The original Russian salad was made with smetana, a thick, slightly sour cream used in Russian and Finnish cooking. Variations may include shredded beef and a variety of vegetables, but potatoes and a creamy dressing, such as a mayonnaise dressing, are always the basic ingredients. The Spanish version, served as a tapa, includes the typically Iberian green olives and tuna. While the Russian salad found in Latin America most likely came via Spain, the variations are numerous, changing from country to country and region to region. In Mexico, it usually contains carrots and peas in addition to the requisite potatoes. My comadre’s version has cooked chicken breast, and is made incredibly flavorful by cooking the vegetables in the chicken broth.
- 1 whole chicken breast, with skin and bones
- ½ medium white onion, studded with 2 whole cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 large garlic cloves, cut in half
- ¼ teaspoon whole peppercorns
- 2 whole allspice berries
- salt to taste
- 2 carrots, peeled
- 1 pound small, waxy potatoes, whole
- 1 cup blanched fresh peas (or use frozen peas, thawed)
For the dressing
- 1 egg yolk
- ½ teaspoon salt
- dash cayenne pepper
- 1 ½ tablespoons white vinegar
- 1 cup olive oil
- ¼ cup Mexican crema or crême fraiche
Place chicken breast, onion with cloves, bay leaf, garlic, peppercorns, allspice, salt and carrots in water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and cook until chicken is just done. Do not overcook, since this makes chicken breasts rubbery.
Allow the chicken and carrots to cool in the cooking liquid. Remove chicken from bones, remove skin, and tear chicken breast into shreds or cut into small cubes. Reserve cooking liquid. Dice carrots. Place chicken and carrots in bowl, cover and refrigerate.
Strain reserved cooking liquid into a saucepan, add potatoes, cover and cook until just done. (Some additional water may have to be added to cover potatoes by 1 inch.) Do not overcook potatoes. They should be tender yet firm when pierced with a fork. Drain potatoes and allow to cool. Cut potatoes into small chunks or slices, according to preference. Add potatoes to bowl with chicken and carrots. Add peas to bowl.
For the dressing, mix egg yolk, salt, cayenne and vinegar, and place mixture in a blender container. On slow speed, add oil in a slow, steady stream and blend until mayonnaise forms, about 30 seconds. In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise with the crema until well blended. Add this dressing to the chicken and vegetables. This makes a creamy salad, so add less dressing if you like it less creamy. Add salt and pepper to taste. Some people add a dash of Worcestershire sauce ( salsa inglesa.)
Note: The homemade mayonnaise recipe makes about 1 cup. Store-bought mayonnaise may be used, but the homemade version is tastier.
The carrot: A year-round Mexican resource
For summertime or anytime: Mexican salads