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Clear, cool, classy

White wine gelées add a delicate elegance to summer canapés, pâtés and desserts.

July 25, 2007|Betty Hallock and Donna Deane | Times Staff Writers

A cool shimmer of gelée 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 gelée and then into the rich, velvety egg.

One bite, and the flavor of the gelée shines through, bright and refreshing and citrusy -- because it's made with Sauvignon Blanc. It's the white wine gelée that makes this classic French dish appealingly modern. Traditionally, oeuf en gelée is set in aspic jelly made with a clarified veal stock. But using white wine gelée in lieu of a veal aspic turns it into something altogether new.

White wine gelée 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 canapés.

A gelée is simply liquid set with gelatin. Traditionally, the liquid for a savory gelée 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 pâté, spiced with a touch of nutmeg, begs for a layer of gelée, 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 pâté with chives, then gently spoon the gelée, set just to a syrupy stage, over it. Finally, chill the pâté until it's completely set.

Eggs in gelée 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 gelée -- and assemble.

Or for dessert, make a gelée 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?



Figs with white Port gelée

Total time: About 1 hour, 45 minutes, plus overnight maceration time and chilling time Servings: 4 to 6 Note: From test kitchen director Donna Deane. You might have some syrup left over from poaching the figs. This would be delicious on pancakes or waffles, or over ice cream. White Port is available at many fine wine shops. 1 pound green grapes


teaspoons sugar, or to taste, plus 2/3 cup sugar, divided


teaspoons unflavored gelatin


tablespoons white Port wine, plus 1/3 cup, divided


teaspoon lime juice, divided


figs, cut in half lengthwise


vanilla bean, split lengthwise

Lime peel, 1 1/2 -inch piece

1. Wash the grapes

and remove the stems. Place the grapes in a medium saucepan and add 1 cup water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes to soften and slightly cook the grapes. Remove from the heat.

2. Lightly crush the grapes

in the pan using a potato masher or pestle. Pour the grapes and the liquid into a glass or nonreactive bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

3. Pour the grapes

with the juices into a sieve lined with several layers of dampened cheesecloth over a large measuring cup or a bowl. Allow the juice to drain from the mashed grapes into the bowl. Let the juice drain naturally, about 5 minutes; do not press the grapes as this will cloud the juice. You should have about three-fourths cup juice. Discard the grapes.

4. Place the juice

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