This week we have a really crazy and fun gelatin for you guys. It’s actually kind of a dream of mine that has finally happened. I present to you (finally!) the Aspic Aquarium!


In all its glory!

5.0 from 5 reviews
Aspic Aquarium
  • Unflavored gelatin
  • 1 teaspoon Lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Blue food coloring
  • Greens for plants (escarole, parsley, scallion, rosemary)
  • Vegetables for sea creatures (peppers, carrots, onions)
  • Shrimp
  • Shell macaroni
  • Broccoli or Cauliflower
  1. Prepare clear gelatin. Flavor with lemon juice, touch of sugar. Add drop of blue vegetable color.Pour thin layer in loaf pan or bowl. Chill until slightly thickened. Prop escarole sprigs, parsley, and scallion to pan edge, suspended upside down.
  2. Next, the fish! Press bright pimiento "fish" cut-outs into first layer. Continue making gelatin layers with vegetable "fish" (cucumber, carrot), at different levels. Mold last layer with shrimp, shell macaroni and cauliflowerettes for "ocean bed."
  3. Unmold!


Now, I would absolutely love to take credit for this one, but it was actually made by a friend of mine, Carolyn.  I have made a lot of really great friends through this blog, but Carolyn has the distinction of being a good, normal friend that I introduced to the crazy world of vintage recipes. And she totally loves them, which makes me happy because she loves to hear me yammer about my latest research, or help me test my crazy food experiments or just occasionally leave nice comments on the blog.

So a couple days before TJ was born, I got a text from Carolyn asking if we were around. Carolyn is always doing nice things like bringing me ridiculous amounts of her homemade pulled pork and bringing over her daughter to play with Alex, so I texted back, “Yep, we’re here!”, thinking that maybe she was stopping by on her way downtown or something like that.

Then she rang the doorbell and showed up with two of her friends, her two children, and her husband.

And they brought me not one. Not two. But THREE aspic aquariums.


“Wow, you put a lot of gelatin in these.” I said.

“Yeah, well, the only person who could have advised us is you, and this was supposed to be a surprise.”

Now, Carolyn and her friends are all scientists who happen to work with bugs and fish, so they made them as accurate as vegetables would allow. And since they were going for realism, they decided to make one “dead” aquarium and two “live” ones.




I love overachievers.

They dropped them off, helped me unmold them and cheered when they looked cool. Then they took some Halloween candy, wished me luck and took off because I was having crazy contractions and just generally getting ready to have TJ, which wasn’t a fun process.

But here are a bunch of production photos that were taken by Carolyn since I wasn’t there when these were made. In fact, I don’t even have a picture of Tom trying these because soon after this I headed into the hospital so we didn’t even get a chance to “enjoy” them. But Carolyn reads the comments regularly, so she might be able to answer questions if you have any!  Enjoy the creation of three Aspic Aquariums!

Tequila makes everything better.


Suspend “plants”, in this case rosemary, with thread and tape.


Fashion aquatic animals out of things like mini peppers, carrots, snap peas and artichokes. They’re entomologists, so they favor things without an exoskeleton like octopuses and squids.


Mix 6 packets unflavored gelatin in 1 cup cold water. (They wanted a “hard” set to help hold the veggie marine life in place. You can use less if you want.) Add a cup of boiling water and 2 tbsp. sugar until dissolved. Add 3 more cups cold water and about 1 tbsp. lemon juice. Color with 1-2 drops of blue food coloring. The materials scientist helped with this part.


Pour, layer animals (using more tape, toothpicks, chopsticks, whatever you can find to hold things in place), and let set in freezer for about 20 minutes.



Put more animals in, mix and pour layers of gelatin, let set, repeat.


Layer cooked shell macaroni, shrimp, broccoli, and other “bottom” items.


FINAL step: Let the expert do the unmolding. And be amazed that this actually worked.



-We used a glass 4-cup measuring cup for the “dead” aquarium, and 2-L plastic jam containers for the others. We lined the inside of the jam containers with masking tape to make a “smooth” surface but just wound up with a weird texture on the outside of the “live” gelatins.

-If you’re only making one aquarium of this size, downsize the amount of gelatin you make (1.2 packets gelatin to 1 cup water; 3 packets gelatin to 2.5 cups water).

-It was helpful to add a little gelatin glue between a fish body and tail and let them set before trying to suspend them. For the octopus, it helped to add a very thin layer of gelatin at the “leg” phase, reset floating legs, and let set before pouring a thicker layer. We definitely had to reset floating things once we’d placed the gelatin in the freezer.

-We untied the “plants” once we had about a layer left to pour and let them go swervy.

-We used an entire box of unflavored gelatin packets and drank a whole bottle of tequila while making these.