We are in Baltimore visiting my family and it's crazy New Years preparations here. My Mom and I have been cooking all day! While Hanukkah and Christmas are traditions we have acquired after coming to the US, New Year is a beloved holiday of any Russian family. It was festive, had nothing to do with Communism, and was all about food and merriment -- what's there not to like?
Russian food finally made it on the radar of the foodie magazine editors, and this year both Gourmet and Saveur did a special on Russian New Year. Saveur even offered a couple of recipes for zakuski (Russian appetizers), one of which was Herring in Fur Coat. This dish is so popular in Russia that I don't know a single family that doesn't have their own version. Here is ours.
Herring in "Fur Coat" (Herring dressed with beets)
Note: You have to get a Russian style herring for this dish. The pickled type sold in most American stores has a very different flavor. Go to a Russian store and buy "Vici" brand herring packed in vegetable oil (avoid ones with smoke flavor). If you are comfortable filleting and deboning your own fish, you can buy a whole herring in the deli section of a Russian store, but I am warning you, deboning a herring is a very messy project.
2 red skinned potatoes (2-3 inches in diameter)
2 large beets (3-4 inches in diameter)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup mayo (plus more as needed)
3/4 lb herring fillet (from 2 packages, 7 oz each or from 2 whole herrings)
1 Tbsp white vinegar
1/4 cup finely diced red onion (about 1/4 of an onion)
2 inch deep dish that is just big enough to hold half of the herring in one layer
- In a large stock pot, cover potatoes and beets with lightly salted cold water. Cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until vegetables are tender when pierced with a knife or a wooden skewer. Potatoes will take 35-45 minutes (remove them as soon as they are done). Beets will take 1.5-2.5 hours depending on their size. Remove vegetables from water. Cool and peel (the skin should just rub off without a need for a peeler).
- In a small saucepan, cover eggs in cold water. Bring to a boil. Turn down the heat immediately and simmer for 1 minute. Take off heat and let stand 18 minutes. Cover eggs with cold water to cool for about a minute. Peel under cold running water.
- Put mayo into a ziplock bag and cut a tiny whole in one corner to make a kind of pastry bag for drizzling mayo.
- If using packaged herring fillets, remove them from oil and dry on paper towels. Cut herring fillets into 1/2 inch pieces crosswise and sprinkle with vinegar.
- Arrange half of the herring in a single layer in the serving dish. Sprinkle with 2 Tbsp onion.
- Holding a box grater over the dish, cover the herring with an even layer of grated potato (about a half of 1 potato). Drizzle with 2 Tbsp mayo from the ziplock bag.
- Grate an even layer of egg (about half of 1 egg). Grate an even layer of beets (about half of 1 beet). Drizzle with 2 Tbsp mayo and spread it gently with a spoon. If you are having a hard time spreading it, add a bit more mayo.
- Repeat the layering of herring, onion, potato, mayo, eggs, beets, and the remaining mayo. Spread the mayo gently with a spoon on top of the beet layer.
- Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least for 2 hours or up to 1 day. You should have extra vegetables and eggs left over for decoration.
- Right before serving, sprinkle herring with grated egg yolk from the remaining egg. If you are in an artistic mood, make beet ribbons using a vegetable peeler, roll them into roses and place on top of the dish. Garnish with parsley leaves and serve.