May 22, 2005
Is My Blog Burning? Or has it jelled?

best cold ch soup.jpgWhen this edition of Is My Blog Burning? (hosted by Elise of Elise's Simply Recipes) was announced I was excited: gelatine is one of those things I've always shied away from and this would be a good excuse to experiment. I saw myself suspending a hardboiled egg in a clear delicate block of aspic, maybe following up with a chaud-froid of chicken breast. And let's be honest here: who didn't immediately think of Jello and vodka shots? I know I did and I know Barrett did.

But in the end (as always) bad time scheduling led to a re-evaluation of these plans. I opted for one chancy idea and one I was fairly sure would work so that at worst I would have something to demonstrate my ability to jell something somehow. Just as well, as idea no. 1 didn't work!

cold chicken soup.jpgThe sure-fire dish you see here was absolutely sure-fire because I already had proof the substance used would jell. Last week I roasted a couple of chickens for dinner and made a rich broth out of the carcasses. When I went to skim the fat off the broth I discovered to my delight that the whole thing had jelled into a solid mass. Perfect! Proof positive that this thing would work.

I could have just worked with the broth as it was but decided to take the opportunity to try my hand at clarifying the broth. I've always been fascinated by the description of this process in my Fannie Farmer cookbook and have always felt the fact that I've never tried it kept me firmly in the amateur class of cook. (Okay, well, that and never having been paid to cook for anyone...)

For my first attempt at clarifying stock, I decided to use about 3/4 cup of broth and try the old suspended egg trick. (These things are pretty popular in Paris and you can see them in the windows of traiteurs all over the city. Admittedly, I've never seen anyone actually buy one, but someone must be supplying the demand in the equation, right?) I hard-boiled my egg and in the meantime followed the instructions in my faithful FF, to wit: beat a little of the warm broth with an egg yolk while heating the rest of the broth to a simmer; gradually add the egg-white mixture to the broth and simmer for 15 minutes, then allowing to rest for ten minutes. The next step of the process was to line a strainter with a dish towel. The FF was explicit about not using cheesecloth as the coarse weave would not be sufficient to properly filter the broth.

Now I don't know about you, but I'm a lazy person and was not enamoured with the idea of filling a dish towel with egg gunk and then having to scrape it all off as best I could and wash the towel and hope that I don't get egg gunk all over my clothes short, I decided to use a few paper towels to filter the broth.

Initially, this seemed like a great idea. I was only filtering a very small amount of broth and so the size wasn't a problem. Within a minute or two, I had a couple of teaspoons of gorgeous clear amber liquid under the strainer/paper towel apparatus. Ten minutes later, I still had a couple of teaspoons. This is where my brain stopped and my faulty cooking instincts took over. "I know," I thought, "I'll just squeeze the liquid a little - very gently - to help force it through the paper towels..." After all, it was such a tiny amount of broth that I could gather the ends of the paper towel up and just...SPLAT! Eggy broth all over me, all over the counter, all over the floor, all over the stove...did I say this was a tiny amount of liquid?!!??

So I did some swearing. Oh yes. And I put my eggy jeans in the wash. And I threw away the paper towel and the now contaminated teaspoons of clear broth. And I gave up for the day.

Bear with me, we will eventually get to a "recipe".

So on Saturday I decided that the egg idea was obviously cursed and I needed something more interesting. And I came up with the item in the photos. It's kind of a jellied consommé with spring vegetables. Or a solidified vegetable soup. Either way, it's delicious and light and a lovely starter and something I'll try again when (if) it gets hot in Paris this summer. With home-made chicken broth and just barely cooked vegetables it's fat-free and healthy and a fun way to eat your soup!

To make it, I again melted down the remaining broth (about 2 1/2 cups) and while it was heating started a little water boiling in a small sauce pan. In the small sauce pan, I added one thinly sliced carrot, about a quarter of a cup chopped red pepper and half a cup of frozen peas. When they were nearly done, I added two spears of asparagus, cut in small chunks.

In the meantime, I followed the above procedure to clarify the stock, this time using two egg whites and a dish towel. As you can see in the photo, the broth did not come completely clear. In the future, I think I might just skip the whole clarifying process as it seemed to be more work than it was worth.

I poured the clarified broth into two ramekins and a small bowl and put them in the refrigerator to cool. I didn't remember them until the broth had completely solidified and so I was able to experiment and can relate the following results:

- pushing the vegetables into a solid mass of gelatin works remarkably well, though you can't control the distribution of vegetables;

- melting the broth in the microwave and pouring in the vegetables results in most of them massing at the bottom of the ramekin (which actually looks quite pretty when you unmold later as they are therefore at the top);

- melting the broth partially in the microwave allows you to distribute the vegetables evenly (no surprise there).

And there you have it: summer vegetable soup in a solidified form. I also slid a few slivers of preserved garlic into the soup for flavour and for esthetic reasons. One thing to note when composing your vegetable mix: red peppers look very pretty but use them sparingly as they have a much stronger flavour than the other elements.

If you want to make this yourself you could use a good broth and some gelatine leaves, following the instructions carefully for proportions of broth to leaves. Alternatively, you can just boil up a couple of chicken carcasses for a good long while, taking care to break as many of the bones as possible as they cook. Be generous with the seasonong if you are using home-made broth as you'll lose some flavour when it's cold. If you find it jells well in the fridge you'll be able to melt it and re-jell it pretty much an infinite number of times. It's a lot less fiddly than the gelatine method in that respect.

And for those who are curious about the failed experiment, it was a great idea that was done in by sloppy calculations. I meant to have a fairly solid thin sheet of jelled spiced port wine to put on crackers with a dab of whipped-cream-and-blue cheese. Unfortunately, I was using a minute amount of port and thought I could just guess how much of a sheet of gelatine I needed. I guessed wrong and the port didn't jell enough to be cut easily. A good idea but a bad execution. If and when I get it right, you'll see it here as I think the flavours will be fantastic and (if it works) the end result pretty.

Now I'm off to read everyone else's entries...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at May 22, 2005 11:51 PM | TrackBack Print-friendly version

Very pretty. My shots didn't freeze or we'd have a companion Jello shot post.

Posted by barrett on May 23, 2005 at 10:17 AM

I hope you drank them anyway?? Anyway, this obviously just means you need practice! (which makes perfect, right?)

Posted by Meg in Paris on May 23, 2005 at 4:49 PM

And it always happens when you forget to wear an apron! An extra point for bravery on the stock clarifying front.

Posted by elise on May 23, 2005 at 6:12 PM
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