Remember this old favourite? Otherwise known as the Russian Salad, it was invented by Lucian Olivier, a Belgian chef who ran the fashionable Hermitage restaurant in Moscow during the late nineteenth century. Olivier's salad, apparently, became quite a cause célèbre with le gratin; and enjoyed the patronage of the grand matrons of Muscovite Society. The Hermitage restaurant closed down in 1905, and Lucian Olivier died at the relatively young age of 45. If you're so inclined to pay your respects, he's buried in the Vvedenskoye Cemetry. And the closely guarded secret recipe for his famous salad went with him to the grave. Or did it?
What's in it, I hear you ask? That's a very interesting question and much open to debate. There's quite a bit of stuff about it on the net; the subject's almost becoming a sub-culture in its own right. The original recipe included all sorts of exotic lovelies: grouse, veal tongue, caviar, crayfish tails, capers and even smoked duck- this was a fabled dish from Pre-Revolutionary Russia after all; nothing like that awful Heinz Russian Salad thing that came in a tin, and looked suspiciously like Oskie the Cat's sick.
Nicholas II and Alexandra, in 17th century fancy dress for the Winter Palace Ball, St Petersburg, 1903.
Anyway, a certain- and enterprising- Ivan Ivanov, a sous-chef at the Hermitage restaurant, plucked up enough courage to steal the recipe. Look upon his dastardly plan as a late nineteenth century pension pot. Now Olivier prepared the wretched salad himself- and only by himself. No other chef was allowed anywhere near him while he made it. Fortunately he was suddenly called away to deal with some emergency. While Oliver was gone, Ivan sneaked into the kitchen and managed to work out, at the very least, how the secret dressing was made.
Ivan left the Hermitage and went to work for Moskva, a local restaurant with an inferior clientele. A few weeks later, low-and-behold, a new salad appeared on the Moskva menu- the "Capital Salad" which, most suspiciously, looked and tasted very much like the original Olivier salad from the Hermitage restaurant. Naughty old Ivan.
The story goes that Ivan then sold the recipe to various publishing houses. One of the first printed recipes for Olivier salad, by Aleksandrova, appeared in 1894. It included grouse, potatoes, gherkins, lettuce leaves, crayfish tails, capers and aspic. All bound in a Provençal dressing.
Here's my take on Salad Olivier, based on a recipe from the fanastic Taste of Russia by Darra Goldstein. It will serve about eight people. "A Taste of Russia" is one of my favourite cookery books. It rediscovers the cuisine of Pre-Revolutionary Russia; the food from the days of the Romanov Tsars. It's a terrific book.
In a large bowl, mix: 225g cooked potatoes (cut into dice), a large cooked carrot (cut into dice), two apples (chopped into dice), one peeled orange (membranes removed, and cut into chunks), two spring onions (chopped), and 120g peas.
Mix in 225g of cooked chicken (which you have previously chopped up into bite-sized pieces.
Make a dressing: Press three hard-boiled egg yolks through a sieve into a small bowl. Mix in two dollops of olive oil and stir, to form a smooth emulsion. Add two tablespoons of cider or wine vinegar and eight tablespoons each of mayonnaise and soured cream. Season, and pour over the vegetables and the chicken, keeping some of the dressing back.
Let it chill in the 'fridge overnight. To serve, form the salad into a neat mold or mound, and pour over the remaining dressing. Garnish with fresh dill. You could of course, for a more piquant taste, ditch the orange and include diced gherkin. An authentic addition. I think it would work.