Growing up in a house full of Polish and Russian food meant a lot of proteins cooked in jelly. My grandparents’ old world gefilte fish is served surrounded by jelly, and one of my mom’s most raved about delicacies is a Polish dish consisting of boiled chicken suspended in jelly. I could never bring myself to touch any of these wobbling creations. While I pride myself on generally being an adventurous eater, savoury jellies are still terrifying to me.
As always, though, I am coming to realize that you miss out on a lot when you irrationally reject a type of food. The first time that I discovered that a jellied meat dish could actually be delicious was at Montreal’s beloved POP! a couple of years ago, where we were served an excellent charcuterie plate that included the dreaded… head cheese. Yes, that perennial Eastern European favourite that was often in my parents’ fridge growing up, and that I made a face about any time it was trotted out. (Pun intended.) I am ashamed that it took a fancy restaurant to convince me of the possibilities of what is effectively a peasant dish, especially one that I grew up around. But this head cheese in particular was generous on the meat front and not too jelly-ish, making it a great entry level aspic for a wuss like me. I shocked myself by loving it, and going back for seconds and thirds.
It has been a couple of years since my aspic revelation, though, and despite having my eyes opened, I have hardly sought out these delicacies. Actually, my terrible confession is that until recently, I kind of didn’t get pates, terrines, aspics and the like; most of them just tasted like mushy fat to me. However, as Graeme has gotten into making his own charcuterie, and as I’ve learned more about traditional cuisines and cooking methods, I have really come to love these approaches to cooking and eating meat. It helps to have recently tried some truly fantastic versions of them; I realized that it wasn’t that I didn’t like pate, for example, it was just that there is a lot of mediocre, bland pate out there. The recent trendiness of charcuterie has been awesome in terms of offering a lot of cool stuff to try; between that and watching Graeme’s efforts at home, I have started to appreciate the diversity and possibilities of these techniques. It has especially been a pleasure to learn about a kind of cooking that brings me so close to Quebecois cuisine and the incredible work done by local producers. There was this transcendent duck terrine that I gorged myself on at Brasserie t! last summer, not to mention Graeme’s amazing first effort at a pate de campagne, which we served as an appetizer last Thanksgiving, made according to Michael Ruhlman‘s recipe in his incredibly informative book, Charcuterie.
But while the past couple of years have had me do a total 180 on the charcuterie front, I still was not sold on aspics. Until yesterday afternoon, when I browsed the Fromagerie Atwater, thinking that it would be nice to pick up a little something indulgent to eat with some matzah (augh) for dinner. I emerged with some lovely manchego cheese on special, and the above galantine de canard, made by Le Canard Goulu, a farm and artisan charcuterie company based in Saint-Apollinaire that specializes in duck products. I did not know what a galantine was, I just thought it looked intriguing.
It was only after I tasted it, that I googled “galantine” and discovered that it is, indeed, an aspic, specifically one in which the meat is stuffed with forcemeat, and then spiced/garnished and jellied. I am very pleased that I only looked this up afterward, to give me time to truly taste it without allowing myself to be prejudiced about what I was eating. Because it was RIDICULOUSLY delicious. The jelly was subtle, and didn’t take too much of my attention, and the galantine tasted like duck. That’s it, it just tasted like the duckiest duck that ever ducked, which is precisely what I love about this kind of food. It was unpretentious and very lightly seasoned, and possibly one of the most simple tasting bits of charcuterie that I have tried in recent years. I finished off over a third of the container in one sitting. I have to say that my newfound love of charcuterie has left me with very conservative tastes; all of the wacky flavour combinations that folks are producing are fun and all, but at the end of the day, these techniques are about bringing out the best from otherwise difficult to work with parts of an animal, and the absolutely tastiest thing you can do with a duck is not to make it taste like candied orange and lemongrass or whatever, but to make it taste like DUCK. That was what made this galantine so delicious, and yes, the jellied bit of it absolutely contributed to the overall ducky experience of it. I get it now, you guys. I get it.
Aaaaaaaaaaand now I might just have to raid the fridge and polish off another third of that tempting little jar.
[Edited to add: this jar was d-o-n-e within 24 hours. Yup.]