. Just add extra veal bones to any meat stock you make, because of their large percentage of gelatinous gristle. Before you start making jelly, be sure that the stock has been strained, reduced and degreased.
Really good stock doesn't need any salt, the taste is purely what you get by reducing the liquid. Because jelly is served cold, the taste of the stock has to be even more pronounced than usual. Reduce the stock to a greater degree than you would for making soup. The taste will be further enhanced by the extra vegetables and meat that are added during the clarifying process.
Once you have reached this point, you can freeze the stock until the moment you want to make jelly.
2. Clarifying stock
The jelly must be as clear as crystal, so the stock must be absolutely devoid of tiny floating particles. Simply straining the stock is not good enough, it has to be clarified. This is done with egg whites and optionally the scales of eggs, and some extra vegetables and meat to intensify the flavour. The stock must be cooled to room temperature before clarifying, otherwise the egg whites will coagulate before they have catched all floating particles in the stock.
1 litre (4 cups or 2 pints) stock (strained, degreased, reduced and cooled)
150 gram (1 1/2 cups) finely chopped vegetables (leeks, carrots, stem celery, onions, you can vary this according to the kind of stock you have and the jelly you want to end up with)
1 bay leaf, some white pepper corns
1 teaspoon salt
3 raw egg whites, half whipped (correct phrase? I mean they mustn't be completely fluffed, but somewhere between completely stiff and just stirred)
150 gram (1/3 pound) chopped very lean beef (steak) or game meat (optional)
1 decilitre (3 fl.oz) dry white wine
Mix vegetables, herbs and meat with the half whipped egg whites (top picture). Use a wooden spoon . Add to a pan, pour in the stock while you keep stirring. Bring the stock to the boil and keep stirring, scraping the bottom to prevent the eggwhites setting on it (picture 2). Temper the heat when the stock is boiling, add wine, let simmer for twenty to forty minutes, the stock mustn't boil anymore (picture 3). The coagulating egg whites will absorb all particles (picture on the bottom), the stock is now crysral-clear. Strain the stock once more through a fine-meshed kitchen cloth.
3. Making jelly.
Almost there! The last thing you have to do is adding gelatine and extra flavour: a glass of madeira, port wine, sherry or a full-bodied white wine (depending on what kind of jelly you want to make or what dish it must be served with).
To make 1 litre (4 cups or 2 pints) jelly:
8,5 decilitre (3 1/2 cups) clarified stock
5 leaves gelatine or 35 gram (1 1/4 ounce) powdered gelatine
1.5 decilitre (2/3 cup) wine (madeira, port wine, sherry, full-bodied white wine)
Gelatine must never be added to boiling liquid, so take the stock off the fire.
Dissolve the gelatine in some of the hot stock (powdered gelatine can be added straight away, leaves have to be soaked a few minutes in cold water and squeezed before using), add to the stock together with the wine. To preticipate the congealing you can put the pan in a large bowl with ice cubes or cold water, and stir very carefully. Don't stir too enthousiastically, you'll get air bubbles in the jelly.
4. What to do with meat jelly.
Paté en croûte: My favourite use for meat jelly. The jelly is poured between the paté and the crust, thus sealing the meat from the air. To do this, the jelly must be almost congealed but just liquid enough to be poured. If the jelly is too hot the crust will turn soggy, if it is too cold it will congeal too fast and not reach all cavities.
Glazing: You can use meat jelly to glaze savoury dishes. The jelly must be near congealing temperature, because if the jelly is too hot it will just stream down the dish. And of course whatever you want to glaze must be cold. Apply the jelly with a soft brush, let it congeal, and repeat this as often as you like.
Garnishing: I think small cubes of golden meat jelly are beautiful. Let the jelly congeal and cut it either in regular shapes, or chop it up into irregular chunks.
Aspic: You can also pour meat jelly into a jelly mould, just as you would sweet jelly pudding. To demould it, just dip the mould in hot water for a few seconds. The outer layer will melt, and the jelly will drop out of the mould easily. You can fill the mould with ingredients like pieces of meat, vegetables, fish, shellfish. If you use an oblong cake tin to do this you make a terrine.
Decoration: You can make small 'paintings' with food and cover them with jelly: Take a deep plate, pour a thin layer of jelly in it, let it congeal. Arrange pieces of vegetables, herbs, pieces of meat, shrimp or fish on it, pour jelly over it en let it congeal again. You can repeat this as often as you like (or until you have reached the rim of your plate).
All descriptions of ingredients
Agar - Is found in red algae. The Japanese call it Kanten. Although it can be used to make jelly, it is completely different from gelatine. Agar is a polysaccharide, gelatine is a form of protein. Agar melts and congeals at higher temperature (resp. 90 dgC/194 oF and 45 dgC/113 oF, to 27 dgC/80.5 oF and 20 dgC/68 oF for gelatine). Because of this higher processing temperature agar is used in tropical climates instead of gelatine. Moreover, agar can be used with pineapple, papaya and kiwi-fruit, gelatine won't work with these fruit.
Agar feels differently in the mouth too: food with gelatine melts on your tongue, agar will have to be chewed. Agar is also known for its use as a culture medium for bacteria.
Carragene - Like agar, this comes from red algae (Chondrus crispus). It is also known as Irish moss. The dried algae have to be washed before use, steeped in cold water for thirty minutes, and then boiled for fifteen minutes. The resulting liquid is strained, and will congeal during cooling.
Gelatine - This is an animal product. It is sold as a powder and as leaf gelatine (colourless or red). Use only colourless gelatine for meat stock. Gelatine has no taste. For non-vegetarians gelatine can be used to make vegetable jelies and fish jellies.
Very important: gelatine must never boil. Dissolve it in a little hot (NOT boiling!) liquid, then add it to the cooled liquid.
Gelatine is used a lot in the food industry to make so called light-products palatable. Just so you know.
Isinglass, fish glue - As one of its names indicates, this is the fishy version of gelatine. The name isenglass is thought to be a corruption of the Dutch huisenblas, which means the gas bladder of the sturgeon.
Isinglas is indeed made from the gas bladder of the sturgeon, but also of other fish. If you wonder what a gas bladder is, look here. The gas bladder is cleaned and dried, then the outer membrane can be peeled away. The membrane will be cut into strips. Isinglass has to be dissolved in boiling water. That will take about thirty minutes. It takes 35 gram isinglass to make 1 litre jelly.
The culinary use of isinglass is very old, it is mentioned in medieval cook books (as in this recipe). Isinglass is expensive, but it can still be bought. Hobby brewers still use it to clarify their wine or ale.
The editions below are in my possession. Links refer to available editions.
All books mentioned on this site (with short reviews)