Tuesday, 24 November 2009
A Russian fish pie
Mr. F and I threw a supper party on Sunday evening, inviting some of our most charming and scintillating friends over for eats. I decided that this was a night to try to cook a coulibiac, a Russian pie which layers salmon, eggs, rice and mushrooms inside a puff pastry mantle. A truly authentic coulibiac also calls for the addition of the dried marrow from a sturgeon's spinal column ("vesiga"), but I thought that the prospects of finding this in East London were likely to be slim, so decided to omit it from my version.
My mother makes a cracking coulibiac. When made well it has a delicious flavour, rich fragrance and festive appearance. But I had a vague memory of having watched Anthony Bourdain plough dejectedly through a coulibiac that had been made for him by a whey-faced Russian woman in Moscow. Clearly, there is a risk that coulibiac can be leaden and bland. I therefore advocate the judicious use of lemon juice and seasoning.
Provided that all of the fillings are cold, this pie can be assembled well before you wish to serve it and left in the fridge. This recipe proceeds on the basis that this is what you'll want to do.
Ingredients (for a pie which will serve eight people):
Two blocks of all-butter puff pastry
800g of salmon fillet
Pinch of fennel seeds
175g of basmatic rice, washed in a seive under cold water
500ml of fish stock
Two medium onions, finely chopped
150g of button or chestnut mushrooms, sliced
Medium sized bunches of dill and parsley, finely chopped
100g of unsalted butter butter
Zest of one lemon, juice of half
Salt and pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees.
Sprinkle the salmon with the fennel seeds and season, place on tin foil, wrap loosely and bake for about 10 to 15 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. You do not want the fish to be cooked through because it will receive another blasting in the oven when the complete pie is baked. Remove the fish from the oven and allow to cool. When it is cool enough to handle flake the fish, removing the skin, bones and the bitter grey layer (the blood bank).
Hard boil four of the eggs. When they have been boiled for about seven minutes put them in a bowl of cold water. This ensures that a grey layer does not form around the yolk. When you are ready to assemble the pie shell the eggs and cut lengthways into quarters.
In a frying pan or wok fry half of the chopped onion in half of the butter and a little salt until it is golden brown and beginning to caramelise. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook until floppy, about five minutes. When cooked, season well, add half of the dill and half of the lemon zest and juice. Allow the mushroom mixture to cool.
In a saucepan which has a lid melt the remaining butter and add the rest of the onion. Cook until translucent and sweet. Add the washed rice and stir until the rice begins to turn translucent too. Add the fish stock and then cover the pan with a folded tea towel and the lid. Check the rice after about ten minutes; if it is still a little chalky with all the liquid having evaporated sprinkle over a little water and cook a little longer. When the rice is cooked through allow it to cool a little before adding the rest of the dill, the parsley and the remaining lemon zest. Check the seasoning and add slightly more salt than you think is necessary.
Before assembling the pie take a baking sheet or roasting tray and scatter a scant handful of flour over it. Take one of the blocks of puff pastry and roll it out into a rectangle measuring about 20 cm by 30 cm. Place the rectangle on the baking sheet. Spread half of the rice on the pastry, leaving a border of about 2 cm. Put the mushroom mixture in two lines down the length of the rice, and then fill in the gap with the fish, which will end up covering the mushrooms. Season the fish well. Arrange the eggs on the fish, and finish off the filling with the rest of the rice. You will need to press down on the top layer of rice to ensure that you have a solid loaf shape.
Take the second block of puff pastry and role it out into a rectangle measuring 30 cm by 40 cm. Brush the border of the bottom pastry sheet with beaten egg. Roll the larger sheet on to a rolling pin and then unfurl it over the filling. Press the top pastry sheet on to the border. Trim the top pastry sheet to fit the bottom and then crimp the border. Make a few incisions on the top of the pie, and brush it all over with beaten egg.
Bake the pie in an 180 degree oven for about 30 to 40 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.
I served this with a sauce comprised of equal parts melted butter and lemon juice, roasted fennel (from Tom Aikens' fish book) and peas.