Its all beginning to gel again; is meat jelly having a moment?
Quiche from Lorraine; choucroute from Alsace; you have bouillabaisse in Marseille, tapenade in Provence, the French love their food and almost every region in France has a dish that evokes bosom-swelling pride amongst locals. Boeuf Bourguignon, Oeufs en Meurette and snails all make the podium, but the often sidelined Jambon Persillé has always been one of my Burgundian favourites. Hunks of dense ham set in a porky flavoured parsley and garlic jelly.The Ediun tribes who roamed Burgundy, before the Romans took over, were master charcutiers. With an abundance of wild pigs in their forests pork was on ready supply and with the salt mines of the Jura not far away, archaeological studies tell us that the Gauls were masters of curing and preserving meat and game.
The Roman army, arriving in Burgundy around 200 BC, introduced the other key ingredients to this recipe. Roman legionaries would tuck sprigs of parsley in their togas for protection and garlic was given to foot solders to stay healthy as well as to ward of evil spirits. With all these ingredients coming together it is no wonder that Jambon Persillé was born.
Fast forward the clock through many centuries and cultures and lets take minute to admire this creation in aspic.In the 19th century, legendary French chef Marie-Antoine Carême perfected the art of aspic-making and his elaborate, quivering showpieces were an integral part of the royal cuisine presented in Napoleon’s imperial court. Both Fanny Cradock and my dear mother created abominations.Eggs in aspic was one I remember only too well .I think i still have the recipe card somewhere, Im sure it came from the back of a packet of aspic. Since then its been in and out of fashion. I recall seeing it on the menu of a new wave of gastro pubs in the nineties, but its revivals are always short lived, almost as if people aren't ready for this jelly.
Well here we are in the hot summer of 2022 and scrolling through instagram recently a startling dish caught my eye. A block of whimsically arranged squid tentacles, English peas, halibut and asparagus stood suspended in midair, topped with colorful edible flowers. It was breathtaking. What was it? I squinted. Was this … some sort of jelly?Immediately, an unpleasant memory came flooding back — creating and tasting my very first savoury jelly from a vintage 1950s recipe, a harrowingly jiggly medley of vegetables in aspic with some chunks of tinned tuna in the middle I served to my college friends one evening thinking I was posh as all get out (needless to say I have since lost touch ).My almost inedible and inept creation seemed miles from the beautiful work of art in this Instagram photo — but the texture evoked that of the much-maligned 1950s favourite, where housewives hosted the husband´s boss and his wife for dinner. Could aspic be making a comeback?
On Maison Nico’s menu in San Francisco are two showstopping aspics: the aforementioned pescatarian one, and another with pintade (guinea fowl), cabbage and curry.
Fresh back from France where every deli counter proffered it, I had confirmation Aspic´s back with a right vengeance. I decided i would give jambon persillé a go.Its labour intensive and time consuming no doubt but something so rich in history it requires to be preserved and not forgotten.There's also a familiar refrain of the pandemic here, slowing everything down, turning the focus back to laborious, elaborate cooking projects.I haven´t given recipe as there are so many and some so complicated that I opted for cheats version in the end using gelatine made with home made consommé.the recipe i opted for in the end ws "Shortcut Jambon Persille"from the Los Angeles Times.