‘The Kulebyaka should be appetizing, shameless in its nakedness, a temptation to sin.’
Anton Chekhov, ‘The Siren’
And so we did. Me and my Salmon Kulebyaka, whilst remaining fully clothed, we made my guests rather happy and gidderly full.
Following the success of my inaugural Russian Brunchclub, I have been asked to cook up a little dinner for a private party of 12. I have been happy to oblige.
The brief was brief: Russian, Soviet-ish, but spare us on mayonnaise and treat the veggies amongst us. Sounds just like my last Brunch! and so this was the menu eventually served on an unusually sunny April day somewhere on secret location in North London.
Shots of vodka
(Fermented rye drink)
‘Communist Mary’ with pickles
Buterbrody (open sandwiches) with radishes
Home-made ox tongue, soviet-style, served with horseradish and Russian mustard
My mum’s borsch with a surprise, two surprises…
(Iconic layered pie of rice and salmon)
Flower cabbage, stuffed with buckwheat and truffle oil
(Aged Ukrainian buckwheat honey cake)
served with vanilla ice-cream and ‘sparkly’ cranberries
Very strong coffee or Russian tea
Kulebyaka is the dish that was new to me and the menu and s0 considering its pure gloriousness, I would like to share the recipe with you.
This layered pirog, a pie, is one of those iconic dishes that most Russian know about – not least from reading Gogol’s ‘Dead souls’ back in school days, where the author waxes lyrically about a four-corner Kulebyaka with sturgeon cheeks, marrow, milt (ie fish sperm) and brains – but rarely have tried I think.
Brain/marrow/sperm version will no doubt feature on my menu one day (donate milt anyone?), but what follows is a more … salubrious version adopted from Darra Goldstein’s ‘A Taste of Russia’:
Salmon Kulebyaka (a detailed step-by-step recipe)
You will need:
This recipe will feed joyfully 10-12 people. Start preparing a day in advance, so that your pancakes and the filling are ready and waiting.
All-butter puff pastry, one block (ie about 500 gr) +
1 egg, separated
about 260 ml of whole milk
50 gr of melted butter
110 gr of ordinary flour
pinch of salt and sugar
(this should make about 6 pancakes, more than you need, so enjoy later with jam).
I used a large, non-stick pan of 28 cm in diameter.
– beat the egg yolk with the milk. add the butter, then flour, sugar and salt.
– beat the egg white till stiff but not dry and fold into the batter (I say, you can omit this stage and just beat the whole egg in from the start).
– you will end up with a batter consistency of runny yoghurt, or single cream.
– make the pancakes (very thin, almost see-through) by ladling a couple of tbs onto a hot pan, smeared with a bit of butter. stack them up on a plate, brushing with butter each pancake.
– keep in room temperature under foil until the following day.
– cut the pancakes into rectangles before using.
4-5 hard boiled eggs
about 250 gr of button mushrooms, thinly sliced (obviously wild mushrooms would be best)
1 tbs of lemon juice
2 tbs of butter
about 50 ml of white wine or dry vermouth
about 700 gr of salmon fillets
6 tbs of raw white rice (or buckwheat)
+ 4 tbs butter
1 onion, chopped – or better spring onion, chopped
about 50 gr of vesiga* – not absolutely necessary
– cut the eggs into thin slices. put aside.
– melt butter in a saucepan, and sweat mushrooms with lemon juice, salt, pepper and vermouth for about 5 mins.
– place the salmon fillets on top of mushrooms, cover the pan and poach for about 5 mins.
– once you’ve taken out the salmon and mushrooms from the pan, you will be left with some lovely juices. use them (with addition of water and vermouth if needed) to cook your rice. you will only need a small quantity (just cover your rice with about a thumb of liquid and cook until all liquid is evaporated).
– saute the onions with butter until golden (about 15-20 mins), or better spring onions for some 5 mins.
1. if using frozen pastry, take it out of the freezer some 30 mins before you need it. always use cold dough. roll it out on a floured surface to a 25 x 36 cm rectangle (approximately!). it will be less than 5 mm thick. just chop off the rough ends and keep for decoration.
2. take one pancake, imagine where a halfline is on your rolled-out dough. place the pancake just to the left of the line so that you have some pastry at the bottom and on the left (about 5 cms). then place another pancake on the right of the ‘life’.
what you are trying to achieve is to cover a big part of your pastry with another layer, onto which you’ll be putting the rest of the filling – think Beef Wellington if ever attempted. you will need to ‘close’ the pastry like an envelope once its filled, so think of that when doing this.
I promise pictures next time!
3. on top of your pancakes, put half of rice mixture. then half of onion mixture. then half of sliced eggs. then half of mushrooms. finish with poached salmon (don’t worry if it looks like you have too much of fish – the pie could be some 10 cms in height or even more! but leave some aside if unsure). press down the whole thing gently.
4. now reverse the order by putting remaining mushrooms on top of salmon. then eggs, then onion, then rice. top with two more pancakes.
5. bring the two short ends of the dough up over the filling to enclose it, then do the same with the long sides to cover the filling completely (use a bit of cold water to brush the edges of the dough to get it stick). if the ends are too short, just stretch them a bit – but don’t tear.
6. carefully invert the pie onto a large baking sheet, smeared with melted butter.
7. make 3 little holes in the centre of the pie (to let the steam come out during cooking). use the left-over dough to make little fanciful shapes, like little fish etc…put them on top and brush the whole surface with a beaten egg.
8. put the pie into a fridge for 30 mins (or several hours really)
9. preheat the oven to 200C, bake the pie for 10 mins, then reduce to 180 and bake for another 20-25 mins. I was very careful at this stage and left it in for longer – no need, honestly. you just dry out the whole thing.
10. to serve – melt lots of butter (50-100gr!) and pour some of it into the holes of the pie. serve the rest of butter as gravy.
* vesiga is apparently a gelatinous dried backbone of the sturgeon, strangely not widely available in London or England more generally. it supposes to give a unique flavour to the pie. some say use Chinese bean threads (vermicelli) instead, but i would rather just leave it out.
if you have any idea where to get the precious vesiga, do let me know.
‘…bake the bottom crust all the way though, till it’s crumbly, you know, and soaked with juice so that you don’t even feel i in your mouth, so that it just melts like snow….’ Nikolaj Gogol ‘Dead Souls’