Olivier Salad (Салат Оливье in Russian) is that quintessential dish which brings back so many of my childhood memories. It was always on the table during New Year celebrations, birthdays and anniversaries. As a little girl I helped my grandmother Evdokia dice the ingredients and of course, taste the final product. Every family has its own recipe for this delicious side dish. And so did ours. It was passed down from my great grandma Marfa who was Tzar Nicholas's mother's chef during the Tzariza's stays in Kiev.
The original version of the salad was invented in the 1860s by a Belgian chef Lucien Olivier at one of Moscow's most famous restaurants - the Hermitage.
As its popularity grew, Olivier's salad quickly became the restaurant's signature dish.
The exact recipe was a jealously guarded secret, but it is known that the salad contained grouse, veal tongue, caviar, lettuce, crayfish tails, capers, and smoked duck.
The original Olivier dressing was a mayonnaise made with French wine vinegar, mustard, and Provençal olive oil.
At the turn of the century, one of Olivier's sous-chefs, Ivan Ivanov, stole his recipe. While preparing the dressing one evening in his customary solitude, Olivier was suddenly called away on an emergency. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Ivanov sneaked into Olivier's private kitchen and based on the executive chef's mise en place, made reasonable assumptions about the recipe.
Later, Ivanov sold the recipe for the salad to various publishing houses, which further contributed to its popularization. After the Olivier family left Russia and the Hermitage closed in 1905, the salad could be referred to as "Olivier."
One of the first printed recipes for the Olivier Salad by Aleksandrova was published in 1894. It called for hazel grouse, potatoes, cornichons, lettuce leaves, crawfish tails, cubed aspic, capers, olives, and mayonnaise. As often with popular gourmet recipes, the ingredients that were rare, expensive and seasonal were gradually replaced with cheaper and more readily available ones.
So here, over a century later, is my family's Olivier Salad recipe.
1 small white onion
4 small boiled russet potatoes
6 hard-boiled eggs
1/2 lb Bologna
12 oz frozen green peas (thawed)
4 dill pickles
1 cup of mayonnaise
Salt and white pepper to taste
Dice all except the peas into 1/4" cubes. Combine with mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Serves 4 with pumpernickel bread triangles.