A cool shimmer of gelee catches the light, and suspended beneath its glassy sheen like a summer mosaic is a perfectly poached egg, an asparagus tip, some fresh peas, slices of carrots, pieces of tender green beans and sprigs of herbs. Spoon into it, first breaking into the smooth gelee and then into the rich, velvety egg.
One bite, and the flavor of the gelee shines through, bright and refreshing and citrusy -- because it’s made with Sauvignon Blanc. It’s the white wine gelee that makes this classic French dish appealingly modern. Traditionally, oeuf en gelee is set in aspic jelly made with a clarified veal stock. But using white wine gelee in lieu of a veal aspic turns it into something altogether new.
White wine gelee is perfect in summer -- it’s cool and smooth and delicate. Pair cubes of it with fresh berries in a stemmed glass or layer it with panna cotta. Use it to garnish poached chicken or salmon. Put a thin layer of it over canapes.
A gelee is simply liquid set with gelatin. Traditionally, the liquid for a savory gelee is fish or meat stock that’s been reduced to concentrate the flavor and clarified because it “must always be crystal clear and a light, golden color,” according to “The Art of Garde Manger,” published by the Culinary Institute of America in the 1970s. Add white wine to the mix and the flavor is brightened, sharpened, more focused.
It’s sort of an elaborate process, but the result isn’t fussy -- it’s coolly beautiful, a literally sparkling layer or base for more dishes than you’d think.
A terrine of chicken liver pate, spiced with a touch of nutmeg, begs for a layer of gelee, which gets a sort of honeyed voluptuousness from the addition of Monbazillac, a sweet wine from southwest France. Start with chicken stock, preferably homemade; it’s worth it for the depth of flavor, but you can use commercial chicken broth as a substitute. To clarify the stock or broth, simmer it with a couple of egg whites and egg shells. The egg whites coagulate to form a “raft” and draw impurities from the liquid. Discard the raft and what remains is clear stock. Add softened gelatin to the stock, along with the Monbazillac. Decorate the top of the pate with chives, then gently spoon the gelee, set just to a syrupy stage, over it. Finally, chill the pate until it’s completely set.
Eggs in gelee are common in French charcuteries. Rows of them are lined up in refrigerated cases, decorated with sunbursts of tarragon leaves or sprigs of dill or wrapped with slices of ham or smoked salmon. Served with toasted brioche, they’re perfect for brunch.
Once you make the vegetable stock (which you don’t need to clarify) and add the gelatin, chill it, stirring gently, in a bowl over ice water so you can see when it begins to thicken (it will happen quickly). Then stir in the blanched vegetables -- they should be suspended in the gelee -- and assemble.
Or for dessert, make a gelee from the juices of crushed poached grapes and white Port. Once cooled and set, cut it into cubes and scatter them atop fresh figs poached in white Port with a little vanilla and lime peel. It all comes together with a drizzling of the figs’ poaching syrup.
What could be cooler?