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Aspic

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Aspic is a dish in which ingredients are set into a gelatin made from a meat stock or consommé. It is also known as cabaret.

Left: Sülze (German meat jelly).

In its narrow meaning, aspic is an ingredient rather than a dish. Aspic, made from clarified stock and gelatin, is used for many things; it can be used as a binder to hold other ingredients together in terrines, or sealers in such foods as pate en croute. Its original use was to prolong the shelf life of food. Since the aspic was used to glaze the entire item, it cut off the oxygen supply to the food, preventing bacteria within from multiplying.

When cooled, stock made from meat congeals because of the natural gelatin found in the meat. The stock can be clarified with egg whites, and then filled and flavored just before the aspic sets. Almost any type of food can be set into aspics. Most common are meat pieces, fruits, or vegetables. Aspics are usually served on cold plates so that the gel will not melt before being eaten. A meat jelly that includes cream is called a chaud-froid.

Nearly any type of meat can be used to make the gelatin: pork, beef, veal, chicken, turkey, or fish. Gelatin is also found in cartilage. The aspic may need additional gelatin in order to set properly. Veal stock provides a great deal of gelatin; in making stock, veal is often included with other meat for that reason. Fish consommés usually have too little natural gelatin, so the fish stock may be double-cooked or supplemented. Since fish gelatin melts at a lower temperature than gelatins of other meats, fish aspic is more delicate and melts more readily in the mouth.

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Historically, meat jellies were made before fruit and vegetable jellies. By the Middle Ages at the latest, cooks had discovered that a thickened meat broth could be made into a jelly.

Left: Russian meat aspic (known as "kholodets") is usually served with horseradish.

In Poland, (known as "galareta"), in Russia (known as "kholodets"), in Serbia (known as "pihtije"), and in Romania (known as "piftie") aspic often takes the form of pork jelly, and it is popular around the Christmas and Easter Holidays.

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