New Flavors, New Clarity, and Jellies

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

But there were some important differences, and genuine progress. Fish sauce had disappeared, its place taken by vinegar and unripe grape juice, or verjus. Thanks in part to the Crusades, which brought Europeans to the Middle East and into contact with Arab trade and traditions, many local Mediterranean flavorings had been displaced by exotic imports from Asia, especially cinnamon, ginger, and grains of paradise; and the nut of choice for thickening was now the almond. The mortar was joined by a second indispensable utensil: the cloth sieve or strainer (French étamine or tamis) through which sauces were passed to remove coarse particles of spice and thickener and produce a finer consistency. Cooks had discovered the principle of thickening meat broths by concentration—by boiling off unwanted water—and so developed both the consommé and the solid jelly, part of whose value was the way it could coat cooked meat or fish and protect it from the air and spoilage. The transparency of clear jellies in turn led by the 15th century to an improved strainer for removing the tiniest particles from them: a protein “fabric” of whipped egg whites that clarified the liquid from within.