I scoured all of Aunt Ellen’s recipes looking for ones I wanted to try. Her recipe for chicken mousse was by far the scariest to me. Here is Aunt Ellen’s recipe for “Chicken Mousse” in its entirety:
Chop finely in the Griswold chopper enough chicken to have two cupfuls. Soften a tablespoon gelatin in 1/4 cup cold water and add 1/2 cupful boiling water to it with 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind and 1 tablespoonful lemon juice. Stir til slightly cool. Add this to chopped meat and salt, pepper to taste. Fold in 1 cupful stiffly whipped cream, and some chopped cooked asparagus, or 1/2 cupful peas, or 3 or 4 canned mushrooms, or canned pimentos, for trimming. Put in mould or casserole rinsed in cold water, and set aside to stiffen. Serve on platter, with cup-shaped lettuce leaves filled with beet, potato, or other colorful salad. (Stiffly beaten egg-whites can be substituted for the heavy cream in this recipe).
Now, there isn’t anything in this dish that I inherently hate; it’s just the combination that scares me. I am quite certain that I have never before made a molded meat dish.
I am nothing if not adventurous. It’s just that I’m not food adventurous. I’m more the mountain-climbing kind of adventurous. This was a big test for me.
I ran off to the local thrift store here in Texas (escaping the Minnesota cold at the moment) and found a sweet copper fish mold for $4. I realize that the fish mold is more likely intended to mold some kind of salmon spread or something fish or seafood-related, but it was the only one there and I wasn’t about to be fussy.
Next to the grocery store, where I picked up unflavored gelatin (another first for me), about a pound of ground chicken breast, eggs, a lemon, canned beets, and romaine lettuce.
I thought about getting canned chicken, but that also scares me. How can canned chicken be good? What in the world is in that can that keeps the chicken from going bad? I don’t know and don’t want or need to know. I just know it is something I don’t want to ingest.
Aunt Ellen suggests chopping the chicken in a Griswold chopper. My Griswold choppers are at home in Minnesota. I figured that ground chicken would suffice. Plus, it was less expensive than buying a rotisserie chicken and cutting it up. I didn’t want to spend tons of money on this little experiment.
I presumed that Aunt Ellen wanted the chicken to be cooked and not raw, so I set about doing just that in my Griswold no. 8 large block logo EPU smooth-bottom cast iron skillet. Because of COURSE if you are making an Aunt Ellen recipe, it must be made in Griswold products to rival her masterpieces.
As the chicken cooked, I followed Aunt Ellen’s instructions and dissolved a little packet of gelatin in 1/4 c cold water (I guessed it was 1T), then added 1/2 c boiling water. I stirred it a bit to cool, then used my microplane to zest some lemon rind into the mixture. To top it off, I juiced the lemon into the bowl.
Aunt Ellen gave the option of using either whipped cream or beaten egg whites in the
I separated four eggs, putting the whites in a smallish bowl. I used a hand mixer to whip them up to firm peaks. Four eggs made more than the 1 cup of whites called for by Aunt Ellen, but I presumed extra egg whites wouldn’t hurt anything. I didn’t know if it would help anything, but I didn’t think it would hurt. Besides, I had a fish mold to fill.
Aunt Ellen suggested either peas, asparagus, “3 or 4 canned mushrooms” or pimentos “for trimming.” I don’t know what “trimming” a gelatin mold means, so I hoped that just adding the vegetable to the mixture would work.
I added 1/2 c frozen peas (plus some extra that spilled into the mixture) to the chicken. Of the choices given by Aunt Ellen, that seemed the least distasteful to me. I added a bit of salt and pepper and poured the gelatin/lemon mixture into the skillet and gave it a stir or two.
I next gently folded the egg whites into the mixture in the skillet, and then spooned the mixture into the fish mold. I rinsed the mold before filling as Aunt Ellen directed, but I don’t know what purpose that served. I worried momentarily about whether I should spray the mold with Pam or something, but Aunt Ellen didn’t tell me to do so, so I didn’t. I smoothed the top surface with the spatula so that it would sit relatively flat on a platter.
Off to the refrigerator it went.
After about an hour, I touched my thumb to the mixture in the mold. The egg whites popped under my thumb, so I guessed it wasn’t ready. Back it went into the fridge.
As I was waiting for my delicious mousse to finish setting, I started doing a bit of googling. Who knew!?! Chicken mousse is actually a “thing!” Alton Brown makes a chicken liver mousse. Another site makes a tasty-sounding rustic appetizer with chicken and mushroom mousse on toasted ciabatta bread. Today’s chicken mousse is made with a food processor to make the mousse creamy. In the 20s, Aunt Ellen did not have a food processor. She just had the Griswold chopper and probably a hand-crank mixer.
I noticed that the other recipes with recipes for chicken mousse did not use egg whites; they used the heavy cream which Aunt Ellen suggested (but said could be substituted with beaten egg whites). And then, I PANICKED. You can’t eat raw egg whites, can you? I don’t want to die of salmonella!
I should have used heavy cream. Given that I didn’t plan to gobble down the entire fish-mold-full, however, I figured I could have just a bit of the raw egg white and wouldn’t kill me (would it? I felt very adventurous, indeed.)
More googling ensued. I found a recipe that suggested that I could imbibe a bit of raw egg white without contracting salmonella and dying. Moreover, didn’t some athletes used to put raw egg whites into their protein drinks? And they are still alive, aren’t they?
Still more googling followed, trying to learn whether the particular eggs I had purchased were pasteurized. The search was inconclusive, solidifying my resolve to have just a wee taste of my fish-mold chicken mousse. Not that there was much chance of me loving
Fast forward to the next morning. I could see that the mousse had set. I waited until the afternoon, when I was really really hungry, to de-mold my mousse.
I used a small spatula to release the edges of the mousse mixture from the mold.
I happened to have a lettuce green plastic cooking
The peas add such a precious touch. My mold was done so well that you can see the scales on my chicken fish. Kind of similar, as an aside, to an 1888 newspaper article about a freshly-caught fish that had imprints of a waffle iron left on it.
Aunt Ellen had suggested serving the chicken mousse alongside “cupped” lettuce leaves with either beet, potato, or “other colorful salad.” I got right to it. Ripped up some romaine lettuce leaves, opened a can of beets, and before you know it I had a simply lovely presentation!
The mousse had an unappetizing smell to it. I’m not sure what the smell was, but it didn’t encourage my tastebuds to dive in.
I did, however, taste it. I did not gag. I swallowed two bites. The lemony/gelatin/chicken mix was … not my cup of tea. But I tried it! Here’s the proof.
I did not love the combination of gelatin with chicken. I also did not contract salmonella, and I did not die.
I have lived another day to try yet another of Aunt Ellen’s recipes!