Friday, January 16, 2009
When chef Olivier invented this dish, he would have never thought it would become part of Persian cuisine. It was 1863, Moscow, at Hermitage restaurant where Lucien Olivier introduced this dish, making it one of Hermitage's major attractions. Lucien Olivier never revealed the details of his dish, taking his secret with him to the grave*. Is Olivier a Russian dish? Lucien was of French background (when you track back any fabulous dish, you'll end up dans la Republique!). Yet I would say that this is not a French dish; I have come across few French people who know this dish, whereas anyone of Russian origin would connect to it, having eaten it so many times at family gatherings. Not to mention that chef Olivier spent most of his life in Russia, so there was not much French stuff involved (except for his genes!). Lucien Olivier died at the rather early age of 45, but made his magnificent contribution in the culinary field at the age of 25; and a century and half afterwards, the salad is still well-known in Russia, Ukraine and Iran (and not France!), by the name, Olivier.
In Farsi language, we've Persianised the chef's dish, calling it Oloviye, which is what I will refer to, for the Persian version of the dish.
Nowadays Salad Oloviye has become part of Persian food, although if one thinks a bit without knowing any of the history, (s)he would realise it cannot be of Persian origin. I mean, for the very least, Oloviye has got mayo in it, not an ingredient of Persian dishes. Besides, these types of salads do not appear in Persian cuisine.
At my current lab, the second language is Russian: grad students, postdocs, technicians, research scientists...among them you can find people who either they themselves or their parents were born in the former Soviet Union. As a result, they are quite familiar with Russian cuisine, and thus provided me the opportunity to bug them with questions on how "they" make Olivier Salad. This is what I learned from them (and also from tasting their salad):
First, that every household makes it a bit different from any other, so there is not a single agreed-upon recipe. Second, their Olivier Salad is a dish which can be prepared in short time in a large quantity, making it perfect for family gatherings ("short time" is not compatible with Persian cuisine!). In terms of ingredients, the Persians have got themselves into more laborious processes: For example, the Russians chop potatoes, whereas we grate it. They use any kind of meat/bologna cut into cubes, whereas we use chicken (preferably breast), cooked and then shredded. Same for the eggs: we grate them, Russians simply dice it. Sour cream would be part of the Russian recipe mixed with mayo and/or strong mustard (we sometimes add thick cream to the mayo, sometimes not; anyway, sour cream does not appear in Persian cuisine either). Sour apples (granny-smith), scallions and capers are among the other ingredients that Russians add to their salad: Persians don't. Grated (or chopped) cooked carrots is optional: some people (Russian or Persian) add it to the salad. I personally don't like the colour imbalance it adds, neither the sweet tinge of cooked carrots in the salad. Not to mention that there were no carrots involved when my mom made it!
* So how were the secrets of the dish revealed? His sous-chef..., one day secretly..., its such a cliché, isn't it?
Salad Oloviye continues here
Ingredients (serves a crowd!)
3-4 medium-sized potatoes
3 chicken breasts
5 eggs, cleaned and washed
1 cup of peas (thawed if using frozen peas)
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1.5 cup of mayonnaise (low-fat is ok)
20 medium-sized pickles (do avoid the sweetened ones)
2-3 tbsp of lemon juice
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
persian spice mixture (adviye)
1 pinch of turmeric
2-3 tbsp of canola oil
2-3 cups of water (the larger your pot, the more water you'll need)
large mixing bowl
potato ricer (optional)
The pot I use is a 6-Litre Dutch Oven I've got, large enough to hold all the ingredients(and thanks to Anna for her brand suggestion, and by the way, interestingly enough, Anna is also originally from VodkaLand!)
Sear the chicken breasts in the oil for a few minutes, sauteé the chopped onions and add them to the chicken. Add turmeric, spice mixture, salt and pepper and sauteé for another 1-2 minutes so that the flavour of onions and spices permeates the chicken. Place the potatoes in the pot and add 2-3 cups of water, until it covers all the ingredients. Bring the pot to a boil, then turn it down and put the lid on, leaving some space for the steam to escape (and not make a mess on the stove). Meanwhile finely chop your pickled cucumbers .After ~ 45-60 minutes, check the doneness of the potatoes and chicken: the potatoes should feel "really" soft while pricked with a fork, and might even have started cracking open; the chicken breast can be easily pulled apart. If so, add the peas and the eggs. If you dont feel comfortable putting the eggs in shell with the rest, hard-boil the eggs separately. After 10-15 minutes you will have all your ingredients cooked. The labour-intensive steps start from now:
Take the potatoes out of the pot. While still hot, take the peel off (it should come off quite easily), and grate them on the large pore size of your grater. I know, its terribly hot, and you might burn yourself. Thats ok! * Well, its not ok, but if it gets a bit colder, it would become mushy and starchy when you grate them, and that is not "good eats". To minimise damage to your fingers, put on gloves or buy a potato ricer to do the whole job for you. get the rest of the stuff (chicken, peas and eggs) out of the pot. The broth (containing onions) should not be more than 2/3 of a cup. If more than that increase the heat of the pot so that the broth reduces in volume to the desired amount. Add half of the broth to half of your mayo with your lemon juice and pepper and mix it with your grated potato. since your potato is still hot, the pores inside are still open, and since you did not clog them while grating the potatoes (you should not have a starchy grated potato), the mayo-and-broth mixture can easily permeate the potatoes.
Start shredding the chicken:the way I do it is to get a piece of the chicken breast holding it with one hand, while picking at it with the thumb and 2nd finger of the other hand, quickly and repeatedly, sort of like pecking of a bird on grains, and then letting the shredded threads of chicken breast fall into the big mixing bowl. If you've been to culinary school, you would have been taught to do so the same thing with a pair of forks (the so-called two-fork method): holding a piece of chicken still with one fork on a plate, and taking threads off with the other fork. I do faster with the bird-pecking method, so I go with that, not to mention that its much more fun.
Peel the eggs and grate them into the salad bowl. Add the rest of the broth (containing the cooked onion and the peas) with the remaining mayo. Finally add the chopped pickles, with a bit more salt and pepper and adjust to taste. The salad is ready to serve, but it tastes way better if you let it chill in the fridge for at least 3-4 hours. During this couple of hours the flavours will "settle".
To decorate, you can lay it in a flat dish. Spread out the salad with a spatula, and cover with a thin layer of mayo. Make julienned pickles and tomato, along with snipped parsley and slices of olive... let your imagination go wild!
The recommended bread to go with the salad would definitely be a proper baguette, crunchy and chewy.
It can be served as an hors d'œuvre, topped on thin slices of baguette cut at an angle. However, I personally think all this effort leaves little time and energy to make another main course alongside. So make a sandwich with Oloviye and your baguette, and dont forget to add julienned pickles, tomato and a piece of lettuce in your sandwich.
Nooshe jaan (Приятного аппетита!)
* Remember, perfection has got a price. A blister or two on your fingertips is definitely worth of what you'll end up enjoying.