Russian Salad

Russian Salad


Time for a switch from sweet to savoury, and today we have another recipe that I have managed to rehabilitate from my own personal catalogue of food horrors to become a real favourite.

When I was a child, I can recall seeing versions of this dish being sold in tins on the supermarket shelf. Salad in a tin! *shudders* Although I might be remembering a variation called Macedoine Salad (equally shudder-inducing), involving soggy overcooked vegetables chopped into tiny pieces and drowned in a huge glop of salad cream or some sour, watery mayonnaise wannabe. Not sure where the aversion came from (as if the description wasn’t enough!) – we never bought it in tins, and it wasn’t something I’d have had for school meals. Maybe the picture on the tin was enough.

Anyhoo – just as with the Ratatouille, I got to thinking that if I could only research the original dish, I might be able to recapture some of the original appeal.

The dish we in the west call Russian Salad is known in Russia and also in, somewhat oddly, Iran, as Salade Olivier. Invented in the 1860s by the owner of the Parisian-style Hermitage restaurant in Moscow, Monsieur Lucien Olivier, the recipe was kept a closely guarded secret, and was prepared only by the chef . M.Olivier called his dish ‘Game bird mayonnaise’, but the original recipe bears little resemblance to the classic dish we know today. Chock full of expensive ingredients such as grouse, crayfish, tongue, caviar, capers and olives and dressed with a Provencal sauce of oil, vinegar, mustard and spices, the exact recipe was kept a closely guarded secret, and went with M. Olivier to his grave. Two variations survived: Ivan Ivanov, a sous chef, allegedly managed to glimpse the chef’s workstation one evening when Olivier was called away, guessed the dressing ingredients and promptly left the Hermitage for a rival restaurant where he began serving a similar salad called ‘The Capital.’ Another version was recreated from the memory of a loyal Hermitage customer.

The Soviet era was instrumental in the salad’s evolution, with the expensive game and seafood being replaced with chicken and ham. As austerity measures began to take hold, these simplified ingredients were reduced futher, eventually being replaced with cooked sausage and the home-made Provence sauce by store-bought mayonnaise.

This salad is still a classic of Russian cuisine, and a staple on the tables for most family celebrations, but especially at New Year. It’s a great winter salad, and also a great Deja Food dish. It’s a delicious way of stretching a relatively small amount of protein into a main course salad. The smokiness of the sausage, the sweetness of the carrots and peas, the creamy dill dressing and the sharpness of the gherkins make every mouthful a different delight. I’m really pleased with this version, and happily enjoy it as a meal in itself.

A few pointers:

  • Cook the vegetables to order if you like, but its much quicker if you can start with some already cooked (but not soggy!) from a previous meal.
  • Don’t cut everything too small, otherwise they’ll disappear into a mush. You still want to be able to see each separate ingredient.
  • Make sure the gherkins are pickled in brine, not vinegar.
  • Include chopped cucumber to add a fresh dimension to the flavour if liked.
  • Don’t overdo the dressing – a light covering to gently bind is sufficient – don’t want any drowning vegetables here.

Russian Salad

cooked potatoes
cooked carrots
frozen peas
green beans
spring onions (optional)
cucumber (optional)
1 U-shaped smoked pork sausage
4 hard boiled eggs
3 large brine-pickled gherkins
1 bunch fresh dill
low-fat mayonnaise
plain yoghurt
salt & pepper

  • Prepare the carrots, potatoes, beans, sausage, eggs and gherkins by cutting them to a uniform size. Don’t make them too small. 2cm square is ideal.
  • Slice the spring onions.
  • Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise. Using a teaspoon, scoop out the seeds and discard. Cut each half lengthwise, and then slice.
  • Cook the peas in boiling water for 3-4 minutes. Drain and then plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. When cold, drain from the cold water.
  • Mix the ingredients together. The proportions should be roughly equal.
  • Mix the dressing: Equal proportions of mayonnaise and yoghurt. Season with salt and pepper. Snip the dill into the dressing to taste.
  • Toss salad gently in the dressing to coat.

3 Comments on “Russian Salad”

  1. I love this dish – I first discovered it was called Olivieh when I had it as a starter in a Turkish restaurant in London about 6 years ago. It’s still on the menu now There they serve it in the middle of a big flat bread (lavash) and you tear your way to the chicken olivieh in the middle – yum!

    Loved reading the history of it – thanks for researching and sharing it.

    Craftilicious – a fellow cook book addict

  2. Goodness I’d forgotten about the horrible tinned salad! The sort of thing my gran considered appropriate to serve with some boiled ham. Your version bears no resemblance to that stuff, it looks lovely and fresh.

  3. Charlotte says:

    This looks really nice. I always struggle to want to eat salads in winter, but this actually looks like it would be hearty enough for a November dinner! Looking forward to trying it out 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.