Thursday, September 20, 2012
This is a recipe for a traditional Russian salad, to add to my small arsenal of traditional Russian salads which would typically be served on a holiday (such as on New Year's Eve). It is a layered salad, with herring on the bottom, topped with several different root vegetables, including beets. In Russian, the salad's name literally translates to "Herring Under a Coat" because the herring is covered or "coated" by the other ingredients.
Because direct translations never work well (ask my husband, for whom many a translated Russian joke told at my parents' table has fallen flat alongside the crickets that follow it), "Coated Herring" seems to make slightly more sense. Sometimes in English this salad is also referred to as dressed herring or layered herring salad.
In making this salad, each ingredient is layered on top of one another, similar to a layered cake. For greater visual effect, you can use a trifle or a tall-sided round glass dish to display each layer of this colorful salad. The top of the salad is covered by beets followed by a layer of mayonnaise. As with a lot of things, this salad does best if you let it stand, refrigerated, for a little while before serving. As the salad stands, the flavors begin to combine and the beets bleed onto the mayonnaise layer, coloring it a faint mauve.
For this salad you will need two herring fillets, preferably preserved in salt brine (you can read more about it, along with how to fillet a whole herring, here). You can also use the equivalent amount of jarred herring pickled in vinegar which should be more readily available in some places (simply drain and rinse it first).
Russian Layered Herring Salad
3 medium potatoes
4 medium carrots
3 small beet roots
2 pickled herring fillets
1/2 of white onion
1 large egg for garnish (optional)
Sprigs of dill for garnish (optional)
1. Bring two pots of water to a boil, one medium and one large. Place carrots and potatoes, skins on, in the large pot. Place the beets, skins on, in the medium pot. Bring each pot back to a boil, reduce the heat slightly, cover and let cook until the vegetables are done (about 30 minutes for potatoes and carrots; the beets will take about 40 to 50 minutes). You can test whether the roots are done with a knife, you should feel little to no resistance when it is inserted into the center of the root. Drain the vegetables and let cool. Peel the vegetables with a pairing knife.
2. If using the egg, bring another pot of water to a boil and add the egg. Boil to a hard boil, about ten minutes. Drain and let cool before peeling.
3. Slice the herring fillets into 1/4 inch pieces and place in a single layer of a large round serving dish.* You will next add layers of vegetables on top.
4. Finely chop the onion and sprinkle as an even, single layer on top of the herring. Grate the potatoes and add them as a single layer on top of the onion. Grate the carrots and add them on top of the potato layer. Grate the beets and add them on top of the carrots. Spread mayonnaise in a thin layer on top of the beets. If using, grate the egg, and sprinkle it on top of the mayonnaise layer. Garnish with sprigs of dill. Chill before serving.
*You can use either a shallow serving dish or tall-sided dish. For a shallow dish, each layer of the salad should completely cover the previous layer like a bowl (so that e.g. beets would completely cover the top and the sides of the salad), followed by the top mayonnaise layer which should cover the salad similar to the way frosting does a cake. For a tall-sided dish simply place each layer evenly on top of another. You can also make individual salad portions as shown in the photos by using ramekins or small trifles.