Olivier (pronounded o-liv-ee-ay) is a staple of any Russian New Year table. The original recipe was invented in the 1860’s by Lucien Olivier, the French chef of the Hermitage restaurant in Moscow. The exact original recipe is unknown, but it’s said to have contained grouse (a type of bird), veal tongue, caviar, lettuce, crayfish tails, capers, pickles, cucumbers, hard-boiled eggs and possibly soy beans.
One of the Hermitage sous-chefs, Ivan Ivanov, secretly attempted to learn the recipe by observing Olivier. Soon after, Ivanov left to work for a rival restaurant called Moskva. There, he began to serve a suspiciously similar salad called “The Capital Salad” – although it was reported that the recipe was of a lower quality than Olivier’s and that it was missing something.
Ivanov eventually sold the recipe to various publishers. In 1905, the Hermitage restaurant closed and Chef Olivier left Russia. From then on, the salad could be referred to as “Olivier”.
One of the first printed recipes for the Olivier salad (1894) called for half a hazel grouse, two potatoes, one small cucumber (or a large cornichon), 3-4 lettuce leaves, 3 large crawfish tails, 1/4 cup cubed aspic, 1 teaspoon of capers and 3-5 olives and 1 1/2 tablespoon provencal dressing (mayonnaise).
Because many of the salad’s ingredients were rare, expensive, or seasonal, they were gradually replaced with cheaper and more common foods, until it evolved into today’s version.
If you try to Google “Olivier recipe”, you’ll notice that no two recipes are alike – everyone seems to have their own version. Meat or no meat… if there is meat, it may be either tongue, chicken or bologna… white onion, red onion, or green onion… straight mayonnaise or a mixture of mayonnaise and sour cream… etc.
This was my first attempt at making the salad. Beware that my recipe makes A LOT! I started with a medium-sized bowl and quickly had to upgrade to a larger bowl.
Olivier (Russian Salad)
serves a lot!
1/2 lb. – 1lb. bologna
1 (15 oz.) can of sweet peas
3 medium-sized potatoes
4-5 medium-sized carrots
1 bunch of green onions
1 bunch of fresh dill
4-5 pickled dill cucumbers (pickled with salt, not vinegar)
ground black pepper
1. Boil the carrots and potatoes ahead of time and hard-boil the eggs; make sure they are cooled to room temperature before making the salad.
(A trick to boiling the potatoes is to quarter them and boil them with the skin ON – this will prevent them from turning to mush)
2. Skin the boiled potatoes and dice them into small cubes. Add to a large bowl:
3. Skin and dice the carrots into small cubes (about the same size as the potatoes); add them to the bowl. The goal is to keep everything to about the same size:
4. Drain the can of peas and add the peas to the bowl:
5. Dice the eggs into small cubes and add them to the bowl:
6. Dice the pickles into small cubes and add them to the bowl:
7. Dice the bologna into small cubes and add them to the bowl:
8. Slice the green onions (tops and whites) and add them to the bowl:
9. Chop the dill and add it to the bowl:
10. Season with salt and pepper and add the mayonnaise – no specific amounts here – just add them all to taste. Mix everything well.
Enjoy – and Happy New Year