Signature Russian Amuse-Bouche: Potato Chip, King Crab, Brains, and Caviar

Here’s a bite-sized dish to kick-off the holiday season in style! This very Russian combination seamlessly mixes poor and rich man’s ingredients, with potato and brains on one hand, and king crab and sturgeon caviar on the other. It’s not the first time I’ve paired crab and caviar (see here), and I’ve also posted recipes for pork brains and veal brains before. Combining the brains with crab, however, proves to be particularly successful, resulting in a creamy mixture that’s both delicious and approachable — the brains are nearly unrecognizable.

This makes for a great amuse-bouche with a drink before dinner. It’s just salty enough to make you thirsty, and rich enough to help you absorb the alcohol. And so you won’t be mistaken, this is to be consumed with moderation: after excluding water content, almost 50% of both pork brains and caviar is fat. And I won’t even talk about the potato chips and butter…

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“Baku Palace” King Crab Salad

This recipe is inspired by the crab salad I ate at Baku Palace in Sheepshead Bay a few weeks ago (my restaurant review will come soon, but for now the place is still without power since Hurricane Sandy). The original recipe was terribly deceptive, as the dish, priced at $20 for two people, consisted of julienned cucumber, ground walnut, and… surimi.

So, in order to get rid of the feeling of being cheated, I figured I’d do my own version at home, for about the same price but with real king crab. I added a couple of elements to the recipe and I’m serving it on toasted bread, but the spirit remains the same. Compared to many other posts on my blog, this is surprisingly quick and easy to make. And still delicious!

Russian Cuisine - King Crab Salad

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Salad Olivier

After my recent complaints about the lack of originality of Onegin‘s salad Olivier, I figured I would bring my humble contribution to this Russian salad’s already extensive literature.

Salad Olivier can contain many ingredients, but it is at its core a potato salad with a variety of vegetables and proteins, bound by mayonnaise. It was invented in the second half of the 19th century by Chef Lucien Oliver at the restaurant Hermitage in Moscow. Although the recipe was secret, there are many versions circulating, with possible seasonal variations. Here’s one from the site of the School of Russian and Asian Studies:

Olivier Salad (“Tsarist” version)

This early recipe for Olivier salad, prepared during the height of the Hermitage restaurant’s
popularity (this recipe was written out in 1904, according to the description of one of the
restaurant’s frequent customers):

2 boiled game hens
1 boiled veal tongue
Approx 100 grams of black caviar
200 grams of fresh lettuce leaves
25 boiled crayfish or one large lobster
200-250 grams of small gherkins
Half a can of “soy kabul” (soy paste)
2 thinly sliced fresh cucumbers
100 grams of capers
5 finely chopped hard-boiled eggs

  • Provencal Sauce: beat 400 grams of olive oil with two egg yolks until light and smooth, then add French vinegar and mustard
  • Chop up all the ingredients into small cubes. Mix in the Provencal Sauce.

In A Gift to Young Housewives, Elena Molokhovets gives a very vague recipe:

Take various cooked meats: game of wild fowl; veal or beef; or boiled fish such as sturgeon,
pike or salmon.

There follows a long procession of ingredients, from cucumbers to sauerkraut, mixed with diced potatoes in a mustard sauce. This may be a lot of ingredients for a single salad, but a) that was true about the original, too, and b) the refinement was still there.

Then things started to go downhill for Mr. Olivier’s signature dish. As it transitioned from decadent high-end restaurant dish to housewives’ meal, ingredients were drastically simplified. Limited ingredient availability in the Soviet Union would go on to further aggravated the matter, turning the salad into an assembly of mostly factory-produced food items. Here’s another recipe from the site of the School of Russian and Asian Studies:

Olivier Salad (“Soviet” version)

Ingredients used in equal amounts
Potatoes (boiled and peeled)
Canned green peas
Hard-boiled eggs

  • Chop up all the ingredients into small cubes. Mix in mayonnaise. Add fresh dill, salt and pepper to taste, if desired.

I have to wonder what’s the scariest thing in this recipe: the canned peas that traumatized generations of children, the mystery meat bologna, or the fact that all ingredients, mayonnaise included, are used in equal amounts!

So! I wanted to create a recipe for special occasions that restored some of the splendor of the original, but without combining as many flavors. A lot of the original elements have been preserved: a full-flavored bird (a whole duck), some seafood (my favorite king crab legs), a mayo made with mustard and olive oil, and of course diced potatoes. The proportions are well balanced so that you can taste each of them. Looking back at the result now, I’m thinking I could push the envelope a little bit more by adding sautéed cubes of foie gras…

While there are a lot of steps in this recipe, each of them is easy. Since I’m using a whole duck, chances are you will not get the exact amounts of breast, legs and thighs specified below, which is fine. You can prepare the duck confit one or two days ahead, but I would try to time the breast to finish cooking just a bit before service. The rest of the salad can be assembled a few hours beforehand. The smoked salt I’m using is the Yakima applewood smoked salt by Artisan Salt Co.

Duck fabrication
Yields 6 servings + rendered fat and stock

1 duck, about 6 lb

  • Separate the wings and legs from the carcass, and reserve. Cut the breast from the carcass, trim the extra fat, and reserve.
  • You can render the extra duck fat and freeze it, and use the carcass and the neck to make duck stock.

Duck confit
Yields 6 servings

duck legs and wings (about 2 lb)
0.5 % curing salt
1.5 % smoked salt
0.25 % fennel pollen
0.5 g black pepper
1 thinly sliced garlic clove

  • Weigh the duck legs and wings, and measure the above percentages of that weight in curing salt, smoked salt, and fennel pollen. (The amount of black pepper is so small that it is more practical to measure it in grams.) Season the meat with the curing salt, smoked salt, fennel pollen, and black pepper. Place into sous-vide pouches with the garlic, and cook in a water bath at 171 F for 12 hours.
  • Let cool, then remove the skin and bones. Transfer the meat to a plastic container, add a couple tablespoons of liquid from the sous-vide pouches, and refrigerate.

Duck breast
Yields 6 servings

duck breast (about 1 1/4 lb)
1.5 % smoked salt
black pepper, ground
1 1/2 oz red wine
4 oz duck skin

  • Weigh the duck breast, and measure the above percentage of that weight in smoked salt. Cut a cross-hatch pattern on the skin of the duck breast, and sear in a very hot pan, skin side down, until brown and crispy. Remove from the pan, season with the smoked salt and black pepper, and place into a sous-vide pouch with the red wine and duck skin. Cook in a water bath at 136 F for 3 hours.
  • Let cool to room temperature and reserve.

King crab fabrication and crab oil
Yields 6 servings + some extra crab oil

2 lb cooked king crab legs, shell on
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp cognac (or Armenian brandy)
12 oz canola oil

  • Pick the meat from the crab legs and reserve in the refrigerator.
  • Cut the shell into small pieces, and sauté with the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the cognac and light with a match. Add the canola oil, simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, then remove from heat and let steep for another 15 minutes.
  • Pass through a chinois, let cool and reserve.

Yields 6 servings

1 egg yolk
1 tbsp mustard
1/4 tsp piment d’espelette
6 oz crab oil
3 oz light olive oil

  • In a bowl, mix the egg yolk, mustard, salt, and piment d’espelette with a whisk.
  • Add the crab oil followed by the olive oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Refrigerate.

Potato salad
Yields 6 servings

4 1/2 oz frozen green peas
1 1/2 lb peeled Yukon Gold potatoes
6-7 tbsp mayonnaise
king crab meat
duck confit

  • Defrost the green peas in the refrigerator for a few hours.
  • Cook the potatoes in cold salted water for about 25 minutes, until done. Drain and let cool to room temperature.
  • Cut the potatoes into medium to large dice and adjust the seasoning. In a bowl, mix the potatoes with the peas and mayonnaise. Shred the crab meat and duck confit between your fingers, mix into the salad and refrigerate.

Yields 6 servings

Potato salad, taken out of the refrigerator 30 minutes in advance
6 eggs, hard-boiled and cooled to room temperature
duck breast, room temperature

  • Distribute the potato salad between the plates. Quarter the hard-boiled eggs and arrange around the salad.
  • Take the duck breast out of the sous-vide pouch, slice on a bias, and fan the slices on top of the salad, pouring a spoonful of cooking liquid on top of the meat on each plate.
  • Serve immediately.

Pressed King Crab, Bok Choy and Mint

This dish is inspired by a recipe from an article on Georges Blanc in the Spring 2010 issue of Culinaire Saisonnier. This is a fairly simple preparation that emphasizes the flavor of king crab, one of my favorite ingredients. I recommend serving it with pancakes (pick a recipe from this post). Or if you’re in the mood for a more adventurous pairing, try it with a veal carpaccio, or a similarly-shaped veal tartare (maybe an adaptation of my Veal Dubrovnik) .

Although live king crabs are pretty expensive and hard to find, pre-cooked, frozen legs are usually of very good quality. Don’t discard the crab cooking liquid that runs when you thaw and shell the legs! It’s very tasty! It can be used in this recipe.

Yields 4 servings and leftover

1 tbsp lime juice
1/2 tsp mustard
1 egg yolk
1/4 tsp piment d’espelette
5 oz light olive oil
5 oz canola oil

  • Mix the lime juice, mustard, egg yolk, and piment d’espelette in a bowl. Pour the olive and canola oils in a thin stream while constantly whisking. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Yields 4 servings

1 1/4 oz bok choy leaves
2 oz  crab cooking liquid, or water with 10% salt
1/4 tsp gelatin
10 oz king crab flesh
10 mint leaves, chiffonade
5 oz mayonnaise
1 radish
1 dash olive oil
black pepper, ground

  • Cook the bok choy leaves in boiling water until soft, then drain and squeeze out as much water as possible. Heat the crab liquid (or salted water) and gelatin in the microwave until steaming, then transfer to a blender and process with the bok choy. Refrigerate until almost set.
  • In a bowl, mix the crab flesh, mint, and bok choy purée, then fold in the mayonnaise. You’ll notice the whole mixture does not use salt (unless you don’t have crab liquid): usually, cooked king crab is already salted. Fill 4 ring molds of 2 1/2″ diameter with the mixture, place weights on top and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  • Thinly slice the radish with a mandoline or a peeler, and toss in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper. On each plate, unmold one pressed crab cylinder and decorate with a few slices of radish on top.

King Crab Ravioli, Caviar and Vodka Cream

King crab, caviar and vodka: are there any ingredients that better exemplify haute Russian cuisine? I served this dish as a first course on New Year’s Eve. Enjoy with champagne (just not necessarily the Soviet kind)!

For the pasta dough, I am using a modified version of Gordon Ramsay’s dough recipe. Stay away from dough recipes that skimp on the eggs, as they usually give tougher, inferior results. Note that the dough and the vodka cream discs yield more servings than the rest of the recipe because they’re hard to scale down.

You can get everything up to the assembly section ready several hours in advance, but I really recommend making all the elements on the day you plan to eat them.

Vodka cream discs
Yields 8 servings

8 oz heavy cream
1 tsp gelatin
1/2 tsp sugar
1 oz vodka

  • Combine 1/4 of the heavy cream with the gelatin and sugar in a small container. Microwave for about 45 seconds or until boiling, then mix well and reserve.
  • Whip the rest of the heavy cream to soft peaks. Stir the vodka into the gelatin mixture, then pour into the whipped cream with the mixer still on. Stop mixing.
  • Pour into 2 1/2″ diameter silicon molds (the exact size and shape of the mold isn’t too important), cover with plastic film and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Pasta dough
Yields over 8 servings

9 1/2 oz flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
3 egg yolks
1 tbsp olive oil

  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fit with the paddle attachment, place half of the flour, plus the salt, egg, egg yolks and olive oil. Mix over low speed until homogeneous, scraping down the sides with a spatula. Add the rest of the flour and mix again until it forms a smooth paste. Transfer to a floured surface, and knead with your hand for about 3 minutes. Wrap in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes.

King crab fabrication
Yields 4 servings

1 lb whole cooked king crab legs

  • Cut the shell using scissors. Take out the flesh and remove the cartilage. Reserve the meat for ravioli filling. Reserve the shells, cartilage and liquid for cooking the pasta.

King crab ravioli
Yields 4 servings (12 ravioli)

9 oz king crab meat without shell or cartilage
1 egg
1/4 tsp piment d’espelette
4 thyme sprigs, stems removed
2 tsp finely chopped parsley
1 tsp orange juice
pasta dough
1 egg yolk

  • In a blender, process 1/3 of the crab meat with the egg and the piment d’espelette to a paste. Transfer to a bowl and add the rest of the crab by shredding it into small pieces between your fingers. Add the thyme, parsley, and orange juice, and mix well.
  • Using a pasta machine, roll the dough to the finest setting. Cut 24 discs using a 3 1/2″ cutter. Mix the egg yolk with 1 tbsp water to make an egg wash. Brush two discs with the egg wash. Place a ball of crab stuffing in the center of the first disc, cover with the second one, and seal the edges with your fingers, removing any air pockets. Repeat with the rest of the pasta discs.

Yields 4 servings

king crab shells, cartilage and liquid
king crab ravioli
2 oz butter
vodka cream discs
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 oz caviar

  • Place the crab shells, cartilage and liquid into a pot, fill with water, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes.
  • Pass the resulting crab stock through a chinois, return to the pot, add salt and bring to a boil. Cook the ravioli for a few minutes, until soft. Using a skimmer, transfer the ravioli to a bowl containing the butter. Do not drain the ravioli excessively, as some cooking liquid must remain to emulsify the butter.
  • Arrange the ravioli and the unmolded vodka cream discs on the plates. Top the cream discs with a spoonful of caviar and sprinkle the ravioli with parsley.