The first time I went to the North of France with my husband (he was just my boyfriend at the time), we were sitting in a restaurant with some of his friends when the menus came around. His friends started laughing and dared me to order the Potjevleesch- a dish that is particular to that part of France. I asked my beau/husband what it was, and he described it as being “some sort of cold meat in jelly”. To this day I don’t know why, but I had a vision of left-over Christmas roast with a simple daub of mint jelly next to it- so I ordered it. What I got was a pinkish-beige slab of mixed meats covered in what looked like solidified fat. Ah, my first brush with French gelée.
Which brings me to the next installment of my French Wedding Menus Demystified series: Gelée. The English equivalent of gelée is aspic- it’s a savory jelly that’s made of meat and broth that’s been cooled until it forms a jelly. From Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”:
“Calf’s feet and veal knuckles contain enough natural gelatin to make a stock jell by itself; pork rind helps the process. They are added to simmer with any of the stocks on pages 107 to 100 and will provide about 3 quarts of jelly.
Use either 2 calf’s feet OR 1 pound cracked veal knuckles AND 1/4 pound fresh or salt pork rind.”
In case you haven’t deduced it from previous posts, your American Wedding Planner in Paris may not be too handy in the cuisine, but she is a bit of an epicurean (without the snobbish aftertaste that that term usually elicits). I enjoy haute gastronomie just as much as a cheddar bacon burger (I do hail from the “Hog Butcher for The World“, after all…) and will try just about anything that’s placed on my plate. BUT I really can’t stomach gelée. Even though things other than meat parts can be served gelée (vegetables, fruits, fish, etc.) there’s something about the overall consistency that really grosses me out. The French love it for some reason, and it can be found all over the typical French wedding menu, from the starter (Le Foie gras d’Oie fait par le patron sur un lit de gelée (home-made goose foie gras served on a bed of gelatinous fat), through the main course (Terrine de boeuf en gelée, (a terrine made of beef parts covered in gelatinous fat), and onto the dessert (Mousse pistache gelée de fruits rouge (a mousse made of pistachios and gelatinous red fruits).
I believe aspics were really popular in the U.S. in the 1950’s, but they’ve never gone out of fashion in France. I have to admit that most of the meat dishes that I’ve tried that have been served on (in?) gelée have been pretty tasty once I’ve discreetly scraped off the fat. I certainly haven’t written this post in order to discourage anyone from trying it. Part of the excitement of planning a destination wedding is the thrill of experiencing new things. Sometimes, though, you don’t want to go in blind- especially when it’s something as important as your wedding meal.
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