Russian salad: the imported dish that became a Spanish summer essential
Yes, I am greeting you in Russian and I am doing it on purpose. Today’s recipe is about the surprising story of how a dish original from France, popularised in Russia is a Spanish summer staple. If you love mayo and boiled potatoes as much as me, then this post is definitively for you.
Russian salad (Ensaladilla rusa in Spanish) always has a place in the shelves of any Spanish fridge. However, it is based in a dish first cooked by Lucien Olivier and named after him: Olivier salad. In his youth, this French chef moved to the then Russian Empire and established an upper class restaurant in Moscow, where he would serve his creation. The salad achieved great success among the aristocrats and the site traded until 1917, long after the chef’s death and in the outbreak of the Communist Revolution. Later, Imperial Russia became the Soviet Union and despite the dish was still known as Olivier it was never the same again. Some of the original ingredients (such crab, caviar, lobster or partridge) were replaced by much cheaper produce. In summary, it became a working class meal.
But, how it makes all the way to Spain? Food writer Ana Vega remarks that it appeared first in 1858, which is even before Olivier opened his eatery in Moscow. Also, it is not clear where the name comes from-probably from the use of crab, but it is believed to just be a random assignment. As the time went it evolved in exact terms as the Olivier salad and was nicknamed Ensaladilla, meaning small salad.
The dish we eat today originates from the war times. Spaniards love it very cold, as a main and also as a tapa. Most bars serve it with bread sticks whilst here I have tried it at home with crackers-and its jolly good, believe me! Finally, you can add a wide range of ingredients: prawns, tuna, chicken, cooked ham, green olives, black olives, sweet corn, roasted pepper… Everything that matches with a base of boiled potatoes and mayo sauce.
INGREDIENTS (SERVES 4)
Small potatoes (6)
Tuna (160 g / 2 small cans)
Seafood sticks (8)
Boiled egg (1)
Peas (a handful)
DIRECTIONS FOR COOKING
Start by boiling the potatoes, the egg, the peas and the carrot. Do the potatoes with their skin, but peel and cut the carrot in slices. Remove and set aside for cooling once everything is cooked.
2. Peel and cut the potatoes in small dices. Add them to a deep recipient like a tray or salad bowl.
3. Blend the rest of the ingredients with the potatoes and a pinch of salt: carrot (chopped), tuna, peas, seafood sticks (chopped) and egg (chopped, but only the white part).
4. Gradually pour mayo and stir gently with a spoon until you get a creamy mixture. Then, spread everything evenly across the tray, pour another tiny bit of the sauce and extend so you cover up the salad.
5. Decorate as you wish. I have used some anchovies, olives and sprinkled a boiled egg yolk (from the egg I have just used).