As an American abroad, I often get taunted and harassed about food in the USA.
“Your country doesn’t have a cuisine—everything Americans eat was actually just brought from some other country. ” As a nation created by immigrants, this is a hard point to argue against. But for all the haters out there, I bring you this:
Cooking with gelatin may not be an exclusively American thing, but cooking with Jell-O® Brand Gelatin Dessert is a niche that we Yanks have both created and mastered, all thanks to the pervasive marketing skills of the Jell-O company throughout the early-to-mid twentieth century. It’s pretty safe to say that there is no other country on earth that has such an exhaustive repertoire of dishes that feature Jell-O as a main component.
As a cultural ambassador and true American lady, I decided that Mook just couldn’t leave the USA without trying real, traditional American cuisine. I wanted to make a delicious lunch that illustrated the culinary imagination of my people, my nation, so I cracked open The Jell-O book.
Who knew that Jell-O could be so flexible, huh? There was a lot to choose from, including “super desserts” and salads for people on a diet. I was really tempted by the Barbecue Salad and the Jellied Gazpacho, but since Mook is German and Germans like meat, I decided to ease him in to American cuisine by focusing on recipes that contain something meaty and familiar to him, like salami and salmon.
Yes, salami and salmon. In fruit-flavoured Jell-O. Because America.
First off was the Antipasto Salad. The recipe calls for one package of lemon-flavoured Jell-O, salt, boiling water, vinegar, ice cubes, salami, Swiss cheese, celery, onion, and olives. “Note,” it says ominously at the bottom, “Recipe may be doubled.”
The first step is to dissolve salt and the lemon Jell-O in boiling water—minus the salt, a pretty conventional thing to do with Jell-O.
Next, the recipe calls for “two cups of ice cubes”. How many ice cubes are in a cup? I could fit in about three.
I chucked six ice cubes into the Jell-O, and the watery liquid immediately started to form some viscosity as the cold from the ice caused the lemony gelatin to set. Next was, uh, the vinegar.
The pungent vinegar and the candy lemon Jell-O swirled around in the bowl. It was a confusing smell. After the ice cubes melted, the Jell-O was slightly thick, with the consistency of syrup. Now it was time to add in the remaining ingredients.
How to describe the result. The lemon of the Jell-O was instantly overpowered by the aroma of chopped onions and olives and salami. On the surface of the Jell-O collected oily fat from the Swiss cheese and the salami, making the concoction look like a thick and chunky salad dressing. It was ready to go into the refrigerator.
But not without pouring into an awesome Jell-O mold.
With a nice meaty antipasto for the appetiser, I decided to go with a refreshing salmon mousse for the main.
SALMON DILL MOUSSE
- 2 packages (3 oz. each) Jell-O Lemon Gelatin
- 2 cups boiling water
- 1 cup cold water
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 can (1 lb.) pink salmon, drained and flaked
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons minced onions
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dill weed
I had a hard time imagining what this creation might look like, but thankfully the book says it’s pictured on page 92.
For this recipe I decided to take a bit of creative liberty. In some other recipes in the book lemon and lime-flavoured Jell-O are interchangeable options, so, because I already used lemon in the antipasto salad, I decided to give lime Jell-O a go. I also decided to halve the recipe, because who really needs six servings of salmon Jell-O??
The first step of the recipe says to dissolve the Jell-O in boiling water, add cold water and lemon juice, then chill until thickened. Again, a pretty ordinary step in the preparation of any Jell-O dessert. I left the mixture in the freezer for about 20 minutes, and in the meantime mixed the salmon with the remaining ingredients.
The mixture actually looked pretty good. Kind of like the filling of a tuna sandwich, with an extra-creamy kick from the sour cream. It tasted pretty good too.
At this point, it was necessary to have a wine break in order to prepare myself for the next step.
The next step, said the recipe, was to blend the salmon mixture into the thickened gelatin.
I suddenly began to regret using lime Jell-O instead of lemon. But there was no turning back.
It was time to combine.
Again, how to describe it? It smelled sugary, tangy, and fishy, but the overwhelming aroma was of mayonnaise. Surprisingly it blended pretty easily, and despite the similar appearance to regurgitated stomach fluid, it had a satisfyingly thick consistency. I was too afraid to taste it.
I put this creation in another banging Jell-O mold and left it to chill in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day
It was with twinges of both excitement and apprehension that I opened the refrigerator door at 11am the next morning, to prepare the Jell-O in time for Mook’s all-American lunch. Overnight, both Jell-O creations had solidified nicely, and were firm in their copper molds while still maintaining their lovely gelatin springiness.
The aromas, on the other hand, were a bit worrying. But no matter.
The next step was to remove them from the molds. The New Joys of Jell-O® recommends, for easy removal, loosening the edges of the Jell-O with a butter knife, then submerging the mold in warm water for a few seconds before overturning into a platter.
Because the salmon mousse had a more solid texture and was in a thicker mold, I decided to try plating it first.
The moment of truth….
What had I done? The creamy green mousse wobbled happily on its plate, pink speckles releasing the familiar smell of salmon and mayonnaise into the kitchen. The dish definitely looked like it belonged in the 1960s.
It was a huge relief that the mousse came out of the mold intact. Next up was the antipasto salad. The cute pineapple shape may have been too impractical for such a chunky creation. I envisioned lemon-flavoured salami and Swiss cheese all over the floor. But there was nothing to do but try.
Success!!! Or was it? While in the fridge, the antipasto had mostly floated to the top, creating a strong yet flexible base of Jell-O that maintained the pineapple shape perfectly. But the smell… the overwhelming aroma was of salami and onions, with a complex bouquet of astringent vinegar and sugary lemons. A fearsome combination indeed.
Mook had been excited about the prospect of a real American meal homemade by me, but now he wasn’t so sure. We decided to dine in the back garden, in hopes that the sunshine and lovely setting would improve the experience.
Conveniently, my parents’ perpetually grumpy Terminator cat was relaxing outside. The perfect opportunity for a taste tester!
If there’s anything that will make a grumpy cat less grumpy, it’s food, right? And she was definitely interested.. for a few seconds.
“You have got to be kidding me.”
So salmon mousse wasn’t her thing. But surely everyone loves a good antipasto salad??
Okay, so maybe our cat is a vegetarian.
By this time, Mook was especially excited for lunch. But was he ready for this powerhouse combination of flavours, for real American cuisine?!
Throughout our world travels, Mook has always been an adventurous eater, dedicated to understanding more about the local culture through their cuisine, no matter how unusual or outlandish. This was no different.
Without hesitation, he began scooping heaping helpings of both the antipasto salad and salmon mousse onto his plate. And then… he gave it a try.
Mook gagged on the salmon. “This is absolute shit.”
He tried the antipasto salad, and seemed to like it a little better. I knew meat was the way to a German man’s heart. “Blech, this one is shit too.” Or maybe not…
Of course I had to try this crap for myself. I may be an American lady, but my experience of Jell-O extended only as far as the occasional carrot and pineapple salad. I’m not a big meat fan, so I tried the salmon mousse.
It tasted exactly how it smelled: bizarre. The sweetness of the lime Jell-O combined awkwardly with the creamy pungency of the mayonnaise, while the flakes of salmon lingered in my mouth fishily. The texture wasn’t half bad, but it felt like I was eating a slimy tuna sandwich that had the aftertaste of lime candy. Would it have been better with lemon Jell-O? Probably not.
The antipasto, on the other hand, was repulsive. The fat from the salami and the cheese had congealed in the Jell-O, giving it a sweet lemony and meaty flavour. The aftertaste was olives, onions, a hint of lemon drops, and vinegar. It was chunky and slimy, and I had to spit it out.
This, my friends, is true American cuisine. So the next time some snarky foreigner makes fun of my country by saying there is no such thing as “American food”, I can say with confidence, “MY FRIEND, YOU CAN’T HANDLE AMERICAN FOOD.”
But what to do with the rest? I felt guilty about wasting so much food, so I tried to feed it to the Terminator again.
She still wasn’t game. So I really had no choice but to throw it away.
Tossing an entire plate of Jell-O into a rubbish bag proved to be a struggle. Then, a horrific accident:
I’m sorry, America.