Probably the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions gelatin to you is dessert. However, most gelatin is a meat by-product. As such, it works equally well in savory dishes as it does in desserts and molded salads. Although most commercial gelatin sold is made from animals, there are forms of gelatin to fit all types of diet restrictions, including vegetarian and kosher.
Cooking with Gelatin
Gelatin has many applications other than desserts. Since unflavored gelatin is 85 percent protein and low in calories, it is an excellent choice for dieters and diabetics. Sugar-free flavored gelatins using sugar substitutes are widely available. Some raw fruits can completely break down gelatin and render it useless.
Gelatin Tips and Hints
• Unprepared gelatin has an indefinite shelf-life as long as it is wrapped airtight and stored in a cool, dry place.
• Keep gelatin dishes refrigerated until ready to serve to maintain their gelatinous state.
• Do not add fresh or frozen pineapple to gelatin or Jell-O. These fruits, along with raw figs, kiwifruit, guava, ginger root, and papaya contain an enzyme called bromelain which breaks down gelatin causing it to lose its thickening properties. The enzymes are deactivated by cooking, so canned pineapple and kiwi are fine to use.
• To avoid clumping, dry unflavored gelatin should be mixed with a little cold water first for 3 to 5 minutes to moisten and separate before adding hot water.
• Thicker stock and a more delicate flavor results from using veal bones rather than beef bones since the veal has more collagen which gels the stock.
• Store gelatin desserts in a covered container to avoid the formation of a thick rubbery skin on the surface.
• Too much sugar can inhibit gelatinization. The more sugar in the recipe, the softer the resultant gelatin will be.
• Firmness varies on the ratio of water to gelatin and temperature. You can successfully melt down (gently using a double-boiler) and re-chill gelatin several times before the mixture loses its thickening ability.
• Gelatin takes twice as long to dissolve when used with cream or milk.
• Be sure to drain all solids of their liquid before adding to gelatin to avoid watering down the gelatin.
• Do not bring gelatin mixtures to a full boil or you risk losing its thickening properties.
• To easily center a mold on a plate, rinse the plate with cold water before unmolding the gelatin.