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Aspic | The Real History

Centuries ago, peasants would slaughter their animals and work to maximize the edible yield. The head and bones were simmered or boiled in water to make soup. Once cooked the heads were taken and scrapped of all their edible parts. These parts were chopped or shredded and served hot with greens, beans or vegetables.

The liquid (broth) derived from cooking the head and bones had an interesting feature that went beyond flavor. It contained an excessive amount of protein which caused the broth to coagulate when cooled. The texture made for an interesting meal when served cold. This gave peasants a little bit of variety from a single product.

As time passed, the thought of presenting the cold version of this jellied soup in a cleaner manner started to take hold. The method of scooping the gelatinous preparation onto a plate or into a bowl didn't provide for a visually pleasing presentation. Chopping or breaking the cold jelly into smaller portions didn't help. Somebody eventually thought of taking the soup as it was cooling and pouring a nice balance of broth and solids into a cup or bowl. When completely cooled, the molded cold soup was presented cleanly and attractively on a plate, bowl or platter depending on the portion size. Viola, the first jellied mold.

The original jellied broths were very flavorful and cloudy. Changing the flavor simply involved using different heads, bones or primal cuts to achieve excellent flavor and high protein content. Further refinement led to the broth being clarified to create what was deemed the ultimate soup:a consomme. A consomme was and still is a soup with extraordinary flavor and crystal clear clarity. The creation of a consomme opened many presentation options. Decorative cuts of vegetable or clean cuts of meat could be seen by the diner. Diners could also see through a soup, hot or cold, and appreciate an ornate decoration on the bottom of a bowl.

As cuisine evolved so did the use of the consomme. Culinarians discovered that the texture of consomme could be firm or delicate depending on the amount and kinds of ingredients used to prepare the original broth. They also realized that it was extremely difficult to dictate the final consistency based on the obvious variables associated with the animal parts, thus making the work long and tedious. Many kitchens overcame those obstacles and used consommes in a number of textures for a number of preparations. Besides hot and cold soups, consomme was used to bind vegetables in attractive charlotte molds. That spawned the idea of presenting salads in jellied shells, thereby giving the mold texture without compromising the integrity of the salad. These interesting, attractive and flavorful molds were referred to as "aspics".

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