New home page - an impressive Coulibiac. This is a free-form pie of salmon, rice, mushrooms and dill, wrapped in a brioche pastry, made to feed eight to ten. Originally Russian (Koulibiaka), it was refined for the classic French repertoire (see Escoffier) when French culture had a craze for all things Russian, such as ballet, samovars and Fabergé. (A Koulibiaka is in essence a large pirogi and might contain cabbage, a humble ingredient rare, if ever, seen in la cuisine française classique.)
My niece and I had a session recently to re-acquaint ourselves with its construction. Making a Coulibiac is certainly a "project" but an easy one, prepared ahead, cooked or re-heated for serving. Any stress from preparing its various components is compensated for by its easy (and stress free) finale. It's a fully integrated course, protein, vegetables, carbs all in a neat package! With a butter sauce or sour cream on the side, it's all you need.
When I had my restaurant, I encouraged my staff to hunt out old copies of the wonderful Time-Life Foods of the World series - (second-hand book stores, junk shops, garage sales). Anyone who dumped his or her copies in the eighties is sure regretting it now! The Classic French Cooking volume gives three A4 pages of dense recipe and instructions for Coulibiac, photographs extra. The salmon is poached in cream first, dill pancakes are prepared and used to wrap the layered filling, every layer is clearly defined, a brioche mousseline encases the whole. STOP! Our version is the "Readers Digest" of recipes and loses nothing in looks and flavour.
The melding of ingredients in a Coulibiac is a definition of "synergy".
It's an old-fashioned recipe. It's an entire meal. Craig Claiborne, restaurant critic, food writer and editor of the N.Y. Times said in 1976 "To my mind, it's the world's greatest dish".
It's a show stopper. Ours sits on an excessive bed of fresh flat leaf parsley - just because it was growing madly in the garden. Try it and let me know your results.
Coulibiac (Will generously feed up to eight or more.)
Filling - make this first
Olive oil for cooking
250 gm mushrooms sliced
200 gm (1 cup) long grain rice
2 eggs, hard boiled
1.5 kg salmon or ocean trout, skin off, fillet or pieces
1 – 2 tbsp chopped fresh dill (or 2 tsp dried)
Brioche - make this the day of assembly
1 tbsp dry yeast
1 tsp salt
1-2 tbsp sugar
550gm plain flour
80 gm butter, soft and cut into pieces
Extra egg for egg wash
Use the mixing bowl of a Kitchen Aid or large Magimix.
Close the ends neatly, tuck them under, cutting away any excess dough.
Glaze the Coulibiac with the egg wash and prick it attractively all over with a fork.
Now's the time to get creative, if you wish, with left over dough, decorating the top with leaves, flowers or fish.
Place the Coulibiac in the refrigerator for 1/2 an hour or for several hours until you're ready to bake it. Allow about 40 minutes, 180˚C (fan) or until the pastry is nicely golden.
Let it sit for 10 minutes before cutting and serving, having put it on an attractive oval platter.
Prepare a melted butter sauce, a beurre blanc or a bowl of sour cream to be passed around.
Cut the Coulibiac into slices about 2 cm thick and place in the centre of each plate. This can be done at the table. It's very rich. Second helpings may be possible. It needs nothing else, although green beans or asparagus would suit.
Let me know how you went. Do you need a beurre blanc recipe? Comment below.
I have just had 24 hours in hospital, undergoing a ten minute, non-threatening sinus surgery which kept me in hospital overnight. Once home, I wore a glamorous "tampon" under my nose for three days, secured from my ears. No photograph recommended nor available. The results have been spectacular, recovery easy and as for my fifteen year old ear, nose and throat specialist, she's obviously a genius.
Not one to miss an interesting gastronomic moment, I took the opportunity to observe the catering for my evening meal.
In my home state, “Menu & Nutritional Standards for Public Hospitals” is a manifesto of 23 pages, updated regularly by a “Working Party” with a serious grasp of jargon and ducumentese.
“It is recommended that a gap analysis of the current menu against the Standards and the nutritional implications of any noncompliance be completed. This will require Standards Recipes to be in place, with nutritional analyses.”
Language like this makes one feel secure, doesn’t it?
It is noted that food is "fundamental to patient care in that it meets nutritional needs and contributes to a sense of well-being. Patients are provided with a variety of safe and good quality food that is appealing, enjoyable, and nutritionally adequate".
But as T.S. Elliot wrote "Between the dream and the reality falls the shadow..."
Nutrition unfortunately, seems to be achieved through rampant margarine, low fat milk and desserts, low-joule everything, appalling bread, the cheapest commercial biscuits and lots of sugar.
In a recent local newspaper article, a panel was asked to review or critique the latest menus. The Public Hospitals representative and “professional” dietician judged the meals as excellent, 5/5.
"While patients are in hospital, diet is a number one priority and will govern how quickly a patient recovers. Looking forward to something delicious (and hopefully nutritious) will make the patient feel better, whatever their ailment.”
Needless to say both the food writer and “lay person” did not find the meals delicious, observing tactfully that not all the options survived the holding and reheating process.
Hospitals used to have kitchens but they were refurbished to become reheating and distributing facilities. Food now (for city and suburban hospitals) is prepared off site, highly mechanised, standardised and regimented. Pleasure and grace easily fall victim to economy and efficiency.
On my tray I had...
A tomato soup, pleasantly chunky but so sweet that frozen, it could have made sorbet.
Two very firm chicken croquettes topped with 2 teaspoons of "gravy" .
Vegetables, carrots, corn, peas (capsicum for colour) all reheated from frozen with not a skerrick of butter, also soft roasted potatoes.
A plastic tub of very sweet custard and a plastic tub of green jelly (so much plastic).
A cup of tepid water from which to make tea.
In for a knee operation a couple of years ago, my best hospital treat came from a smuggled-in extension cord, an electric jug, a teapot, some Darjeeling, and a Les Blakebrough cup with its SAUCER. Bliss, better than chocolates or flowers.
If you have a friend in hospital I suggest you take in a vinaigrette dressing (made by you – dash of Dijon mustard, 1 part white wine vinegar, four parts olive oil) to help the food along. It can be kept for each meal, in the bed-side locker, along with the prunes and dried pears, (depending on your Endone requirements).
(But of course, hospital food is notorious. My tray was not brilliant but believe me, there is worse. Barcelona, in possibly Europe's top heart hospital, my partner was served a thick slice of steamed eggplant, no seasoning, no dressing, no salsa de tomate. Nada. (Check out on-line sites such as "Hospital Foods of the World" for some interesting viewing.)
Any ideas on improving a friend's hospital tray? Comment below.