A Snowfall in Russia

18 Sep

The next meal I’m about to share with you is probably the most labour-intensive thing we’ve done thus far. It took three people about 4 hours to complete, and involves numerous steps, many of which would be suitable for an entire meal of its own. The dish I speak of is the old-fashioned Russian fish or meat pie of koulibiac, which is basically three different dishes rolled into one, covered in puff pastry and served with some kind of creamy sauce of your choosing. I completely understand that in the dead of a Siberian winter one probably needs as many meals in them as possible all at once to avoid some kind of disease caused by nutrient depletion. However, unless you’ve made all the separate items in advance, it’s a little much for everyday dinner . That’s why this impressive recipe is now often reserved for Christmas and New Years meals in France, Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe. While you can center your koulibiac around many different types of protein, we went with salmon, which offers a beautifully contrasting pink colour to all the neutral tones that surround it.

Step 1: Cooking the fish

On a baking sheet, we coated a fresh salmon filet with olive oil, a splash of white wine, some salt and pepper, and thinly chopped shallots. We cooked all this in the oven until the fish was just short of ready, and set it aside to cool.

Step 2: The “Stuffing”

Although Marie-Blanche referred to this next step as the “stuffing”, it seemed to be more of a simple risotto, flavoured with the French mushroom and onion mix of duxelles. After we made our duxelles, we added it to cooked fluffy round Italian rice, which we infused with olive oil and sauteed onion.

Step 3: The Crêpes

Crêpes are a disaster to make if you don’t have the technique perfected. Not only must the batter be just so, but you should cook them in a proper frying pan with a glazing of melted butter, at the right temperate for the right amount of time. Luckily for us, we had our crêpe practice the previous week when we were first introduced to this necessity of French cooking. Another positive is that the crêpes in this recipe are served inside the koulibiac, and therefore don’t have to be as perfect as when you serve them on their own. However, this is cooking school and everything must be flawless, even if it’s covered in a mask of puff pastry. With that said, Anna and I sweated over the stove, arms and fingers burning from the heat of the flame and the pan, as we made crêpe after crêpe, until we had 8 textbook specimens.

Step 4: The Neat Little Package

Bare with me, this next part gets a little tricky and very wordy…

We began by cutting out a cross shape from our puff pastry dough. We then placed four crêpes on the dough so that they covered each of the corners of the center of the cross. Next, we applied a thin rectangular shaped serving of “stuffing,” and lay on top of that small flakes of our cooked salmon. On the salmon, we added another layer of stuffing, then more salmon, then more stuffing until we had a low tower of innards. At this point, some recipes call for you to add hard-boiled egg or even braised cabbage, although Marie-Blanche said that she wanted us to keep things “simple” (yah right) by just having the two inside ingredients.  On top of the stuffing and salmon slabs, we placed four more crêpes in the same formation as the bottom layer, and then proceeded to fold up the sides of the puff pastry cross. Overtop of all this, we added another circular sheet of puff pastry, neatly tucked in the edges, glazed it all with an egg and made some sort of Nordic looking design out of the leftover dough. It took 3 sets of hands to fold everything up, and again those 6 hands plus 2 flat spatulas to transport our bundle of joy onto a greased cookie sheet. We then baked this behemoth for about 20 minutes until it was a golden brown colour, and enjoyed our efforts with a delightful whipped-cream and dill sauce.

Thankfully this dish was insanely delicious and satisfying, because it sure wasn’t a trouble-free task. Also, our instructors promised us that we would do a simple and light tasting dessert to counteract the tedious and rather filling nature of our main course. Our desert was light, yes, but was it easy to make? Well, I don’t usually get carpal tunnel from cooking so no, I would say it wasn’t all that effortless.

The dessert is called œufs à la neige, a beautiful and tasty dish that also goes well with winter meals. In essence, this dessert is poached meringues sitting on top of a creamy custard base. The custard wasn’t so hard to execute, you just have to make sure you’re stirring it constantly to avoid burning and lumps. The meringue wouldn’t have been so bad either if we were permitted to mix the egg whites in some kind of machine. No, we had to beat them ourselves in a large brass bowl with a giant-sized whisk until our arms went numb from exhaustion. Once the egg white and sugar mix turned into our fluffy meringues, we delicately placed spoonfuls of it on top of boiling water in a deep-dish frying pan, and cooked the snowy balls for a couple minutes, turning and stirring them until they became cohesive little clouds.

After they were slightly cooled and dried, we put them on a serving dish amongst our creamy custard and garnished it all with some thin almond slices.

A beautiful and delicious meal, but would I be making this on a regular basis? Not unless you want me to have the temperament of an evil Russian Czar and the injuries of his sickly oppressed peasants.


3 Responses to “A Snowfall in Russia”


  1. The Return of Waterloo – Bringing Wellington Back to France « Shortt and Sweet - 05/10/2011

    […] a generous layer of goose liver pâté as well as freshly made duxelle (as previously seen in post A Snowfall in Russia). We then wrapped up our package, decorated it with some leftover dough, and baked it for about 20 […]

  2. The French Basics « Shortt and Sweet - 10/10/2011

    […] as a textural layering device in complex dishes like the kulibiac (refer to post A Snowfall in Russia) or as an envelope-like dessert or snack, les crêpes are an integral part of French life. Savory […]

  3. The Last Supper « Shortt and Sweet - 16/10/2011

    […] pastry) was somewhat reminiscent of the infamous koulibiac that keeps coming up in posts (refer to A Snowfall in Russia), the flavours were quite different, with a lighter feel and a bit more colour […]

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