Aspic (Polish: galareta) is a savory meat jelly set in a mold or a dish that encases pieces of other ingredients, such as vegetables, eggs, fish, or different kinds of meat and seafood. Since it is made with meat stock or broth, it may be described as a jellied soup.
The broth jelly gives the dish an additional flavor as well as protects the cooked ingredients from going bad by keeping out all of the bacteria and air. Essentially, it acts as a preservative. Moreover, some use this glistening jelly as a garnish or decoration for their dishes. It is said to make the dishes appear more pleasant to the eye.
No wonder then why in Poland dishes with aspic (most often the pork kind) are served during holidays and celebrations. Apart from the aesthetics, there might be yet another reason for the sudden emergence of this dish around such occasions: an excess of meat and the desire to make something out of it. We do tend to prepare more food than necessary, and since nothing should go to waste, aspics are a good way to manage it.
The dish is so widespread that depending on the region you find yourself in, you may find it under different names: nóżki w galarecie (pig trotters in jelly) zimne nóżki (cold pigs feet), galart in Greater Poland, zylc in the Kuyavia and Pomeranian regions, studzienina and kwaszenina in the eastern parts.
To order it in a Polish restaurant, look for seta i galareta (a shot and a jelly) on the menu. Why such a combination? During the PRL times, it used to be one of the more popular zakąska, bites served with strong alcohol. However, the history of the dish itself is even longer.
History set in jelly
Galareta has been an integral part of Polish cuisine for centuries. According to some sources, meat jelly was present on the tables at the wedding feast of King Zygmunt I Stary (Sigismund I of Poland) and Bona Sforza.
At that time, pork was not a very popular choice of meat. Therefore, the stock for such jellies was made from boiled young chickens, castrated roosters, and fish. Such a mixture was strained and poured into a mold to solidify. Moreover, some decorated them or even dyed them!
The Polish 19th-century cookbooks are full of inventive recipes for making various aspics, some weirder than others. For instance, there’s one for meat jelly with cream! The recipe calls for ten fieldfare birds, bread, gelatin, alchermes (a type of alcohol), a paper straw for decoration, and an edible dish made from a large turnip.
For quite some time, galareta was thought to be a good cold remedy. Even now, some people believe in its healing properties and eat it to strengthen their bones. Due to the discovery and popularization of gelatine, galareta has become easier to prepare.
I (don’t) think you’re ready for this jelly
Nowadays, two varieties of aspic dishes are popular during Christmas time: carp in aspic (Christmas Eve) and pig trotters or chicken jelly (Christmas day). Aside from stock, the ingredients often include carrots, parsley, green peas, and sometimes even hard-boiled eggs. The seasonings for the broth include bay leaf, marjoram, lovage, allspice, garlic, salt, and pepper. The dish is usually served with lemon slices, horseradish, mustard, or tartar sauce, but some prefer to simply sprinkle it with vinegar.
Below, you’ll find a basic recipe for chicken jelly that will allow you to use up the Christmas Day leftovers!
- 1 chicken (about 1.2 kg)
- 6 large or thick carrots
- 1 parsley root
- 1 celery
- 1 leek
- a few grains of allspice
- a few grains of black pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- dried lovage (optional)
- salt and ground black pepper
- gelatin powder (20g for every liter of the broth)
- 1 can of canned peas
- 1 can of canned corn
- parsley for garnish
- lemon or vinegar
- Wash the chicken and cut it up into smaller pieces. Then, place it in a big pot and add the vegetables (carrots, leek, celery, parsley) and spices (bay leaves, grainy pepper, allspice).
- Cover it all with water and cook over low heat until the meat becomes tender. At the very end of cooking, season it with salt and ground pepper.
- Take out the meat and carrots from the stock to cool and strain the liquid through a sieve. The only parts that you will need are the meat, carrots, and liquid. The rest may be discarded or used in some other way.
- Combine the stock with gelatin and set aside to cool a bit.
- Dice the cooked carrots.
- Remove the skin from the chicken meat and cut into smaller chunks or shred it up with a fork.
- Strain the canned peas and corn.
- Place a layer of peas on the bottom of your dish (you can use small bowls or a bread pan). Then, add a layer of carrots, meat, and corn.
- Now it’s the time to pour the cooled broth over everything and leave it to set in a fridge.
- For garnish, you can use chopped parsley or a hard-boiled egg. Serve cold with lemon slices or sprinkled with vinegar.