The other day my wife and I had a conversation about foods from the 50s. So many of them were essentials, and they now have fallen off the radar. I guess we were thinking of wedge salad. You know, a wedge of iceberg lettuce topped with thousand island dressing. I haven’t seen that in a restaurant for years, but every single place in Shreveport had its own version on the menu.
Probably more ubiquitous in those ancient days were gelled salads. I am certain they were inspired not only by the public information officers of the Jello company, but also by early editions of The Joy of Cooking which included them in its long list of open-a-can recipes. There are several recipes in our family cook book including my mother-in-law’s lime Jello and cottage cheese, my mother’s strawberry Jello with canned fruit cocktail, and the festive holiday special, wild cherry Jello with Coca Cola, cream cheese, and pecans. Unfortunately, tomato aspic was lumped in this category of salads, and it also fell out of flavor.
Inspired by the conversation, I decided that a tomato aspic was just the thing for a hot summer evening. Then it occurred to me that variation might be better. A few weeks ago, one of my El Paso friends and fellow blogger (Jim Hastings, The Gringo Gourmet) had written about a Border classic, Mexican shrimp cóctel, made with tiny shrimp, other seafood, crunchy vegetables, and tomato-clam juice.
If you have ever lived on the US-Mexico Border you know that there are two sure-fire cures for hangover, menudo and tomato-clam juice, so some of the popularity of the cóctel might be explained by its restorative powers. Whatever, it seemed like a good jumping-off place for a refreshing summer aspic. You can make the aspic as festive as you would like. If you are really feeling up to it, you can set it into a party centerpiece. Gel the mixture in an ornate mold or individual molds to be unmolded and ceremoniously brought to the table. I chose the more pedestrian approach of letting it gel in the bowl I used to mix it in. Also, you can decorate it with avocado or greens, and top it with mayonnaise or aioli. Honestly, I like it just plain with a little avocado on the side.
Here’s the recipe.
Tomato-Clam Cocktail Aspic with Shrimp
- ½ cup cold water
- 2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
- about 4 cups tomato-clam cocktail juice (Clamato is a popular brand)
- juice of 1 lime
- (1 teaspoon Chalulu or other hot sauce, more or less to taste – optional)
- salt and pepper
- ½ pound peeled and cooked salad shrimp (350-500/pound. Sold as “Oregon shrimp” at our market)
- ½ medium red onion, diced
- ½ cup green bell pepper, diced
- ½ cup celery, diced (about 1 rib)
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
- ½ cup thinly sliced radishes (Use a mandolin if you have one)
- ½ cup sliced black olives
- cilantro leaves
- lettuce leaves
- Pour the water into a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the powdered gelatin onto the surface of the water and allow it to “bloom” for about 5 minutes. It will not fully soften with a shorter time, and it becomes hard to dissolve with alonger time.
- Meanwhile heat 2 cups of the tomato-clam cocktail juice to boiling.
- When the gelatin is fully bloomed, pour in the hot juice and stir continuously until the gelatin is completely dissolved. This is a critical step because if the gelatin is not completely dissolved it will form tough lumps in your finished aspic.
- Add the lime juice to a 2-cup measuring cup and add enough tomato-clam juice to make two cups. Stir this into the gelatin-juice mixture until it is completely incorporated. Let the mixture cool for 5 minutes on the counter top. Then cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator. In about 1 to 1½ hours, the mixture will begin to set up. It should have the consistency of thick cream. It should be thick enough that the foods you add will not float to the top, but not so thick that you cannot incorporate them evenly into the mixture.
- Stir in the shrimp and vegetables, making certain that they are evenly distributed. Cover again with plastic wrap and return to the refrigerator. Chill for at least another 2-3 hours.
- If you have decided on the fancy approach, remove from the refrigerator when you are ready to unmold. Place the mold or molds in a sink of hot water for no more than 15 seconds, being careful not to get water on the surface of the aspic. Have a plate or plates ready for the unmolding.
- Place the plate on top of the aspic mold and invert everything, mold, plate, and all. The aspic should fall gracefully onto the awaiting plate. If not, heat the mold for another few seconds and try again
- Serve with cilantro leaves and sliced avocado or on a bed of lettuce. Add a dollop of mayonnaise if you like.