Whatever the garnish, the quality of eggs in aspic depends absolutely on the quality of the jelly. And, however sapid the jelly, all of its delicacy depends on the precise degree of natural gelatin contained in it: The jelly must be only just firm enough to hold its form easily, once unmolded—and it should tremble. No matter how rich and pure the flavor, an excess of gelatin will produce a rubbery and distinctly unpleasant material. A trembling jelly melts luxuriously on the tongue; a rubbery jelly smears it with gum.
A jelly may be prepared exactly like a stock with the addition of a calf’s foot (first covered with cold water, brought to a boil for 5 minutes, drained and rinsed before being added to the other ingredients), but the most succulent of jellies is essentially a by-product of several different preparations. A plentiful veal stock (the meat from which may be removed when done and put into a tomato sauce, sorrel sauce, blanquette, etc., or simply accompanied by boiled vegetables, like a pot-au-feu) can be subsequently used to moisten a pot-au-feu (including gelatinous cuts—shank, oxtail, shoulder) and, still again, to moisten a poule-au-pot (or chicken parts may be thrown into the pot from time to time during the other preparations. For each subsequent preparation, the stock, completely cleared of all fat when cold, should be warmed only enough to melt before adding the meat; vegetables should be added to each new preparation, but the head of garlic and the cloves should be eliminated. You will judge from tasting whether a new bouquet garni should be added each time and what and how much it should contain. Water may have to be added to provide sufficient moistening. I often keep a stock of this sort for weeks on end, using it, supplementing it, and, when flavor and gelatinous content coincide in the correct degree of concentration (the jelly quite firm, inasmuch as it will be somewhat lengthened by an addition of wine, the flavor rich but not so concentrated as to resemble a demi-glace), profiting to prepare some eggs in jelly. Obviously, one need not piously await the ideal moment; reduction can bring it about. A stock that is to be kept, unused, for some time should be reboiled every 2 or 3 days, simmered for about 15 minutes with regular skimming, returned to a non-metallic (unless it be stainless steel) container, cooled, and kept uncovered in the refrigerator. Submitted two or three times to this purifying process, the stock rapidly bypasses the respectable meat-jelly stage, becoming a demi-glace, invaluable for enriching sauces but too rich and too gelatinous to serve as a jelly. (To prepare a sauce demi-glace, which is nothing more than an honest Espagnole, it should be thickened slightly with a flour and butter roux before arriving at the demi-glace stage, simmered, and skimmed—or “skinned”—for a good hour; a bit of tomato is often added to enrich the color and to hasten the purification. Reduced to a meat glaze [glace de viande] by progressive transferrals to smaller saucepans and continued reduction to the state of a thick syrup [cooled, it is the consistency of fairly hard rubber; it can be kept, refrigerated, almost indefinitely and is one of the sauce-enrichening standbys of classical cuisine]. It should not be imagined that it undergoes no physical change other than that of concentration: dilution cannot transform it back into what it once was.)
Cover the meats and bones with the cold water and bring slowly to a boil—it is best that the water take nearly an hour to arrive at the boiling point. Skim several times, adding a bit of cold water after each skimming, until no more scum mounts to the surface. Add all the other ingredients; the bouquet garni, which should be a good bit larger than one’s fist, tied firmly with several rounds of string spiraled up and down its length. Return to the boiling point, skim once more, and regulate the heat so that, with the lid slightly ajar, the water’s surface is sustained at a light shiver.
Veal shank, after 2 hours of cooking, will have given of its best while remaining still serviceable for a family dinner, whereas the hock will have only begun to render its gelatin. It may be left alone to cook longer or it may be cooled in the stock and recooked with an eventual pot-au-feu.
If the contents remain undisturbed throughout the cooking process, care being taken never to permit the broth to reach a full boil, and if the same respect is applied to succeeding preparations of pot-au-feu or poule-au-pot, the bouillon, carefully decanted, will be initially honey-toned and will subsequently become limpid caramel. Clarification enervates, sucking the vigor from a meat jelly or a consommé, leaving a certain flaccidity where before there was vibrance. Its only raison d’être is to redeem a transparency originally sacrificed to sloppy methods.
A jelly should be completely cleared of any trace of fat, the cold, jelled surface first cleared with a spoon and then wiped with a clean cloth that has been dipped into hot water and wrung out.
Rinse the molds (porcelain ramekins, individual Pyrex custard molds, etc.) in cold water and pour a tablespoonful of melted jelly into each, adding at the same time whatever fragments of décor have been chosen. Put them to set in the refrigerator.
If the jelly is to be perfumed with tarragon, add a branch or two, bring the jelly to a boil, and leave to steep until almost entirely cooled before discarding the tarragon and adding the wine. Otherwise, heat it only enough to melt, leaving it to recool before stirring in the wine. Place a poached, cooled, trimmed egg in each mold and pour over jelly to completely cover. If you are in a hurry, place the molds on a bed of cracked or shaved ice before returning them to the refrigerator—never try to make them set in the freezer; the outside will begin to freeze before the center “takes.”
Unmold by running the tip of a knife around the edges and jarring the mold, upside down, abruptly against the palm of your hand. Arrange the unmolded eggs in a shallow serving dish, the bottom of which is garnished with a bed of sorrel mousse.
Stew the sorrel in butter, gently, without salting, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon for 20 minutes or until fairly dry, add
Copyright © 1974 by Richard Olney. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.