How long has it been since you’ve had aspic? (Have you ever?)
Introducing aspics and terrines to the modern age is entertaining. Watching first-time aspic eaters take a stab at trying meat-flavored jello is enlightening–and entertaining– to say the least. No longer are neon raspberry and lemon jello boxes the be-all-end-all of cooking with gelatin. Instead, wibbly-wobbly molds of liquid meat towers take the center stage of classic cuisine.
“The best place to get these recipes and a good feel for them,” my chef informed us, “is in garage-sale copies of old Betty Crocker cookbooks. Women’s positions were based on how well their aspics turned out. It was precise! It was an art! It was something used to impress the husband’s boss at a dinner party. And nowadays, it’s old-school.”
I, personally, was thrilled to try my hand at aspics and terrines. They’re so fancy and old fashioned and they make me feel like Samantha from Bewitched trying to impress Larry and Lousie Tate. Without the magic, of course.
Terrines, galantines and aspics were to be our homework topics. With explicit directions to study terrine technique before the next day, we left class with notebooks full of Terrine How-To and DIY Galantine information.
My Terrine Team (Team Terrine? Terream?) didn’t take these words to heart. I received several text messages this morning from my group: “Not feeling very well,” and “Do you have a copy of the recipes for today?”
If anything is going to cause a sinking feeling approaching a difficult lab day, texts like these will do it.
“Yes,” I typed back. “I have the recipes.” I’d even gone so far as to watch Julie & Julia for the sole sake of the Aspic Scene, where Amy Adams pitches an adorable fit over the un-gelled aspic in her refrigerator.
(Also, I needed an excuse to watch Julie and Julia, but that’s beside the point.)
When my team met up before class, we designated who would do what. Our menu included a rabbit terrine, a mushroom terrine and an heirloom tomato aspic. Simple enough, mostly needing time to set or cook. I wasn’t concerned.
Perhaps I should have been.
Terrine Day went downhill fast. The rest of the class was a mess. Every few seconds–amid the shouts of, “WHO HAS THE DUCK FAT?” and “Someone’s rabbit tenderloins are burning over here!”–someone would make the mistake of shaking an un-set aspic or opening an oven, slowing down the cooking process. We didn’t finish in the allotted time.
“EVERYONE!” the chef yelled as one girl ran to the dish room to dry her tears (yes, tears, over an aspic that won’t set are apparently common), “Silence! Put your terrines away! We are now a full day behind. We’ll complete this lab tomorrow. I am shocked none of you came prepared.”
I looked at the faces of my classmates around me. Not a single one of them had raised their hand when asked if they had made aspics or terrines before. This was a first time for everyone, something that didn’t happen often in my group of little culinary geniuses.
Isn’t that what culinary school is about? I mean, it’s great when things work out as planned and everyone can drive home with a leg of lamb in their front seat, but it’s even better when things go horribly awry because that is the best possible way to learn. It’s a mess (and sometimes a very ugly one–pureed meat and mushrooms isn’t very appealing when raw. Or cooked, for that matter!) But it goes to show not everyone is perfect. We are all still learning.
And when are we ever going to get the chance to make (or break) fancy buffet terrines ever again? They’re not exactly popular these days, although their rarity means they can be sold for hefty price.
No, today was a train wreck of pureed chicken and wobbly tomato juice. But it was one heck of an interesting class, if not one I’d necessarily like to repeat.
Hopefully tomorrow the aspics and terrines will be beautifully set, the way a 50’s Housewife would be proud of, and I can post some pictures of the accomplishment. Of course, if things go horribly awry, the pictures will be far funnier for me to post on the internet, so perhaps tomorrow you’ll all get to laugh at the way my food turns out.
Either way, it’s going to be an adventure. Stay tuned.