I need to apologise to my mother, in advance. She never made these, nor would she have made them. However, they were a part of my adolescence, and I treasure them.
I went to a private high school in eastern Massachusetts, and along with the many religious brothers who ran the school and taught there were laymen and (a very few) women. One of the laymen taught art and French, and ran the Drama Club. His name was Harry Martin, and it is he who introduced me to oeufs en gelée.
Harry had an interesting back story, some of which you might discover by reading a long out-of-print book, The Innocents At Home, by Lord Kinross. While Lord Kinross was in the United States to research the book, he met Harry, who was at the time a taxicab driver. They became friends, and Harry became a major character in the book.
When I first knew him, in 1967, he was in his mid-40s, and was an artist and art teacher. He had spent a lot of time in Paris in the 1950s, and was fluent in French, as well as French cooking. He lived in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and had a fabulous apartment on Main Street. Occasionally he invited some of his students to visit, and in doing so, introduced us to culture, art, wine, and conversation, just as Continental students might be introduced.
When the conversation lasted into the late nights, he would bed us down in his living room and spare room. In the morning, before we left, he would give us the same breakfast fare that he himself ate. This being the 1960s, French bread, croissants, and the like were unavailable. So he would give us each one plastic cocktail glass full of what looked like brown Jell-o. In that Jell-o there was entombed a poached egg. No frills, no herbs or spices. Just an egg in aspic. When you ate it, the beef flavour of the aspic contrasted well with the egg. When you sliced into the yolk, and it flowed into the rest of the aspic, it was heavenly. This was Harry’s usual breakfast fare, on the run, ready to get to work.
I’ve done some research, and have found that Julia Child has a very intricate recipe for oeufs en gelée in Mastering The Art of French Cooking. This recipe involves blanched tarragon leaves, and the aforementioned aspic and egg. The blogger whose efforts in recreating all of Julia Child’s recipes were placed on screen in Julie/Julia got to this recipe and found the results somewhat unappetising.
Harry’s recipe is quite simple, is not unmolded from the glass it was prepared in, but to my palate is a very tasty way to get some protein and energy into you. You could also use it as a first course at a picnic lunch.
Here’s how he did it. First, take two cans of jellied consommé. Let me warn British readers now: you cannot get these here. Campbell’s consommé worked very well for Harry and for me. Set out four cocktail-style plastic glasses.
Fill each glass half-full of consommé, and put them in the refrigerator to gel. This should take an hour or two. Once the consommé is gelled, you can poach the eggs.
As these are not meant for elegant dining, there is no need to be precise in your poaching. If the egg turns out to be a bit expansive, and not in a perfect circle shape, no worries. I usually put a few tablespoons of white vinegar in the poaching water, as I have been told that this helps the egg stay together. However, your mileage may vary on this and how you poach is up to you. Delia Smith has a rather fussy method which will work. If you Google around you will find other methods that might suit you just as well.
Now that you’ve poached four eggs, place one egg in each glass, and top with the rest of the consommé. Place in the fridge and allow to completely gel.
If you want to try making the consommé yourself, there are lots of recipes out there. Most of them are quite as fussy as Delia’s egg-poaching method, but the essence of every one is boiling beef (shin of beef is good) with beef stock, a chopped carrot, onion, and celery and some parsley, a bay leaf, and salt and pepper. Boil for an hour, then strain through muslin or a very fine sieve. The method for clarifying stock is this: whisk an egg white, after having saved the shell. When the consommé is sieved, throw in the egg white and egg shells, whisk them together, and strain it again. Add two tsp. of powdered gelatine and heat for a couple of minutes until the gelatine dissolves completely. Then add a couple of tablespoons of sherry, if you like it. Not cooking sherry, mind you: real drinking sherry. This is now ready to place in your glasses as above. I have not tried this recipe yet, I’m afraid. But I will.
If you are controlling for carbohydrates in your diet, eating one of these each morning rather than toast will provide a lot of protein with only a very little carbohydrate.
Often when we are out of our teen years we look back and can put our mental fingers on people who have influenced us in our development out of childhood into adults. Harry was one of these people for me and, doubtless, many others of my schoolmates. As odd as it might seem, his oeufs en gelée helped me to see that there was a world outside of eastern Massachusetts and that I myself might actually be able to go there later on in my life.