The Daily Spud

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Spud Sunday: From Russia With Spuds

I don’t think I had quite appreciated how big potatoes were in Russia.

And, no, I’m not talking about giant potatoes…

Hammer And Sickle at The Kremlin

Land of hammer, sickle ...and spuds

…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.

Russian New Years Eve Meal

Part of a Russian New Years Eve Spread (image from Katrina)

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.

Russian Salad

Russian Salad

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.

You’ll need:
  • 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
The Steps:
  • 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!
The Variations:
  • 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.
The Results:
  • Serves around 4

Mayonnaise

You’ll need:
  • 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
The Steps:
  • 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.
The Variations:
  • 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.
The Results:
  • Makes about 180ml mayonnaise

17 Comments

  1. Yum! I love the mayonnaise that goes with it. i’m a sucker for a good potato salad.

  2. I love everything about this! All the different flavors and then smothering it in homemade mayo – it sounds rich and so delicious. Kind of like our ‘picnic’ potato salad here in the states but so much heartier.

  3. Salad Olivier is one of my childhood favorites! We used to make it with Russian-style bologna and I now make it with ham.

  4. Very interesting post, Spud! I know very little about Russian cuisine, so this was an eye-opener for me too. Thanks! The apples are an unexpected and nice addition to the salad. It looks scrumptious.

    Happy New Year!

  5. I love what you did with my already ‘trendyfied’ version of Olivier, Spud!;) maybe we should announce a little competition what the most inspiring potato salad, or a potato salad of your country?;)

    5 star foodie – you are right about using a garlic type of sausage for this salad; this is what most ‘ordinary’ Russian families would do! but I find it impossible to find good quality ‘boiled’ sausages in the UK – any tips, spud away!

  6. I had so much fun researching this salad for a post. For the longest time I thought it was a Persian dish called Salad Olivieh but wow, was it more than that – it has the universal reach of curry if you ask me. I cannot wait to try your version!

  7. Happy new year Spuddie! I’m back at well done fillet…just wanted to share that with you…

  8. MMMMMMMM,…a georgous & festive salad this is!!

    There is nothing better then home made mayonaise!! It is the real thing!

    MMMMMM,…lovely!

  9. What a great match you two are! :) Love this salad. I got in on some of OysterCulture’s research about it myself. Southern Brazil has their own version that they simply call what translates to “mayonaise” in English. I’m sure your SIL knows all about it. :)

  10. Daily Spud

    Tuesday, January 5, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    jenn: …as am I!

    Reeni: yep, it’s a really hearty dish – good for the depths of winter :)

    Natasha: of course with your Russian family background I’m not surprised that it was a family favourite :)

    Diva: And Happy New Year to you too. I didn’t know that much about Russian cuisine either, so I was pleased to learn a bit more about it myself.

    Katrina: Gosh, I’m not sure what Ireland could produce salad-wise to compete with Olivier! Our potato salads here tend to be quite simple (potato, mayonnaise and chives, maybe with some egg) – I’ll have to give it some thought :)

    OysterCulture: it certainly has a fascinating history and wide reach, that’s for sure

    manuel: well then, I will be dropping in to visit my favourite waiter at the new digs…

    Sophie: I really need to remind myself to make homemade mayonnaise more often, so simple and so good!

    Lori: how funny – I will have to ask my Brazilian SIL about that one – maybe she has a version she can share :)

  11. I am always in the search for family food history and have wondered the tie into potato salad. I grew up with mustard (okay off topic but…) in my potato salad in the south, but I prefer a less dressed spud, red onion, and a crunchier texture, maybe celery…but I am willing to try this one!

    Cool photo at the beginning, is that also Katrina’s?

    Once again Spud’sy Cox, you have cracked a good spud mystery!

  12. Daily Spud

    Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    Thank you Comrade E! The photo is my own – I was in Russia once upon a time and snapped that in the vicinity of the Kremlin – one of my favourite photos from the trip.

    As for the salad, it’s definitely a heartier one that I would usually make myself (am fond of salads that are less dressed and contain celery too!) so this one was a real change for me as well.

  13. This sooo like the version we ate as kids. GREG

  14. I met the lovely Katrina over lunch a few weeks ago! Huge fan and love these spud salads my favorite bloggers are making. I like how you put egg and pickling juice in it – yum.

  15. How I’d love a serving of this Russian Salad! And it’s fascinating that Katrina’s recommendation of fresh mayonnaise over pre-made would be considered ‘inauthentic’, given that ‘out of the tub’ (store-bought) wasn’t around at the time of this dish’s creation. I’d like to give this recipe a go, homemade mayo and all!

  16. Your salad looks so fresh and light not at all the heavy mayonnaise-laden salad I always imagined they served in Russia. Fabulous mix of vegetables, pickles, apple and such. Sounds really really delicious and looks incredibly pretty! Excellent story!

  17. Daily Spud

    Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    sippitysup: …and you turned out ok, so I reckon that’s a good endorsement :D

    gastroanthropologist: Ah, didn’t know you’d met Katrina – it really is a small little blogging world, isn’t it? And the addition of the pickling juice to the salad is definitely a winner I think.

    Tangled Noodle: This salad definitely has an interesting history and has clearly morphed over the years. I get the impression that store-bought mayonnaise is certainly what’s typically used when Russians are making this – in fact, from reading some of Katrina’s other posts, I gather that store-bought mayonnaise gets added in quite some quantities to a lot of Russian food.

    Jamie: I think that if you go to Russia, you are quite likely to get the heavy, mayonnaise-laden version – I added just enough for a light coating, the way I like it!

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