When I was served “Russian salad” in the United States for first time, I thought that Mr. Lucien Olivier – the chef who invented it – probably rolls in his grave every time the big chunks of boiled potatoes dressed with hideous mayonnaise sauce are associated with the true Olivier salad named after its genius inventor. The bad news is that what most consumers outside of the post-Soviet world refer to as the “Russian salad” is everything but. Now, the good news is that I will demystify what it really is and share with you how to make this exquisite and elegant dish.
Interestingly, the recipe of this quintessential Russian salad was created by the French chef back in the 19th century, when Mr. Lucien Olivier ran a very successful restaurant in Moscow. The original recipe of the salad included haute cuisine ingredients like caviar, crayfish and grouse and was kept in secret by Mr. Olivier until his death. Ever since, the salad has become the all time favorite dish for special occasions and family gatherings and has appeared on the dining tables of common people, who substituted some of the luxury ingredients with something more down to earth.
Olivier is very often associated with the New Year’s Eve celebration. However, I personally think that summer is the best season to prepare it when you have access to the goodies like fresh sweet peas and cucumbers, young potatoes and carrots, and fresh herbs. However, substitute the fresh peas with the canned ones, cucumbers – with cornichons, grab some potatoes, carrots and apples from the cellar and voilà – here is your seasonal winter version of Olivier!
Active time: 45 minutes | Total time: 2 hours | Serves: 8
1/2 roasted chicken breast
3 medium potatoes (like Yukon gold)
3 medium carrots
2 fresh seedless cucumbers (or about 25 cornichons)
11/2 cups fresh or canned sweet peas
1/2 apple (sweet and sour varietal like Braeburn)
1 tbsp capers, rinsed and minced
Bunch dill, finely chopped
Bunch chives, finely chopped
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup crème fresh
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
Roast the chicken breast, let it cool off. Once cool enough to handle, chop it coarsely.
Boil the potatoes and the carrots in the salted water until soft but not mushy. Let them cool off and once cool enough to handle, dice the potatoes in 1/4-inch cubes and carrots – in 1/8-inch cubes.
If you are using fresh sweet peas, peal them. In the skillet, heat the olive oil and sautee the sweet peas until soft, for about 5 minutes. Lightly salt them and let them cool off. Alternatively, you can boil the fresh peas in the salted water for about 4 minutes.
In the meantime, peal and finely dice the cucumbers and 1/2 of the apple. Rinse and mince the capers and chop the herbs.
Prepare the dressing. Combine mayonnaise, crème fresh and Dijon mustard, mix well.
In the mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients. Add the dressing and mix well.
Serve at room temperature on croissant or by itself, as an appetizer.
For a fancy take on Olivier salad (and to get closer to the gourmet roots of the recipe), substitute crab meat for chicken. It will add elegance to the salad and make it lighter.