Russian salad was always one of my favorite girlish dishes; In addition, the one in my house was especially good, made with high quality ingredients and with a care that few people could currently afford. This dish, so typical and popular in Spain, would seem to have little Russian (let’s remember the jokes of the humorist Eugenio who attribute the same Russian origin to it as to the Estepa polvorones); however, it does indeed have a Russian origin, as its creator, a French chef Lucien Olivier, made this creation for customers of the “Hermitage” in 1860, one of the trendy restaurants of the time, which soon made it famous and made it its flagship under the name “Olivier Salad” (photo below).
It seems that the salad is a dish that we all do in the same way and add the same things to it; Although it is true that it lends itself to a multitude of variants, what is imperative is that the quality of them has a decisive influence on its result. In my house, the salad was made with free-range eggs, Galician potatoes of a certain class, cut into perfect squares, peas (if possible, fresh), freshly cut carrots, asparagus tips, and the fish varied from lobster (yes occasionally someone gave it away) to hake, or fresh bonito or Russian “Chatka” crab meat; and, of course, a mayonnaise made by hand. My mother also had two tricks: I drizzled it with a little virgin oil when I mixed it all together – before covering it with mayonnaise.–, and added some imperceptible pieces of serrano ham, ham that was cured in the mountains and that, according to her, had the aroma of strawberries (that flavor was what a good ham should have for her, since in Galicia we did not know the Iberian). With these wicker, it is difficult that the salad did not come out delicious.
However, my favorite salad has never been this delicacy that I just mentioned, but a simple and unpretentious recipe, which in my youth we cooked in an open fire on the banks of the Eo river, on the annual excursion that we made in an old motorboat that took us upstream (not always without problems, which gave the trip much more emotion), and always taking care of the draft of the water as the channel was narrowing. We always left the Ribadeo pier, when the tide was rising; I do not know why we skirted Figueras, that little town where the life of its inhabitants unfolds around its majestic castle; one of my most emotional memories was that, around this little town, the remains of an old tidal mill (“Molin das Acías”) appeared., which always seemed to me the most idyllic place in the estuary, where the sea made an entrance to the land and was undoubtedly the best refuge for winds and currents; almost on the same shore, but already inland, you could see the towers of the Donlebún palace, a palace built in 1711, which I was never lucky enough to visit. This passage always seemed almost supernatural to me due to the serenity of its greenish and crystalline waters and the lush grove that surrounded it and, above all, due to its solitude and the absence of any living being that disturbed it.
I guess we all have a habitat, which is close to our hearts. Many times my dreams have brought me back to this peaceful environment, where ideally I would have liked to live, or becoming transcendental, I have always believed that it would be a good place for the rest of my ashes. When many years later I read Tom Sawyer’s novel, I understood the importance that certain landscapes have for us; Tom Sawyer cannot be conceived without the surroundings of the Mississippi, or Brönte without the Yorkshire moors, nor, of course, Dickens without gloomy London.
After this point, my journey continued on my way to Castropol, that sad and aristocratic town, where time seems to have stopped; We soon came across Fontela, that muddy beach with a beautiful pine forest on its hillside, where we often went to catch crabs, big and meaty crabs that were cooked right there in a soupy rice, which can only be described as “bocatto di cardinale”. Soon we were on the way to Vegadeo where the mouth of the river begins, and we headed straight for its source. Tucked into the narrowness of the river we reached the small town of Abres and as soon as we saw a place where the water was collected and the vegetation and the course of the river merged, we dropped the anchor and that would be the chosen place to spend one of those summer days that lasted forever.
In some way, the whole excursion was conditioned by the Russian salad and the fire that we would need to cook it. Making fire (today totally prohibited and in that very usual time) required important knowledge: it was necessary to look for a “shelter” protected from the wind that had tinder (dry grass, fallen leaves, trunks, pineapples, sticks, etc.); it was necessary to dig a small hole that walled with an improvised stone structure, square or triangular in shape, to prevent the burning of the coals and to be able to place the base of the container where it would cook. Then there was the first flame, the core of the entire operation, which was taking place lighting a rolled paper so that the light firewood (pineapples, leaf litter, sticks) was lit and, finally, the same had to be achieved with the thicker wood, for which the fire was fanned by blowing hard or with something that served as poker (a branch with leaves, some fan-shaped paper, etc.). Once the wood and the pineapples began to burn, the embers and embers were generated, and when the water began to boil then the pot was placed and the ingredients of the salad were added: Potatoes, bonito and canned peas, carrots, and a handmade mayonnaise, which at that time all women knew how to do; And if you had the misfortune of being cut off, you could always blame it on you being on your period, or that some meiga was “laricando” in the food. Of course, this has been my favorite salad, the best I have ever had and the one that I remember with true affection, but above all, the one that I will never be able to eat again.
On that excursion upriver, the most important factor was attending to the flow of the tides: it was necessary to leave with the tide half rising, so that it would give time to reach our destination and thus avoid running aground due to lack of water; that is to say, once in our settlement, the river undertook the opposite process: the low tide, and at this interval we bathed, prepared the food, played everything, and almost at sunset, with the high tide again, we prepared for the Return. Those who do not know the phenomenon of the tides will shock you; Those of you who have read “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” will fully understand this idea of running aground due to lack of depth in the channel; in fact the name of its great author, Mark Twain, was the pseudonym of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, and he was referring to an expression used in the Mississippi River that means two fathoms deep (the minimum draft required for good navigation), and that was what Tom and Huck had in mind for their adventures in the Mississippi.
I apologize for this digression that somehow tries to justify my predilection for this elemental cave saddle, which has been preserved in my memory as if it were the Russian Hermitage dish. I have always thought about the importance of an emotional factor in the kitchen, since the taste for certain dishes is closely related to the feelings that awaken us. At the risk of appearing pedantic, this phrase by Hamlet perhaps explains better than anything my predilection for this salad: “There is nothing good or bad; it is human thought that makes it seem that way.”
Russian prawn salad
To give another twist to this comment, the salad that I will offer you today is neither the first nor the second that I have remembered, but a third variety: “the prawn salad”, which in Anadalucía they make like nobody else and it seems to me justice to make it known, because in addition to being very typical of this land, which has welcomed me so well, it is a variety that may not be so familiar to you. Its appearance is less colorful than that of the traditional Russian salad, but its intense prawn flavor flavors the potatoes and mayonnaise and gives it a delicious touch.
I usually offer this shrimp salad as an appetizer. For years, I have spent precious time preparing hors d’oeuvres (canapés, volovanes, cold cuts, stuffed dates, ham rolls with spun eggs, etc.) for meals of great festivities, until a friend of mine, who is a well of wisdom and common sense, I say to myself: “Desengáñate, the only hors d’oeuvres that are worth it are: a good ham and a good Manchego cheese, everything else is virgerías so that people have more time to fight at the table.” And I could not agree more, perhaps I would qualify that a Russian salad or a potato omelette are not bad either and, on the contrary, they put diners in a very good mood.
All quantities are optional:
5 or 6 potatoes
a kilo of prawns (these prawns were frozen in raw, because the ones in the fishmongers, in addition to being very expensive, were also thawed, so I decided to buy some good prawns that I would defrost myself)
a glass of oil for mayonnaise
1 or 2 tablespoons of vinegar for mayonnaise
salt and pepper
3 or 4 boiled eggs to decorate the dish
1. We start by peeling the prawns and separating the heads from the shells that we will cook separately. There are those who also cook heads but I discard them.
2. Next, I crush the heads so that they release the liquid better and make a more tasty broth:
3. Once I have all the heads well crushed, I put them in a saucepan and boil them for about 20 minutes with their salt. You must add a small amount of water, so that the broth comes out as tasty as possible.
4. Meanwhile cut the potatoes into squares:
4. Strain the water from cooking the heads and pour the potatoes. Once the potatoes are cooked, I add the shrimp and turn off the heat, because they will cook with the heat of the broth.
5. Now you can drain everything and when everything is warm you can stir it with mayonnaise:
6. This is the appearance that it will have, as you can see, much paler than the traditional one, although the pinkish color of the prawns gives them an appetizing appearance:
7. Since it was Christmas Eve, I decided to cover it with more mayonnaise and garnish it with daisies, which always look great:
This is the typical salad of Granada and there are several restaurants that make it wonderfully, and serve it as a tapa. Try this salad, I am sure you will like it.
BON APPÉTIT AND GOOD LUCK !!!!!!!!!!