I don’t think I had quite appreciated how big potatoes were in Russia.
And, no, I’m not talking about giant potatoes…
…but about the fact that the Russian appetite for all things potato is quite prodigious (yes, potato vodka included). I was enlightened in this regard by Katrina from Around the World in 80 Markets, whom it was my pleasure to meet at Food Blogger Connect last November. A native of Russia, she had lately suggested the idea of a joint potato post. She put it thus: “Ireland and Russia, united by the unique and encompassing passion for the humble potato”. I said bring it on!
First things first. I wanted to know how Russians like to eat their spuds. The short answer was “often”.
Yep, Katrina says they like to eat potatoes three times a day – which makes it sound like I’d be right at home! Mashed potatoes are very popular and one of Katrina’s childhood favourites was meat à la française – thinly sliced potatoes, layered with onions and pork steaks and covered with mayonnaise. Particularly special are new potatoes, lightly boiled with lots of butter and dill, which she remembers looking forward to intensely during the cold, wintery months. The potato dish which is most famous, of course, and which is a feature of meals on special occasions, most especially New Year’s Eve, is Russian Salad.
The salad has an interesting history, which Katrina describes over here. Here’s a taster from her post:
[Around the 1860’s….] a French chef called Lucien Olivier (a seriously flirtatious type, according to some) was re-inventing it [the potato] in The Hermitage, one of Moscow’s most celebrated restaurants. The original salad was rather different from the contemporary version and included amongst other ingredients hazel-grouse, veal tongue, caviar, capers and mayonnaise Provençal – a heady sauce of yolks and olive oil that the young Lucien had brought from his home-land.The legend has it that one of his understudies had stolen the recipe for the sauce and started making a version of the salad in another Moscow restaurant, naming the concoction ‘Stolichnyj salad’, or The Capital Salad’ (the name still widely found in all sorts of Russian eateries). Over time, the salad had gone through the inevitable bourgeoisition (such a word?) process and is now using either chicken or ham or even frankfurter type sausage, tinned peas, boiled carrot and eggs, mayo out of the tub and, of course, boiled potatoes.
She goes on to present her own “trendified” version of the salad (without the mayo from the tub) and you can see my take on her version below.
As Katrina notes, you can really put whatever you like into this, as long as there are potatoes, meat and mayonnaise and around twice as much spuds as everything else. She recommends making your own mayonnaise (and I agree), though, nowadays, this may be seen as a little less authentic!
What you’ll find below is slightly adapted from Katrina’s version of the classic Olivier salad. She used chicken, I used fish (and, for a vegetarian version, you can, of course, skip the meat entirely). I also used red onion instead of yellow and couldn’t resist throwing in additional capers and some lemon juice. As I couldn’t lay my hands on salted cucumbers, I used dill pickled cucumbers instead, though Katrina’s preference is for the former and she also uses a little of the cucumber brine in the salad. I’ve had Russian salad in Russia with home salted cucumbers and I know how good that is. Next time, I’ll just salt my own.
This may seem long but it can be summarised as follows: cook the bits that need cooking (spuds, carrots, peas, egg, your choice of meat), let everything cool down, chop everything into little dice, mix with mayonnaise and other seasonings. Done.
- 175g haddock or other white fish
- about 1 tsp butter
- 500g potatoes, preferably a waxy / salad variety
- 1 large carrot, about 125g
- 50g frozen peas
- 1 egg
- 1 small red or yellow onion, about 100g
- 1 small tart apple, about 100g
- 50g salted or pickled cucumber
- 2 tblsp capers
- 1 tblsp chopped fresh dill
- around 180ml mayonnaise (for homemade, see below)
- 2 tblsp brine or pickling liquid from the cucumbers
- 2 tsp coarse salt or to taste
- several twists of black pepper
- squeeze or two of lemon juice
- Preheat your oven to 180C
- Place the haddock on a piece of foil, enough to surround it completely. Sprinkle with a little salt and black pepper and dot with the butter, close over the foil, place on a baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes or until opaque and just starting to flake.
- Meanwhile, scrub your potatoes and, if some are significantly larger than others, halve the larger ones so that you have roughly even-sized pieces. Peel your carrot and slice into pieces around 0.5cm thick.
- Bring about 1l of water to the boil, add the potatoes and about 1 tsp salt. Bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until starting to become tender but not tender the whole way through (around 15 minutes, depending on size). Add the sliced carrots and simmer for about another 10 minutes or until both the potatoes and carrots are fork tender. Drain and set aside to cool completely. Alternatively, you can steam the potatoes for 20-30 minutes, depending on size, and steam the carrots for around 8-10 minutes.
- Cook the peas briefly (steam for about 2 minutes or in the microwave for a minute or so).
- Add your egg to a small pot of boiling water, bring back to the boil and boil for 7-8 minutes. Rinse under cold water.
- While things are cooling, you can make your mayonnaise (or locate the jar in the fridge).
- When everything is completely cooled, peel the egg and, if you like, peel the potatoes (though I prefer to leave the skins on), then chop the potatoes, carrots, egg and fish, as well as the onion, apple and cucumber into whatever size pieces you prefer and place them all in a large bowl, along with the peas, capers and chopped dill.
- Season with coarse salt and black pepper, then add half the mayonnaise and a tblsp or two from the cucumber brine or pickling liquid, mix and, as Katrina says, taste, taste, taste. Add more mayonnaise, cucumbers, onion, capers etc. as you prefer. I finished it with a squeeze or two of lemon juice.
- Serve preferably with some sweet Russian rye bread and, to quote Katrina, a shot of “lip-numbingly cold vodka – potato or otherwise.” Na zdorovye!
- It’s a flexible recipe – add your own choice of meat, fish or just stick to the veggies. Add more of the bits you like and, hey, if you don’t like carrots, then don’t put them in.
- Serves around 4
- 1 egg yolk
- 0.5 tsp dijon mustard
- 0.25 tsp salt
- 1 tblsp white wine vinegar
- 125ml olive oil or use a more neutral salad oil, such as rapeseed or sunflower oil, or a mixture
You’ll also need:
- A hand whisk, an electric whisk or food processor
- Add your egg yolk, mustard, salt and vinegar to a large bowl or into the bowl of a food processor. Whisk or blend well.
- Very slowly, stream the oil into the mixture. If you’re using a food processor, keep the motor running while you stream in the oil. By hand, you’ll just need to keep whisking all the time so that the oil and egg yolk becomes emulsified and thick. Add more salt and/or vinegar to taste.
- There are all sorts of variations on mayonnaise, of course – you could, for example, add some raw or roasted garlic to the egg yolk at the start for an aioli / garlic mayonnaise.
- Makes about 180ml mayonnaise