Monday, July 18, 2016

Poultry in Jelly: A Blast From the Past

Poultry in Jelly (Gelatin)
Notice the chickens encased within the gelatin.

Recipe Provenance 
The following recipe comes from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover. The recipe below is one of many from the manuscript that will be included in a book I am writing. The book will contain biographical information about Mrs. Morris, an annotated transcript of the entire manuscript as it was written, and a section of modern recipe adaptations (including this)!

Chickens, Pigeons or Partridges in Savoury Jelly
Roast two chickens, then boil some calf’s feet to a strong jelly, take out the feet & skim off the fat. beat the whites of 3 eggs very well, then mix them with half a pint of white wine vinegar, the juice of 3 lemons, a few blades of mace, a few pepper corns & a little salt, put them to your jelly; when it has boiled five or six minutes run it thro’ a jelly bag several times until it is very clear, then put a little in the bottom of a bowl that will hold your chickens, when they are cold and your jelly quite set lay them in with their breasts down, then fill up your bowl quite full with the rest of the jelly & let it remain all night. the next day put your basin into warm water pretty near the top as soon as you find it loose in the bowl, lay your dish over it, and turn it out upon it.—

The manuscript also contains a recipe "To Sauce a Rock". This recipe offers a way to create a fish (in this case a rockfish, a.k.a. striped bass) in jelly. In this case the natural collagen found in the fish is enough to create the gelatin. Here it is:

To Sauce a Rock
Cut your fish in thick pieces and put it in a bell metal or fish kettle with water sufficient to cover it, to a large Rock, 1 small tea cup of Salt one table spoonful of white pepper one of allspice & cloves mixed, a pinch of mace & a small bunch of sage tied in a thin rag & put in before your fish. let all boil until your Rock is nearly done, then add a quart of light coloured vinegar—it will Jelly in 24 hours

About the Recipe
Though this recipe was found in a 19th century manuscript with a Baltimore provenance, recipes for savory dishes surrounded by a gelatin or an aspic were quite common in the 19th century and earlier, particularly in England. This may have something to do with the lack of refrigeration in those days. Foods would spoil less quickly if exposed as little as possible to the air; the gelatin acts as an airtight casing keeping out much of the bacteria with which the food might otherwise come into contact. Also, this type of dish confers a certain amount of status because it was a lot harder to make gelatin back when you couldn't buy a packet of a quick dissolving substance such as Knox Brand. Gelatin was an expensive and time consuming thing to make. You can read more about it here.

Here are some examples of recipes for savory gelatins from the 18th and 19th centuries:

E.Smith, The Compleat Housewife, London, 1808

E. Raffald, The Experienced English Housekeeper, London, 1808

F. Nutt, The Imperial and Royal Cook, London, 1809
B. Clermont, The Professed Cook, London, 1812

Poultry in Gelatin: Modern Recipe Adaptation


  • 2 Cornish Game Hens
  • 4 1-Ounce Boxes Knox Gelatin (each box contains eight .25 ounce packets)
  • 4.5 Cups Cold Water
  • 8 Cups Water
  • 1/2 Cup White Wine Vinegar
  • 2 Teaspoons Ground Mace (or nutmeg) 
  • 4 Tablespoons Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Black Peppercorns, Whole


  1. Heat the oven to 375º F. While the oven is heating, prepare the hens for roasting by trussing them with string so that the legs do not splay open during the cooking process. Place the hens in a foil-lined roasting pan and cook for about one hour, or until a meat thermometer reads 165ºF.  Remove from the oven and let rest until needed again in Step 4. While the hens are roasting, prepare the gelatin. 
  2. In a very large bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and stir to dissolve. Let stand as you move to the next step.
  3. Heat the additional 8 cups of water, vinegar, mace, lemon juice, salt, and peppercorns to boiling and reduce heat to medium and simmer for about 5 minutes. Drain this hot mixture through a cloth or a tight mesh colander to remove the residue from the spices and the peppercorns.  Add this hot mixture directly to the gelatin in the cold water. Strain this mixture again, if necessary, to remove any residue.
  4. Pour about 1/3 of the warm gelatin into a large flat-bottomed pan or pot, large enough to be able to contain the hens and enough gelatin to completely cover the hens. Place this into the refrigerator to set, at least two hours or more depending on the shape of the pan or pot. Refrigerate the remaining gelatin.
  5. Heat the remaining gelatin until it is liquefied enough to pour. Pour the gelatin over the hens, covering them completely. Allow this to cool off for about 10 minutes and then cover and transfer to the refrigerator. This will need to refrigerate at least 24 hours to ensure the gelatin is completely set. Note: The chickens will want to float to the top, so after about 1-hour in the fridge before the gel sets completely, push the chickens down into the solidifying gel. 
  6. When the gelatin is completely set, place it in a vat of hot water for just about 45-60 seconds to help melt the gelatin enough to allow it to be removed from the pan. Turn out onto a large platter. Note: This will be heavy so be very careful and ask someone to help you, if necessary.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.