Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
May 30, 2010 01:57 PM

Challenge: Ideas for modernizing molded gelatin salads

Why oh why you ask?

Why bring back that nightmare of the 50’s scarier than zombies and Godzilla? The jiggly, gelatinous horrors with hot dog / pretzel combos and worse. Maybe it is just me, but I’m giggling a bit at the olive Jell-o recipe from the Jell-o museum

Bring it back because …

1.They CAN be pretty
2. Summer is coming and they can be cooling
3. They can be good for a diet
4. They can be economical and a good way to use up bits of things
5. Hasn’t everything else been retro-ed? It is time.

This week’s Chow Digest mention from the General topics board got me thinking about molded salads and maybe they could be good enough to eat … even enjoy

The Mystery of the Molded Salad...

First of all … put down that box of Jell-o and step away.

You can make your own nutritious gelatin using fruit juice and Knox gelatin

Searching around the web, I didn’t find much but a few looked good. This article is about updating the molded salad with recipes for a Bellini salad, three pepper salad, citrus avocado ring, and tea and ginger salad with raspberries.

In addition to some really good tips for working with molded salads, it does indicate a trend to updated molded salads ... though that was in 2004 ... so maybe not

"Of course, today's gelatin salads aren't carbon copies of our grandmoms', just as today's retro cocktails have their own contemporary signatures.

Instead of big centerpiece molds, individual molded salads – especially served in striking cocktail glasses or wine glasses – impart a more sophisticated note.

Wine, champagne and liquors add an adult element, and there's an ever-growing variety of juice drinks, flavored teas and fruit-flavored sparkling waters to spark the imaginations of creative cooks. "

I’ve also discovered aspics … which seemed icky to me … can be tasty … and the molds can be so pretty. I bought some Jambon Persille (Ham in Parsley Aspic) because it was so beautiful … and I trusted the French shop … and it was looks 10, taste 10.

This blog has a lovely photo of Oeuf en Gelée

The blogger writes “I am well aware that this may not seem like such a compelling idea, and may even put off more than one aspic-shy eater. I myself turned my nose up at these … But that was before I actually tasted them … you get to cut through the whole thing with your fork, rupturing the yolk and forming a golden puddle that just begs to be dabbed with a piece of fresh baguette. And then, as you eat your way through the egg, each bite reveals clean and fresh flavors, the glistening smoothness of the aspic responding marvellously well to the rich velvet of the yolk”

Aspics seem complicated. However, here’s something that sounds tasty andy easy

Slow-Baked Pears, Sauternes Aspic

My own molded salad contribution would be for Fourth of July using white grape juice and champagne for a clear mold with strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and maybe a few slices of star fruit … and maybe a few sprinkles of edible gold for sparkle.

So how about some ideas for giving the molded salad a makeover so they taste as good as they look.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. This isn't exactly what you are talking about, but check out with these girls are up to with gelatin:

    Pretty impressive stuff.

    1. Depending on how long a molded salad may be on display before it's eaten, or whether it is a large dish to go on a buffet, I may switch from gelatin to agar agar. The GREAT advantage of agar agar is that it will set at room temperature (well, the warmer the room the longer it will take, but still, if your refrigerator is jammed full?) and it stays stable, once gelled, at room temperature. If you use the sheet kind, it may come in colors (red or white) but I also use the powdered kind. It is flavorless, and made from sea vegetables (I think kelp, but don't remember for sure). There is a gorgeous Japanese dessert type dish in which large whole strawberries are pressed into an unset lemon flavored meringue and agar agar foam. allowed to set, then sliced into rectagles with disected strawberries showing all around the rectangles. Sort of reminds me of a napoleon without the calories. It is delicious, and kids adore it! Traditionally, it's gelled in a large rectangular container such as a pyrex baking dish, then cut, but it could also be molded and the "snow" would hide the berries or other treats until the diner digs in. Oh, and agar agar is sometimes called kanten. They're the same thing.

      I also do an Easter molded gelatin dish with hard boiled eggs that is drop dead gorgeous! Can be done in individual portions or in one large mold. First you hard boil eggs, then you crack the shells by smacking them with the back of a spoon, roll them between the palms of your hands to maximize the crazing, but DO NOT PEEL! Then you allow the eggs to sit in Easter egg dye (with vinegar in it to stabilize the colors so they won't bleed) for about five minutes. The less time, the less color on the inner egg, the more time, the more pronounced. Then peel the eggs. They have this wonderful color crazing in the egg white. Then place them in a mold and fill with gelatin and refrigerate. The crazing will show through with darker gelatins, but it is most pronounced when you use paler colored gelatins. To serve, unmold onto a bed of lettuce, whole leaf or chiffonade. I usually serve this as a starter and use very clear chicken broth gelatin or konbu with gelatin/agar agar added. Depending on how much time I want to devote, for a very elegant presentation I use individual molds. First a thin layer of the clear savory gelatin in the bottom of the molds is set in the refrigerator until solid; then the egg is added, on its side and centered, with more of the same gelatin added until it comes a bit more than halway up the side and returned to the fridge to set. Then a chiffonade of greens or par-cooked white cabbage is arranged around the egg to simulate a nest and filled with gelatin (this gelatin can be the same or a darker more straw colored gelatin of the same or different flavor) and returned to the refrigerator to set the final time before unmolding. It really is quite pretty! Makes me wish Easter came oftener than once a year. And of course, it can be done with soft cooked eggs too, which adults often prefer, but kids not so much. I do like the soft cooked eggs best, then serve with toast points or individual mini-baguettes or bread sticks for dipping. Only problem is making the rest of the meal live up to this standard. It's exciting!

      I have some really complicated Mexican molds made of tin that have all sorts of sharp angles and peaks to them that make gorgeous jello molds, but with metal molds, it is best to spray them with a light film of absolutely tasteless cooking oil, or even a fine coat of butter, but that's impossible on my angular Mexican molds. MUST be sprayed! These particular molds have multiple "steeples" all over the tops that are deep enough I can use different colored gelatins in each one, or layer the colors as whimsy dictates. But it's a lot of bother and I don't do it all that often. Never more than twice a decade! '-) Besides, who needs a gallon of Jell-O?

      As a personal preference, I don't much like the fifties Jell-O salads that incorporate cottage cheese. Don't like the look, don't like the taste, but to each his own. But when an opaque gelatin is required, sour cream and/or mayonnaise can work.

      The old (very old!) trick of making Jell-O or an aspic in a thin layer, such as in the bottom of a very large glass baking dish or in an impecably clean jelly roll pan, then when it is set firm, dragging a fork through it in cross-hatch directions to break it up into small "jewels," then using those around a molded gelatin or as a bed for a cold bird or ham for a buffet is another very pretty way to use gelatins and aspics.

      Glad gelatin is getting a foot back in the door..! Thanks RWO! Except I guess I won't be the only kid on the block any more. '-)

      1 Reply
      1. re: Caroline1

        very cool idea i'll use for deviled eggs, too! """First you hard boil eggs, then you crack the shells by smacking them with the back of a spoon, roll them between the palms of your hands to maximize the crazing, but DO NOT PEEL! Then you allow the eggs to sit in Easter egg dye.... Then peel the eggs. They have this wonderful color crazing in the egg white.""""

        thanks, caroline.

      2. A friend of mine loves Dr. Pepper jello. Get any rain down there?

        1. A couple weeks ago I saw an article by Russ Parsons in the LA Times about Deborah Madison's new seasonal dessert book. He included a couple recipes from the book. In one, gelatin cubes were made with sparkling or sweet wine. The cubes were served with fruit.

          In another one, gelatin was used with buttermilk and light cream to make a molded dessert, also served with fruit. (Swedish cream.) I have a feeling that more of the recipes from the book use gelatin and will be checking that out.

          The article with links to the two recipes is here:

          1 Reply
          1. re: karykat

            others on another thread mentioned the jello with cream poured over it. my grandparents did this. wasn't bad! i like the idea of gelatin made with sparkling wine.

          2. I am not sure, but I think starfruit/carambola may be one of the fruits that, raw, prevents felating from setting (like pineapple, melon, kiwi). Unless you find info to the contrary, I would experiment first, or just garnish the set jello with carambola right before serving.

            I haven't looked at the links but my first thought was water chestnuts, jicama, cucumbers, radishes, and pickles, especially if pickle brine can be turned into jello. Lotus root has a lot of eye appeal - not sure if it can be eaten raw but thin slices lining a clear gelatin mold would be gorgeous. Pickled ginger, too - comes in pink and other colors.

            I confess ot liking the orange jello with canned pineapple and grated carrot, though I don't see it as a salad course - more like a snack or dessert.

            2 Replies
            1. re: greygarious

              cut-out radishes with the little canape cutters -- nice for inside jello or as garnish.

              1. re: greygarious

                Yeah, I was thinking about the star fruit after I posted. Actually I was thinking the 4th of July fruit mold would look just like this only with a red, white, blue color theme

                Somehow they got kiwi to work.