Aspic: The Revival of a Gelatin-Based Jewel (2023)

I’ve been writing this column for a few years now, and my editor knows I have entertaining stories, a flare for whipping up a good time in the kitchen and some history with food – my influences go back to my childhood so this is certainly therapeutic work. And because comedy is just as important to me as the content – both come with a tasty delivery – this month’s culinary offering is a doozy.

Now that I’m of a vintage year that would make a great Bordeaux priceless, my recipe selections are frequently retro, although some of my faves aren’t necessarily on everyone’s Top 10 list. Take Japanese natto (that’s sticky bean to you), Chinese steamed chicken feet and fresh sea urchin, aka uni, which I’ve been sucking down for more than 40 years.

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(© Judy Litt)

Chef Sid – that’s me – post-plucking out the sliced carrots.

No, most of what’s on my list isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but uni has become so popular nowadays that it’s getting too expensive and it’s used in way too many dishes. To wit my PSA: To the culinary morons out there, please keep the creamy nectar of the urchin off the fracking pasta! Chicken feet have been on my radar even longer – 50 years – but I don’t advise taking leftovers on a crowded flight as it could scare your seatmate.

And then there’s aspic, which seems to have had its day long ago in American cuisine, yet Food & Wine magazine recently wrote about the revival of this forsaken menu item. My beloved aspic is back, baby! And on a sidenote, my thanks to all the gods for ambrosia – a nasty mixture of canned fruit salad, Jell-O and cottage cheese or whipped cream – going the way of the dodo bird.

My mother kept traditional Latvian aspic on our family menu for as long as I can remember. “Galert,” a time-consuming treat that everyone in our family loved to eat, is what I grew up with. My dad would often spoon down the last wedge straight from the icebox late at night leaving us non-nighttime foragers in a world of disappointment and despair the next day. But that never stopped the love we all shared for each other and the galert. Mom made ours the old-fashioned way, by slow cooking veal shanks with sliced carrots, celery, onions and patience. Prepping the meal was always fun to watch. Letting that proteinaceous pudding settle overnight was well worth the wait.

Aspic: The Revival of a Gelatin-Based Jewel (2)

(Sid Hoeltzell © Miami 2023)

Oh, glorious sunshine-y day, my aspic is on its way!

It's definitely an acquired taste: Some can’t even think about eating a gelatinous aspic where others will gulp it down like caviar. The long-recognized Jewish specialty of gefilte fish has aspic jelly as a popular component, but I know many a mensch who would never touch the stuff.

In Japan, half the folks will eat natto while the other half will pass on it like the plague. All that sticky, stringy gooey stuff is just too much for them, and they’ll never know how flavorful fermented soy bean really is. Just because a food item is strangely constructed or presented does mean it’s not delicious. I’m betting an open mind implies an open mouth.

Aspic: The Revival of a Gelatin-Based Jewel (3)

(Sid Hoeltzell © Miami 2023)

Bliss out over the Zen of it all as you carefully layer in all your ingredients.

You’ve no doubt unknowingly eaten this naturally occurring gelatinous treat already. Ever lift that turkey carcass when cutting leftovers off the bone? Look on the bottom of the plate – aspic. Lift that chilled steak remnant, elevate that chicken, spatula up that slab of fish … aspic! After cooking and refrigeration, under most meats you’ll find a hidden layer of wobbly sticky goodness. Aspic holds all the spices and flavors of the cooking process locked in that gelée; any chef worth their salt will spoon that glorious goo into their mouths before you can hear the fridge door slam shut. Aspic is quite simply savory meat Jell-O.

The traditional way to prepare aspic is to slow-simmer bones and shanks of the four-legged variety. Beef, pork, lamb, they all contribute to a great aspic stock; fish and chicken work as well. For this column, I’m zeroing in on a colorful balanced recipe for Ukrainian “kholodets” made with chicken thighs and Knox gelatin (make no bones about it). You can use unflavored gelatin to create a meat-based or a vegan aspic because you choose the appropriate liquid to impart a flavor profile. Imagine a veggie aspic with cherry tomatoes, peas, carrots and asparagus.

Aspic: The Revival of a Gelatin-Based Jewel (4)

(Sid Hoeltzell © Miami 2023)

Separating the meat and veggies from the broth.

For my eclectic tastes, the recipe I’m presenting here yields a very light and savory summer dish, great for any afternoon meal. Skim off any fat that floats to the top of the broth and strain out the onions. Then fill your aspic with fresh veggies of your choosing, such as peas and carrots.

I strain out the final broth to remove the simmered onion and always pare the final, chilled dish with a capful of white vinegar and a creamed horseradish sauce – the way the dish is traditionally enjoyed – and I often double the recipe to make plenty of leftovers because there’s never enough aspic in my house.

I hope I’ve convinced you to try this treat and that you’ll soon be jellin’ what I’m tellin’. Because I promise you – this dish is really delish!


Yield: 4 aspic “loafs”


Aspic: The Revival of a Gelatin-Based Jewel (5)

(Sid Hoeltzell © Miami 2023)

Blanching the peas in the broth pot.

·1 pound chicken thighs with skin mostly removed

·32 ounces chicken stock

·2 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced

·1 medium-size yellow onion, peeled and cubed

·1/2 cup lightly chopped cilantro or other preferred fresh herbs

·1 cube chicken bouillon (I like Knorr)

·1/2 cup fresh green peas

·2 .25-ounce packages of Knox unflavored gelatin

Aspic: The Revival of a Gelatin-Based Jewel (6)

(Sid Hoeltzell © Miami 2023)

Aspic assembly line ready!

·6 hard boiled eggs, halved


·In medium pot, add chicken, stock, carrots, onion, cilantro and bouillon; cover, bring to a low simmer and keep it there for 90 minutes, adding water to make up for evaporation as it cooks down.

·Remove from heat and carefully strain soup to separate broth from the meat and veggies, making sure not to break or damage the carrots.

Aspic: The Revival of a Gelatin-Based Jewel (7)

(Sid Hoeltzell © Miami 2023)

Gently layering in your ingredients makes for a great final presentation.

·Return strained broth back to pot, add peas and cook about 10 minutes –no longer than that!

·Strain peas from broth and set them aside for layering; return broth to pot but not the heat.

·Add gelatin to the hot broth and mix well; as broth cools, use a whisk to blend gelatin in well and eliminate clumping.

·Allow broth to slowly cool to a tepid, manageable state for adding to your 5″ x 9″ deep glass molds when layering ingredients.

·Go back to your chicken-veggie mixture; separate chicken and remove all extra skin, bones, veins and gristle, then break apart meat into small, bite-size pieces and set aside. Fish out the carrot slices and set aside.

·To layer ingredients, place halved boiled eggs into a neat pattern on bottom of mold; add carrots slices and a layer of tepid broth.

·Cool a few minutes more, then add cooked peas and another layer of broth.

·Add the final layer of chunked chicken and slowly – slowly! – add remaining broth.

·Chill overnight or at least 6-8 hours before serving.

Sid Hoeltzell is an award-winning Miami-based commercial food and beverage photographer and former “MasterChef ” contestant. He has completed more than 450 commissioned works for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, teaches food photography seminars and is a preferred fine art photographer for Christie’s, Sotheby’s and private collections.


Is aspic the same as gelatin? ›

Gelatin generally refers to sweet or non-savory dishes, like a Jell-O salad with marshmallows and cottage cheese. Aspic, on the other hand, is savory, traditionally made with some kind of animal stock, be it chicken, pork, or beef, and, one could argue, comes from much fancier roots.

Why did people eat aspic? ›

So you also have nutrition: aspic, using gelatine, was a high protein addition to a meal and could make other items cooked hot in it last longer by keeping air off it. You have food storage evolving with fridges being sold throughout the early to mid 1900's.

How do you make aspic clear? ›

To achieve a clear jelly, it is important to simmer the stock very gently or wrap the bones in cheesecloth before boiling them down. The resulting stock can be further clarified by adding lightly whisked egg whites and bringing the stock to a boil.

Are you supposed to eat aspic? ›

The inedible aspic is never for consumption and is usually for decoration. Aspic is often used to glaze food pieces in food competitions to make the food glisten and make it more appealing to the eye. Foods dipped in aspic have a lacquered finish for a fancy presentation.

Who still eats aspic? ›

While its most recent American heyday came to an end during the early 1960s, aspic has maintained its popularity in Russia and the countries of the former Eastern bloc, where it's regarded as a winter treat.

Is aspic jelly bad for you? ›

Meat jello or Aspic, as it is formally called, is rich in amino acids and nutrients. It's naturally a great source of collagen and helps support bone, teeth and joint health. It's naturally Whole30, Keto, Paleo and GAPS diet compliant.

Is spam an aspic? ›

Spam's gelatinous glaze, or aspic, forms from the cooling of meat stock.”

Is Jell-O an aspic? ›

aspic, savoury clear jelly prepared from a liquid stock made by simmering the bones of beef, veal, chicken, or fish. The aspic congeals when refrigerated by virtue of the natural gelatin that dissolves into the stock from the tendons; commercial sheet or powdered gelatin is sometimes added to ensure a stiff set.

What country eats aspic? ›

Aspic is popular in French and Eastern European cooking

Eastern Europe is also famous for its use of aspic. The ingredient is generally regarded as a winter food to make dishes like kholodets, which is made with pork bones and then served with horseradish and beet sauce, per Let the Baking Begin.

What nationality is aspic? ›

aspic (n.)

type of savory meat jelly, 1789, from French aspic "jelly" (18c.), apparently from Old French aspe "asp" (see asp). The foodstuff said to be so called from its coldness (froid comme un aspic is said by Littré to be a proverbial phrase), or the colors in the gelatin, or the shape of the mold.

Can dogs eat aspic? ›

It may look like jello or jelly, but meat-derived aspic is a savory, not sweet, treat for your dog. It's super easy–and inexpensive–to make aspic for your dog! Since the Middle Ages, thickened meat broth has been coaxed into forming aspic from the natural gelatin found in beef, veal, pork, poultry, and even some fish.

What is another name for aspic? ›

Aspic Synonyms
  • hachis.
  • pemmican.
  • scrapple.

Did people actually like aspics? ›

Oh yes. They were a staple of potlucks, picnics, Sunday suppers and just regular meals. Refrigerators made jelled foods easy. Aspics have been around since the middle ages.

Does aspic have flavor? ›

That means if you made your aspic from meat, it will likely have a slightly meaty flavor. When you eat aspic, it literally melts or dissolves in your mouth — almost into a broth. So you'll likely taste whatever foods have been congealed into the aspic as well.

Why is gelatin good for you? ›

Gelatin is a protein that may promote skin, joint, hair, nail, and gut health. It also provides essential amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, which can provide potent health benefits. The protein and amino acids in gelatin can help the body build more collagen, a vital element in healthy skin.

What are the different types of aspics? ›

There are three types of aspic: delicate, sliceable, and inedible. The delicate aspic is soft. The sliceable aspic must be made in a terrine or in an aspic mold.

What does aspic stand for? ›

The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) is the leading professional association for infection preventionists (IPs) with more than 15,000 members.

What is the healthiest gelatin? ›

Whole-protein gelatin is better for improving gut health. It helps carry fluid through the intestines and can even coat the lining of the digestive tract as a soothing and protective layer. This is the type used to make gummy snacks and desserts and must be mixed into warm liquids.

What is the downside of gelatin? ›

Gelatin can cause an unpleasant taste, sensation of heaviness in the stomach, bloating, heartburn, and belching. Gelatin can cause allergic reactions in some people. There is some concern about the safety of gelatin because it comes from animal sources.

What is the jelly in rotisserie chicken? ›

It's called “aspic.” It's highly nutritious because it's the collagen/gelatin that has rendered from the bones and joints, and it's full of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.

What's the white stuff in Spam? ›

Potato starch is used for binding the chopped meat together, and sodium nitrate is used as a preservative. Natural gelatins cause the jelly-like substance that surrounds spam in the meat that solidifies when cooled (like an aspic).

What is the main meat in Spam? ›

In fact, SPAM only contains six ingredients! And the brand's website lists them all. They are: pork with ham meat added (that counts as one), salt, water, potato starch, sugar, and sodium nitrite. Most of those are as simple as simple gets!

What is Spam actually called? ›

SPAM is an acronym: Special Processed American Meat.

What is pork called in Jell-O? ›

Gelatin is a protein obtained by boiling skin, tendons, ligaments, and/or bones with water. It is usually obtained from cows or pigs.

Why is Jell-O kosher? ›

A great halachic debate arose, in which many of the greatest 20th century Orthodox rabbis participated. Some argued the gelatin was ponim chadashos (new face). They claimed the manufacturing process so utterly transformed the ingredients that they no longer constituted pork. Their conclusion was that Jell-O was kosher.

What is vegan Jell-O called? ›

Agar agar is a gelatinous substance that is derived from seaweed. It is used as a vegan alternative to gelatin, and can also be used to thicken soups or make jams, pudding, or custards. What do vegans use instead of gelatin? Agar agar is a plant based alternative for gelatin that is widely used.

What is a good substitute for aspic? ›

Unflavored gelatin will have basically the same mechanical properties as aspic, as long as the gelatin concentration is roughly the same (1/2 tbsp of dry gelatin will set about a cup of liquid).

What are the three types of gelatin? ›

2.1 Gelatin. Gelatin is a colorless food ingredient which is derived from collagen originating from the body parts of animals. After hydrolysis of gelatin, it is converted into gelatin hydrolysate, hydrolyzed gelatin, collagen hydrolysate and various other compounds.

What culture is aspic from? ›

Aspic is popular in French and Eastern European cooking

Eastern Europe is also famous for its use of aspic. The ingredient is generally regarded as a winter food to make dishes like kholodets, which is made with pork bones and then served with horseradish and beet sauce, per Let the Baking Begin.

What ingredient is in aspic? ›

Celery, carrots and onions make for the perfect aspic. Herbs: You can use any fresh herbs that you like. I love fresh dill and parsley. Other Flavoring: Sometimes I pop a couple bay leaves into the broth (make sure to remove them before letting the gelatin set).

Is spam meat jelly? ›

Natural gelatins cause the jelly-like substance that surrounds spam in the meat that solidifies when cooled (like an aspic). Depending on the variety of Spam, other ingredients, including chicken or turkey, may be added. There are numerous different flavors of spam.

Is meat aspic healthy? ›

Meat jello or Aspic, as it is formally called, is rich in amino acids and nutrients. It's naturally a great source of collagen and helps support bone, teeth and joint health. It's naturally Whole30, Keto, Paleo and GAPS diet compliant.

What is the jelly like deli meat? ›

Head cheese (Dutch: hoofdkaas) or brawn is a cold cut terrine or meat jelly that originated in Europe. It is made with flesh from the head of a calf or pig (less commonly a sheep or cow), typically set in aspic, and usually eaten cold, at room temperature, or in a sandwich.

What is the strongest gelatin? ›

High quality and excellent performance: 300° Bloom is the strongest gelatin in the market. The powder sold in supermarkets is usually about 120 Bloom.

What is the difference between Knox gelatin and Jell-O? ›

Gelatin is used to prepare a variety of food products such as gelatine desserts, gummy candy, trifles, and marshmallow. Jello is an American brand name for a gelatin dessert, which is colloquially used to refer to all gelatin desserts. This is the key difference between gelatin and jello.


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