Kulebiaka (кулебяка)

And now, for the pièce de résistance…

(For the record, my kulebiaka did not look like that at all, but to be fair, that’s not what I was going for, so it all worked out.)

I made a few changes to the original recipe to make it simpler and save myself some time, and I was impressed that the end result yielded no appreciable difference in taste or quality. In fact, aside from the puff pastry, it tasted exactly like the kulebiaka I got at my favorite St. Petersburg bakery. If this didn’t go against all the diet rules I’ve established for myself, I’d make it all the time. Seriously.

(Serves 8 really hungry people)

Ingredients

For the pastry:

2 packages (4 sheets) frozen puff pastry (I recommend Pepperidge Farm)
a little flour

For the salmon filling:

4 tablespoons dry white wine
1/2 cup sliced onion (about 1/4 of an onion)
2 tablespoons dill
1 1/4 lb fresh salmon
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 lb fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion (about 3/4 onion)
1/4 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/6 cup dill
2 hard-boiled eggs, finely chopped

Directions

To prepare the salmon filling:

Preheat oven to 400˚F. Prepare each salmon filet in parchment paper and drizzle with the wine, coarsely sliced onion, and dill (use more or less as desired – I used about 1-2 tablespoons of the wine per filet).

Close the parchment paper over the filets, creating sealed pockets. Once oven is preheated, bake for 20 minutes or until salmon is cooked through (it should easily flake when tested with a fork).

With a slotted spatula, transfer the cooked salmon (minus the onions) to a large bowl, remove the skin and bones (if necessary), and separate into small flakes with your fingers or a fork.

Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a heavy 10- to 12-inch skillet over high heat. Add the mushrooms, reduce the heat to moderate and, stirring occasionally, cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are soft. With a slotted spoon, transfer the mushrooms to a small bowl and toss with lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and a few grindings of pepper.

Melt 2 more tablespoons of butter in the skillet over high heat and drop in all but 1 tablespoon of the finely chopped onions. Reduce the heat to moderate and, stirring occasionally, cook 3 to 5 minutes, until the onions are soft but not brown.

Stir in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper with a rubber spatula and scrape in the mushrooms.

Now melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in the skillet over high heat. Drop in the remaining tablespoon of chopped onion, reduce the heat to moderate and, stirring frequently, cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until soft but not brown. Stir in the rice and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring almost constantly, until each grain is coated with butter. Pour in the chicken stock, bring to a boil, and cover the pan tightly. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 12 minutes, or until the liquid is completely absorbed and the rice is tender and fluffy.

Turn off the heat and stir in the dill with a fork. Add the cooked mushrooms and onions, rice, and chopped hard-boiled eggs to the bowl of salmon and toss together lightly but thoroughly. Taste for seasoning.

To prepare the pastry:

Defrost the pastry dough in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours. When defrosted, unfold and place dough on clean, lightly floured surface. If there are any cracks in the dough, use water to smooth it out.

Assembling the kulebiaka:

There are many ways to do this. Traditionally, kulebiaka is made as one large pastry, like this one:

My aunt made individual-sized square ones with rounded corners. I decided I’d do something different and make them triangular – smaller and easier to handle. They ended up being the perfect size for me and my guests, especially with all the other rich, heavy food I served.

First, cut the two pastry sheets into four equally sized squares.

Prepare egg wash (1 egg + 1 tablespoon water, scrambled in a bowl). Fill half of each square with salmon filling, on a diagonal.

Brush seams and press together to seal; crimp sides with a fork.

When all the pies are formed, refrigerate for a few hours.

Remove from refrigerator and brush top with egg wash. Bake in preheated 400-degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until pastry is flaky and golden (I recommend keeping an eye on it after it’s baked for 15 minutes to make sure it doesn’t burn). Remove from oven, let cool for a few minutes and serve.

Serve with sour cream and dill. Careful, the inside will be hot when you first cut into it – sour cream helps with that, too!

Another warning: eat slowly, or you will want to eat all of them. Trust me, I know this from experience.

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