Kremlin Menu Watch, Part 4

Vladimir Putin’s been pretty busy lately. No fishing party this year. He must protect Crimea and the Motherland’s citizens against the anarchy of evil neighbor Ukraine! To recharge his batteries, he was served a seven-course dinner at the 2014 St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. On the menu were such delicacies as smoked sturgeon salad, white asparagus soup with caviar, and… Crimean flounder.

I couldn’t find the entire menu, let alone the recipes, so I’ll reiterate my usual complaint: nobody (except maybe a fraction of the attendees) actually gives a damn about what was discussed at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Okay, so the theme — “Sustaining Confidence in a World Undergoing Transformation”— is doubtlessly dear to Mr. Putin’s heart, given his fondness for transforming the world at his borders. Now just tell us what all those bigwigs ate!

Kremlin Menu Watch

At a meeting with members of the Russian Direct Investment Fund international expert council and international investors. Photo by the Presidential Press and Information Office.

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Kremlin Menu Watch, Part 3

You may not be a man like Putin, but you can try to eat like him. Here are some excerpts from the news on his presidential feasts in the Kremlin and in other parts of the Empire.

Vladimir Putin on a fishing trip in Krasnoyarsk Territory

What does Vladimir Putin eat? – Vladimir Putin on a fishing trip in Krasnoyarsk Territory – Photograph courtesy of Russia’s Presidential Press and Information Office

You may have heard the news of our Man of Action catching a giant 40+ lb pike during his photo op trip to Siberia last month:

The Kremlin insists it was a fair catch, and the fish was turned into pike steaks for Mr President and his Prime Minister. As for those who question the actual weight of the fish, we can do quick check: Putin is 5’7″ (= 67″) tall, the fish is no more than about 2/3 of his height (= 45″), and depending on which northern pike length-to-weight chart or formula you choose, a fish of that size weighs 22 lb to 29 lb. Conclusion: the official weight of 46 lb seems a bit exaggerated!

So what does Vladimir Putin eat these days?

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Kremlin Menu Watch, Part 2

You may not be a man like Putin, but you can try to eat like him. Here are some excerpts from the news on his presidential feasts in the Kremlin and in other parts of the Empire.

ITAR-TASS 151: MOSCOW, RUSSIA. DECEMBER 2, 2007. President of Russia Vladimir Putin and his wife Lyudmila dine at Siberian cuisine restaurant "Yermak" in Moscow's Krylatskoye district after voting in elections to the Fifth State Duma. (Photo ITAR-TASS / Dmitry Astakhov)

MOSCOW, RUSSIA. DECEMBER 2, 2007. President of Russia Vladimir Putin and his wife Lyudmila dine at Siberian cuisine restaurant “Yermak” in Moscow’s Krylatskoye district after voting in elections to the Fifth State Duma. (Photo ITAR-TASS / Dmitry Astakhov)

You may have missed Part 1 of my Kremlin Menu Watch: it’s right here. Since that original post, I realized that keeping track of Vlad’s culinary adventures could be a source of inspiration for my own recipes, and there seems to be enough new material for an update.

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What Does Vladimir Putin Eat?

As you may have read in the media, Vladimir Putin invited foreign journalists for a dinner-interview at his dacha near Moscow last week. We got the usual report of his highly predictable views on the elections, the opposition, corruption in Russia, the situation in Syria, relationships with the US, etc… But instead of reporting answers that we all already know, wouldn’t it be more interesting to tell us what was served for dinner?

I found little information in the Western press about V.V.P.’s meals, but a Google search in Russian returned a few articles. First, there’s the president’s usual hangout in Saint-Petersburg, where he apparently orders the same dishes lunch after lunch. There are also a couple of records of the dinners that were served to him and George W. Bush during the latter’s visits to Russia. Sadly, no mention of the infamous Vladimir Poutine.

If you’ve had the chance to eat with Vladimir Vladimirovich, or have simply come across an article mentioning a few dishes that were served to him, please write a comment!

George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin take a sunset walk on a pier along the Black Sea in Sochi, April 5, 2008

Vladimir Putin’s lunch at Podvorye restaurant in Saint-Petersburg

Czar’s fish soup from sturgeon, salmon and toothfish, cooked in chicken broth
Assorted cold cuts (boiled beef with spicy sour cream and garlic sauce, cranberries, home-made sausages, roast pork, chicken roulade, boiled beef tongue, salted pork fat, smoked bacon)
Smoked sturgeon with lemon and butter

Dinner menu served to Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush at the Sochi dacha in April 2008 (source here)

Venison Filet with Marinated Mushrooms in Raspberry Sauce, Vegetable Salad
Blini with Red Caviar and Trout
Veal Tenderloin with Baked Potato in Red Currant Sauce
Salmon and King Crab Coulibiac
Berry Pie with Ice Cream
(The original article also mentions that Bush was served chicken Kiev and cherry varenyky in Kiev earlier that month)

Menu served to Vladimir Putin, George W. Bush, and their spouses at Lindström’s Dacha restaurant at the Constantine Palace in Strelna in July 2006 (source and pictures here)

Salad of Astrakhan Tomatoes with 50 Years-Old Balsamic Vinegar
Crawfish with Sweet and Sour Gooseberry Marmalade
Oladi with Black Caviar
Cranberry Sorbet
Fried Smelt and Ladoga Whitefish, Turnips and Baby Zucchini
Steak with Lingonberry Sauce
Wild Strawberry Ice Cream with Caramel Sauce

Vladimir Poutine

Poutine is a dish from Quebec consisting of French fries and cheese curds topped with gravy. Not very Eastern European, you may say. I could argue that there’s nothing more Russian than a recipe containing both potatoes and cheese, but that’s not the point. Poutine is also the French spelling of Vladimir Putin‘s last name, and I intend to use this uh-hum pun on words as the inspiration for my recipe.

The former Russian President turned Prime Minister is known as Russia’s Man of Action. His more recent feats include crossing Siberia in a Ladaco-piloting a fire-fighting planeriding a Harley-Davidson trike in Ukrainesinging patriotic songs with deported spies and even checking sausage prices in a supermarket. He’s every woman’s dream.

Can such a man eat an ordinary plate of fries? Of course not! I needed an ingredient unusual and extreme enough for this fearless living legend: bear meat — medvezhatina in Russian. Bear, Russia’s national personification and symbol of Putin’s own political party, United Russia.

Note: the cheese curds in this image are NOT the ones in the final recipe. See below for the good ones!

Preparing a really tasty version of this simple dish is much harder than it seems, because each ingredient is better suited for factory production than in-house preparation. Good fries take time: peeling, cutting and blanching the potatoes can easily occupy one person full time in a restaurant. Of course you can buy frozen, peeled, cut and pre-blanched fries instead. Cheese curds are even more time-consuming. Home cheese-making remains a marginal hobby, and it’s extremely rare for a restaurant to make its own cheese — except maybe mozzarella, and even then the curds are sometimes bought elsewhere. To make things worse, in a good poutine, the cheese must make squeaky noises when you eat it, a property that requires homemade curds only a few hours old! Again, factory-made curds are an appealing solution. As for gravy, how the hell are you supposed to get all those meat juices for a dish that doesn’t even include meat in its original recipe?! Too often, if not always, the answer consists of a can or a powdered mix — check out the scary ingredients of this one — producing a sticky, gluey mess that almost makes you feel sorry poutine contains gravy in the first place.

So block your whole weekend and make your own Vladimir Poutine from scratch! The French fries recipe is adapted from Heston Blumenthal’s In Search of Perfection. These are guaranteed to be the best fries you’ve ever eaten. To make the cheese curds, I used the beginning of the cheddar recipe from Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheese Making. The resulting curds are tasty without being acidic and do make squeaky noises, though maybe not enough to my taste. I purchase my bear meat from Czimer’s Game & Seafood. Since this is farmed meat, it doesn’t really need to be marinated. If you happen to have killed your own bear, marinate it in red wine overnight first (and send me a couple pieces of that bear!).  The ribs are an excellent choice for braising. The braise also provides the perfect basis for an all-natural gravy: all we have to do is reduce the cooking liquid and thicken it with a liaison of egg yolk and heavy cream.

Braised bear ribs
Yields 4 servings

8 oz onion, large dice
4 oz carrot, large dice
4 oz celery, large dice
1 garlic clove, sliced
olive oil
2 lb bear ribs
6 oz red wine
4 thyme sprigs
2 cloves
2 juniper berries
16 oz smoked pork stock

  • In a pot, sauté the onion, carrot, celery and garlic in olive oil until golden brown, then reserve. Season the bear with salt and pepper, and sauté in the same pot until brown on all sides. Add the red wine, and simmer for a couple minutes. Return the vegetables to the pot, add the thyme, cloves and juniper berries, and stir well. Add the pork stock and enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer, cover with a lid, and cook in 180 F oven for about 4 hours, until very tender. Let cool for 30 minutes.
  • Take the meat out of the cooking liquid. Pass the liquid through a chinois and reserve. Discard the bones and any excess fat. Shred the meat into finger-sized pieces, transfer to a plastic container, top with cooking liquid and reserve.

Bear sauce
Yields 4 servings

5 oz mushrooms
1/2 oz olive oil
42 oz bear cooking liquid (this should be almost everything you have)

  • In a saucepan, sauté the mushrooms in olive oil until soft. Add the bear cooking liquid, bring to a boil, and reduce to 1/4.
  • Pass through a chinois and reserve.

Ah, the perfect squeaky cheese curds!

Cheese curds
Yields slightly over 12 oz (4 servings)

3 qt whole milk
3/4 packet direct-set mesophilic starter
3/8 tsp liquid rennet, diluted in 1 oz water
1 tsp salt

  • Heat the milk to 86 F, then stir in the starter. Cover and keep at 86 F for 45 minutes.
  • Add the diluted rennet and mix for 1 minute. Let rest for another 45 minutes.
  • Cut the curds in 1/2″ cubes and let set for 15 minutes. Slowly heat to 100 F and keep at 100 F for 1 hour, stirring gently every 10 minutes. Let rest for 30 minutes.
  • Pour the curds into a sieve and let drain for 5 minutes, shaking occasionally. Do not drain for too long, or the curds will mat. Mix in the salt, then keep at 100 F for 1 hour, stirring every 10 minutes to prevent matting. Drain again and reserve.

French fries

Yields 4 servings

kosher salt
4 lb Idaho potatoes, peeled
canola oil for deep-frying

  • Fill a pot large enough to contain the potatoes with water mixed with 1% salt, and bring to a boil. Cut the potatoes into 1/2″ thick fries. Add to the pot, return to a simmer, and cook over medium heat until the potatoes are just starting to break when you pick them out (you should start watching for this after about 15 minutes of simmering). Using a skimmer, transfer the fries to a cooling rack, let cool, then refrigerate until cold.
  • Fill a deep-fryer with the canola oil, and bring to 250 F. Proceeding in batches if necessary, deep-fry the fries until they look dry and slightly colored. Don’t overfill; the potatoes tend to release a lot of water, which increases the liquid-level in the fryer. Transfer to a cooling rack and discard (or eat) the small broken potato pieces — there will be some, unavoidably. Let cool, then refrigerate until cold.

Note: the cheese curds in this image are NOT the ones in the final recipe. See above for the good ones!

Yields 4 servings

braised bear ribs
bear sauce
2 3/4 oz heavy cream
1 3/4 oz egg yolk (between 2 and 3 egg yolks)
French fries
12 oz cheese curds

  • Reheat the braised bear meat in the cooking liquid very gently.
  • Pour the bear sauce into a saucepan. Mix the heavy cream and egg yolk, then stir into the sauce. Over low heat, stir constantly, until it coats the back of a spoon. This gravy must never boil.
  • Bring the deep-fryer to 375 F, then deep-fry the fries again until golden brown. Transfer to a bowl lines with paper towels.
  • Pile some fries at the center of each plate, top with cheese curds and bear meat, and cover with sauce.