~ Spring Forward: Pea, Carrot & Potato Salad Olivier ~
Known in Eastern European circles as "Salad Olivier" or "Salad Olivye", and, "Russian Salad", there are as many variations of this refreshing side-dish or main-dish salad as there are cooks who are willing to take the time to do a precise job of uniformly cubing, dicing and properly cooking the components. What this salad looks like is as important as how it tastes. For young Eastern European girls, who were almost always required to assist their mother and grandmother in the family kitchen, it was how they honed their knife skills for later in life in their own kitchens (while the menfolk were out and about teaching their boys how to fish, hunt, gather and farm).
The original salad was invented in the 1860s by Lucien Olivier, the chef of the Hermitage, one of Moscow's most prestigious restaurants. The regular clientele's love for his salad caused it to become the Heritage's signature dish, and, before long, renditions were being prepared in kitchens all across Russia. The recipe for his "Provençal dressing" (the mayonnaise concoction), a well guarded secret, has never been revealed, although it is believed to have been made with French wine vinegar and Dijon mustard -- cooking in the style of France was quite trendy during that period. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
At the turn of the 20th century, one of Olivier's sous-chefs, Ivan Ivanov, attempted to steal the recipe. Olivier was suddenly called away from the kitchen, which gave Ivanov the opportunity to take a look at the prepped ingredients (mise en place) and deduce with reasonable certainty, what to put in the famous dressing. Shortly thereafter, Ivanov went to work as the chef at Moskva -- a restaurant of somewhat lesser prestige. There, Ivanov started selling his version, "Russian Salad", then, sold his recipe for publication, which made "Russian Salad" a household term.
The Hermitage restaurant closed in 1905, and the Olivier family left Russia, returning to Lucien's homeland of Belgium. One of the first printed recipes for Olivier salad, appearing in 1894, called for half a poached grouse, two potatoes, one large cornichon, 1 teaspoon capers, 3-4 olives, 1/4 cup cubed aspic, and, 1 1/2 tablespoon Provençal dressing (the mayonnaise concoction), and, 3-4 lettuce leaves. Because these ingredients were hard-to-come-by, expensive and seasonal, ordinary home cooks gradually replaced them with cheaper and more readily available ones.
Be creative, but try to stay-true to this recipe's humble past. This vintage salad truly is on-hand farm-to-table fare.
In its basic form, this salad consists of a fork-friendly melange of cubed and cooked potatoes, carrots, peas and eggs -- all of the ingredients are previously cooked. The creamy dressing, which is mayonnaise-based, contains finely-diced sweet or dill pickles or capers -- previously-cooked ingredients. Occasionally an herb common to the Eastern European climate is added to it too (dill, chives, parsley). All the ingredients were and still are inexpensive items found in Eastern Europe's rural farm communities. Because meat was and still is expensive, it is common for vintage recipes for this salad that contain protein to include wild game or game birds -- which they hunted in the countryside. There's more. For those lucky enough to raise cows, sheep or pigs, farm-raised meat or cured meats and sausages were and are commonly added as well.
Traditionally, this "salat" was reserved for large gatherings: religious or national holidays, special community events and/or family celebrations, and, it was served all year long. With or without meat or poultry added to it, it was served as an hors d'oeuvre atop toast points, by itself as a light lunch or snack, or, as a starter-course or side-dish to a hearty meal. For the most part, I associate it with Spring, so, I like to serve this pretty-to-look-at salad as a side-dish on my Easter buffet table, then, as a main-dish the next day -- by adding cubes of leftover holiday ham to it.
This salad is best prepared a day ahead and refrigerated overnight -- time for the potatoes to soak up the flavor of the dressing, and time for all the other flavors to marry too, is time well spent.
1 1/4 pounds peeled and 1/2" cubed gold potatoes (3 cups after peeling and cubing)
6 ounces frozen cubed carrots and peas (1 1/2 cups) (Note: Most vintage recipes for this salad call for canned peas and carrots -- we can do much better than that nowadays.)
4 extra-large hard-cooked eggs, whites diced separately from the yolks
1-1 1/2 cups trimmed and 1/2" cubed previously-roasted meat or poultry (my two favorites are baked ham or roasted chicken), traditional but optional*
1-1 1/2 cups Provençal dressing, recipe below (Note: Prepare the dressing prior to cubing and cooking the vegetables.)
freshly-ground sea-salt and peppercorn blend, for garnish
*Note: While I'm preparing this salad as a side-dish today, most recipes call for some type of meat or poultry to be added -- one type of meat throughout the salad, not a combination of different types. In Russia, the meat that is most often added, and it is very popular so don't roll your eyes, is a mild-flavored, fine-grained, soft sausage that resembles bologna. Here in the USA, the small, Vienna sausages (which come in cans) are the most common substitute for this type of bologna.
~Step 1. Peel cube and place the potatoes in a 4-quart stockpot with enough cold water to cover by 1". Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of sea salt to the water and bring to a boil over high heat. Adjust heat to gently simmer for 3-4 minutes, until potatoes are just fork tender. Drain into a colander and immediately begin running cold water through the potatoes to halt the cooking process and return them to room temperature. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain thoroughly.
~ Step 2. Place the frozen peas and carrots in the 4-quart stockpot with enough cold water to cover by 1". Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar to the water and bring to a boil over high heat. Adjust heat to simmer and blanch, 1-1 1/2 minutes. Drain into colander and immediately begin running cold water through them to halt the cooking process and return them to room temperature. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to drain thoroughly.
~ Step 3. In a large bowl, place the cooked and drained potatoes, peas, carrots. Add 1 cup of the Provençal dressing. Using a large spatula, toss to enrobe the vegetables in the dressing. If you are adding meat, add it now, and toss it with the vegetables. Add additional dressing, by tablespoonfuls, until the salad is dressed to your liking. Transfer to a 6-cup food storage container, cover and refrigerate several hours to overnight.
For the Provençal dressing (the mayonnaise concoction):
My recipe evolved over time, with the final "tweek" being: I'm wed to adding dried or fresh dill (if it is in season) to the mixture. It makes perfect sense, as dill pairs so well with the peas, carrots, potatoes and eggs. Personally, I think that whatever recipe you are making: mine, your grandma's, a friend's or a stranger's, dill is the ingredient that takes this recipe over the top.
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup finely-diced sweet gherkins or sweet pickle relish or a cominbation of both
1/4 cup very-finely diced shallot or sweet onion
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
3/4 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper
~ Step 1. In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients as listed. Transfer to a food storage container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours or overnight prior to using. Overnight is best.
Salad Olivier, when made as a side-dish, pairs great w/many of my favorite sandwiches, especially the Bierock:
Special Equipment List: cutting board; vegetable peeler; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan; colander; paper towels; large rubber spatula
Cook's Note: Eastern Europeans know a thing or two about tasty sandwiches too. To learn about a popular but obscure German-Russian classic, just click into Categories 1, 2, 5, or 12 to read my post ~ Bierock: A savory Meat, Cabbage & Onion Turnover ~.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)