You don’t think I gave up on my attempt to update Salad Oliver, do you? I sometimes give up exercise routines, or resolutions to wear make up and hair products on daily basis. But when it comes to cooking, I don’t give up. Ever. I finally have a version that I love, everyone in my family loves, and you might love too if you keep an open mind about what salad Oliver is.
For my non-Russian readers, let me do a quick overview of this salad. This potato salad was invented by a French chef in pre-revolutionary Russia. Although there were as many versions as there were cooks, they all included potatoes, various vegetables, pickles, and luxurious meat and/or seafood bound with mayo. After all, this was a special occasion salad. In the Soviet times, luxurious meat and seafood were hard to come by, so people used whatever they could get their hands on. Tough cuts of beef that were simmered long and slow to help them soften were the best case scenario, bologna was the next best, and hot dogs were not unheard of. Surely, to contemporary cook (particularly living in the US), this does not say a special occasion. Yet, the basic idea is a sound one and merits exploration. After my first misguided attempt to use beef tenderloin cooked sous-vide, I decided to dump the meat in favor of fish. Cold salmon tastes tremendously better than cold meat, so I settled on that as my protein.
Here is the list of ingredients and my take on them.
- Boiled potatoes, peeled and diced -- I used baby yukon gold that I steamed whole with skin, peeled, and sliced. That’s what I’d use for Salad Nicoise and any other potato salad, so why not Oliver?
- Diced Onions -- I used thinly sliced shallots
- Canned Peas -- I used frozen peas as would any reasonable Russian cook if they had them available. Frozen are green, sweet, and delicious. Canned are brown and mushy.
- Carrots -- didn’t seem necessary to me
- Hard boiled eggs -- keepers. I probably cooked mine a bit less than most Russian cooks would
- Cooked meat -- replaced by slow roasted and chilled salmon and a topping of salmon caviar. It definitely says special occasion. The problem is my 5 year old is now asking for it in her school bento box, caviar and all.
- Pickles -- that’s the best part. I used pickle brine in the dressing too. The important thing is to use Kosher Dill and not some other type of pickle. They need to be salty and not sweet/sour. If pickles are not available, capers are another good option.
- Mayo -- I made a vinaigrette enriched with cooked egg yolk, which is practically the same ingredients as a mayo, but feels lighter. Using mayo works well too.
Serves 6-8 as the first course
1 Lb salmon fillet with skin
1 Lb baby yukon gold, white, or fingerling potatoes (whole with skin)
3 large eggs, “hard boiled” (see link for instructions)
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar for dressing, plus 2 tsp for potatoes
2 tsp Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp sour cream, plus more for serving (optional)
1/3 cup thinly sliced shallots (cut crosswise 1 mm thick)
1/4 cup pickle brine, plus more to taste
1 cup frozen peas
1 kosher dill pickle, cut into 1/6 inch dice
1/4 cup minced fresh dill (or parsley, chives, tarragon, cilantro)
1/2 cup salmon roe (optional)
Salt and pepper
Cook salmon, potatoes, and eggs 4 - 24 hours before making the salad
- Preheat the oven to 250F. Line a small baking dish with foil. Set a flat rack on top if you have one. If not, put a few thick lemon slices on the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle salmon generously with salt and pepper and place skin side down on the rack or on top of lemons. Place in the oven and cook until salmon flakes when prodded asse, but is translucent in the center, 18-20 minutes per inch of thickness. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate until cold. You can also use salmon leftovers cooked any way you like.
- Bring a few inches of water to a boil in a pot, set a steamer insert over the pot (it shouldn’t touch the water). Put potatoes into the steamer in a single later. Cover the pot and steam potatoes until tender when poked with a tooth pick, 20-40 minutes depending on the size. Cook until warm, peel, and refrigerate until cold.
Make the dressing
In a small bowl, combine 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar, 2 tsp Dijon mustard and whisk with a fork until mustard dissolves. Add 3 Tbsp olive oil while whisking. Add 1 yolk from hard boiled eggs and mash with a fork until the dressing is completely smooth and creamy. Keep the egg white to add to the salad with the remaining 2 eggs. Stir in 2 Tbsp sour cream (if using) and whisk until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Assemble the salad
- Put shallots in a small bowl, add the pickle brine and let sit while assembling the rest of the ingredients.
- Slice potatoes 1/4 inch thick, put in a large bowl, splash with about 2 tsp red wine vinegar, sprinkle generously with salt and toss to combine.
- Put frozen peas in a bowl. Add boiling water to cover and wait 5 minutes for them to defrost. Drain.
- Cut eggs in half and slice 1/4 inch thick.
- Add pickles, shallots with their brine, peas, eggs, and dill to the bowl with potatoes. Dress with 3/4 of the dressing and fresh ground pepper. Mix thoroughly, taste, and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, pickle brine, and more dressing.
- Remove the skin from salmon and break into large chunks. Add to the salad and toss gently. You want salmon to break down some, but not shred completely. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Can be served immediately, but is better after sitting in the fridge for a few hours. If desired, top with a small dollop of sour cream and salmon roe before serving.