Aspic, Southern Style

Aspic. What in the cat hair is it?

The dictionary defines it as “a savoury jelly based on meat or fish stock, used as a relish or as a mould for meat, vegetables, etc.” Blech. I have a real problem with meat jellies. Something about the idea of it just gives me the heebie-jeebies as I talked about in this post about innards, specifically regarding another favorite southern meat jelly, head cheese also known as souse.

The dictionary also says the word “aspic” may have been derived from the Old French word “asp” because of it’s cool temperature and because its coloring was like a snake’s. So it’s a meat jelly that’s cold like a reptile and the color of a timber rattler. None of this —  not one single, solitary word — sounds the least bit appetizing.

So why am I even talking about aspic?

Because South Alabama ain’t France, although it’s got a hefty dose of French influence, and our aspic is nothing like what’s described above. Our aspic is a spicy, tomato-based congealed salad. Now don’t be put off by “tomato” and “congealed.” It’s like a Bloody Mary on your plate. And just like that Bloody Mary, you can make it as spicy as you like.

We have had aspic every Christmas for as long as I can remember. In fact, our holiday table wouldn’t be the same without it. Mama always made it in an old Tupperware mold with a Christmas Tree design in the middle. When she turned it out, she would fill the tree indention with mayonnaise.

It’s little touches like adding a bit of contrast that transform a reasonably plain dish into something memorable. With the bright red aspic and the creamy white mayo, you’ve got yourself a right festive side dish! Put a few celery tops or some parsley around the edges for garnish and voila! Christmas color for days.

But you don’t have to wait for Christmas to have it. Say you’re having a summertime lady party. Chill your fancy salad plates and serve the aspic on top of a bed of lettuce with a few nice boiled shrimp on the side and maybe a little aioli, which is really just fancy mayonnaise. Throw in a glass of champagne and you’re guests will think they’ve died and gone to an elegant bistro on the Champs-Élysées.

Now I have a love/hate relationship with recipes that require something to gel or set up. I’m probably one of the few people who have ever failed at Jello. But this recipe has never let me down, and I’m sure it won’t let you down either.

Tomato Aspic Piquante

Ingredients

  • 2 small packages lemon Jello
  • 2 small cans tomato sauce
  • Juice of 1 or 2 lemons
  • 3 Tbsp cider or tarragon vinegar
  • 1 shot Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp horseradish
  • 3 or 4 drops Tabasco sauce
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp grated onion juice
  • 1 or 2 ribs finely chopped celery
  • Pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Dissolve Jello in 1½ cups boiling water.
  2. Add the tomato sauce and all the rest of the ingredients.
  3. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste.
  4. Spray a ring mold thoroughly with Pam or olive oil and invert on a paper towel-covered baking sheet.
  5. When excess Pam or olive oil has run out, fill the ring mold with the tomato mixture and refrigerate to gel.
  6. When aspic is thick but not gelled, give it a little stir to distribute the celery pieces, otherwise they will all float to the top and not be scattered throughout.
  7. Just before serving, take a sharp knife and run it around the edges of the mold. Put your serving plate on top of the ring mold and flip the whole thing over to unmold the aspic onto the plate.
  8. Serve with mayonnaise.