Doctor Zhivago: Choulibiac
This is my "go-to" dish when I'm cooking to impress. Choulibiac is like a layer cake made of fish! Alternating layers of fish, mushroom duxelles, & salmon mousse are cooked in puff pastry shaped like a fish.
Koulibiac, as it was known in Russia, was known as the dish of the Czars. It was a salmon stuffed with mushrooms and chopped egg backed in brioche. I've followed the original recipe several times and have found that most of my guests didn't care for it. The egg and fish was a bit "foreign", and the overall reaction was that it was a bit "heavy" and "too rich".
Year's ago I discovered Julia Child's reinvention of the dish; she called it Choulibiac because she made it with lighter puff (or "choux") pastry instead of brioche. I've modified the dish, adding more color to the slices of pastry wrapped fish through the use of a salmon mousse.
It makes for a breathtaking presentaton that serves four to six people, depending on how you slice it.
Perhaps no other dish uses so many pans, bowls, and pots. I find it usefull to clean as I go, reusing the same bowls over and over. Otherwise, things quickly get out of hand, as in the Sorcerer's Apprentice!
Although there are a lot of steps to making choulibiac, none of them are too difficult taken on their own. So don't be daunted by the length of the recipe. Just take things a step at a time.
To make it easier to keep track of the steps, I've broken down the recipe into sections. You can use these as a "road-map" to your progress.
- The crepe for the bottom layer
- Preparing the fish
- The Choux Pastry
- The Salmon Mousse
- The Mushroom Duxelles
- Final Preparation
- 1/2 C Wondra instant dissolving flour
- 1 C White Flour
- 1/2 cup of milk
- 1 egg
- 1 T olive oil
- 2 sticks of butter
- 2 lbs of sole filets
- 1/2 lb of boneless salmon
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 lb. fresh mushrooms
- 5 shallots
- 1/3 C port
- 1/3 C Cognac or Brandy
- 8 eggs
- Salt, Pepper, Nutmeg
- Parsley (for plating)
- Hollandaise sauce (Optional)
Make sure you have on hand:
- Food Processor
- A pastry brush
- At least three mixing bowls
- Wooden Spoon
- A pastry bag
- Electric mixer
- Aluminum foil
- Cheese Cloth
- No-stick Cookie sheet with a lip all the way around
- No-stick Cookie Sheet with no side lip
Into a mixing bowl add:
- 1/2 C Wondra flour
- 1 T oil
- 1/2t salt
This crepe cooked a bit too long, and is burnt on the edges. Not a problem, we'll just trim the edges.
We're going to make the puff pastry batter now, because we need it for the salmon mousse in the next step.
Before we get too far, let's make sure that we have the ingredients and tools that we're going to need close at hand. Be sure you have an electric mixer or wooden spoon handy, the food processor should be ready and clean.
Premeasure 1C of white flour.
Cut up 1 and 1/2 sticks of butter into 1/2" pieces.
Spoon out a half cup of the paste and hold it covered in the refrigerator until we're ready to make the salmon mousse.
The remainder of the pastry dough goes into the saucepan, covered. The saucepan, in turn, should sit in a larger bowl of warm (not hot) water. Don't let any water get into our precious choux pastry!
Don't bother to clean out the food processor just yet. We're going to use it in the next steps.
Cut 1/2 lb. skinned, boneless salmon into 1" cubes.
- The cut up salmon
- 3/4 cup of cream
- the reserved 1/2 cup of choux pastry that we've had on ice
- 1/2 t of salt
- 1/8 t of fresh pepper
- 1/8 t of nutmeg
Now pulse the food processor until the ingredients have been chopped into an even paste. Put the mousse in a bowl; scrape the sides of the food processor - you really want all the mousse you can get out of it. Cover, and refrigerate.
Before preparing the Mushroom Duxelles, clean the food processor well. We don't want the salmon to color and flavor the mushrooms.
Mushrooms give our dish another colorful, flavorful layer. However, if we're not careful, the water content of the mushrooms will make our pastry soggy. So, we need to do two things to our mushrooms, infuse them with flavor and pull out much of their water content.
You'll start with about a pound of fresh mushrooms. Working in batches, pulse a handful of the mushrooms in the food processor until the pieces are about an eighth of an inch large. Remove them to a separate bowl and repeat until all of the mushrooms are chopped.
Add 3 T Port to the pan, stirring, until the liquid evaporates.
Congratulations! You've finished all of the preparatory steps. Put the mushrooms in a covered bowl until you're ready to proceed to final assembly.
"Bit by bit, putting it together", just like that great song from Stephen Sondheim's Company, we're now ready to bring all the pieces of this magnificent dish to stardom! Let's get everything lined up in the kitchen so everything will go smoothly once we're ready to go. You'll want to preheat the oven now to 425 degrees.
Next, let's make the egg glaze that's going to give our pastry a beautiful look:
- Crack an egg into a cup and beat with
- 1/3 cup of water.
Mix it together with a fork andset it to one side along with a cooking brush.Now, we'll set everything out in order as we'll need it for assembly:
- Re-grease the baking pan and put the crepe on it.
- Line up the fish, bowl of mousse, bowl of mushrooms in a row.
It will make your life easier if you have a non-stick cookie sheet for this next step, one that doesn't have sides. This will make it much easier to plate the fish when it is cooked. However, on the day I cooked, I didn't have one.
Regardless, grease the pan with either 1T softened butter or some spray on olive oil (as shown here).
Place the crepe onto the pan.
Place a layer of sole onto the center of the crepe so that you have a more-or-less rectangle about 5"x10".
Now, use a rubber spatula or spoon to put down a layer of the salmon mousse. You'll want to use about half of the mousse.
Top off the "cake" with the rest of the sole.
Finally, trim the crepe so that it extends about an inch around the fish.
Now we are going to spoon on the puff pastry batter, working from the top down.
Using a rubber spatula, "ice" the layers of fish with the choux pastry. You want the entire thing to be covered with about a quarter inch or more of pastry. Try not to press it down too hard or mix it with the duxelles and mousse which should stay beneath the pastry.
You should reserve a half cup of the choux paste, for final decoration.
As you reach the sides of the fish, fold the crepe so that it "wraps" part way up the side of the fish. Keep it in place by pasting over it with the puff pastry.
Place the entire dinner in the preheated, 425 degree oven. Cook for about 15 - 20 minutes until the pastry beings to puff and brown. Turn down the heat to 375 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes.
This would be the time to prepare the optional Hollandaise Sauce.
If the pastry looks like it is cooking to fast, you can put a bit of aluminum foil over the top to protect it.
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