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August 30, 2007

Beyond borscht and blinis


Michele A. Berdy's kitchen

If you are ever invited to a Russian party, don’t gasp when you see the table. It will be covered with dozens of salads, old meats, smoked fish, pickled and marinated vegetables and mushrooms, pots of mushrooms bubbling in cream sauce - and much, much more. Don’t faint - and don’t eat your fill. These delights are just the “zakuski”, the starters. There are till courses to come. There is invariably one dish on every Russian holiday table: a rich and piquant potato salad called “Salad Olivier” invented by the chef Lucien Olivier in the 1860s for his chic new Moscow restaurant, Hermitage. The salad as a sensation and promptly imitated at dozens of restaurants, but no chef could quite capture the secret. Chef Olivier took his recipe to his grave, but in 1904 his sous chefs reproduced it from memory: two grouse, one veal tongue, 1/4 pound pressed caviar, a half pound lettuce, 25 boiled crayfish, a half jar of pickles, half a jar of soya beans, two fresh cucumbers, 1/4 pound of capers, and five hard-boiled eggs, dressed in a sauce of mayonnaise made with French vinegar and olive oil, and garnished with slivers of white truffle. If you think that’s just a bit complicated - not to mention expensive - Russian cooks agree with you. Today it is made with potatoes, pickles, onions, boiled meat, and sometimes boiled carrots and canned peas, and dressed with creamy mayonnaise. It’s a great alternative to traditional potato salad.


  • 4 large waxy potatoes, boiled in their jackets, cooled and peeled
  • 2 large marinated or salted pickles
  • 3-4 green or spring onions
  • 1/2 pound boiled and cooled beef, veal, chicken, turkey or tongue
  • 2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise made with olive oil
  • 1-2 hard-boiled eggs for garnish
  • Optional: 1/2 cup canned or frozen peas; one carrot, boiled and cooled


Chop all the ingredients into small cubes and mix together well, being careful not to crush the potatoes. Mix in the mayonnaise; salt to taste. Place the salad in the refrigerator for at least four hours so the flavours blend. To serve: mound the salad on a dish and garnish with slices of hard-boiled egg and parsley sprigs.

The original recipe

The Red Square restaurant in Moscow has searched through the archives of the State History Museum and re-created the best of russia’s pre-Revolutionary cuisine. You can find their updated version of the original 1904 recipe at www.redsquare.ru.

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