It's almost as if Fanny is tempting us in with the promise that if we first master the 'simple' stuff, she will reveal how to whip up the 'real' Aspic in a later partwork. When we are ready for such elaboration. The simple version is a mix of stock, egg white, eggshell (indeed), wine vinegar, sherry and seasoning. Oh and gelatine. Will a vegetarian version work? I'm assuming that the ingredients have some sort of magical chemical reaction which makes them taste sensational when set. Will agar powder cut it?Maybe I'm focusing on the wrong thing - instead of wondering if it will set, I really should be wondering why the heck?
Most of the ingredients need to simply mingled together in a pan, but first I have to wash the eggshell and 'pare away' the inner skin. It must ruin everything or something, Fanny doesn't say. The washed, crushed shells go into the pan to be heated up, moderately. Once the agar powder has dissolved, Fanny says to whisk it (although you understand she is talking about gelatine powder really) vigorously until a scum appears on the top. I clearly should've paid more attention during science at school, it was fascinating to see it change colour completely before my eyes, and 'scum up' just as Fanny said. The next instruction is to then allow the mixture to reach boiling without touching it before lowering the heat to the lowest possible setting. Fanny says to draw the pan to the side of the burner so that it just puffs and heaves.
Ten minutes later, the pan comes off the heat to sit for a further three minutes. I'm remembering now why I didn't pay that much attention in science class, the fascination is wearing thin. All this precision and concentration is a little boring. Sorry. Fanny says to strain the mixture through a jelly bag, but I don't have one, so I improvise with some muslin and a small sieve. Fanny says the Aspic that runs through will be pale, clear and modest. Erm. Mine is a bit cloudy, but I reckon that my stock was more cloudy to begin with than the bone stock Fanny used herself. Maybe I should've made my own veggie stock, that'll teach me.
So, the reason for making this Aspic in the first place is to produce an engraved presentation for the aforementioned buffet. I was more into art than science at school, so this is appealing again. Fanny says to swirl a small amount of Aspic into an ordinary pudding bowl, and then to quickly place little scraps of vegetable into a pattern she shows which she suggests is appealing. Once set in place they are secured with little spoonfuls of Aspic before filling the bowl and leaving to set entirely. As if this is not enough to drive my buffet guests giddy, Fanny shows me how to make Salad Flowers from cucumber and tomato. It's essentially taking strips off the cucumber, assembling five thin slices in a circle, adding little crescents of tomato flesh and stem and leaf details. I kind of like it though. Above all, garnish and presentation. As for the Aspic? It looks good actually, and certainly tastes of stock, sherry and vinegar with little bits of vegetable suspended in it. Not a whiff of cold tea or the sea. Possibly I'm never going to be sold completely but we'll see what reaction I get from my buffet guests and let that be the decider.