Basically a vegetable-studded potato salad with mayonnaise, Russian salad is hugely popular all over the world for family gatherings and festive events. It’s a beloved, traditional party dish riffed on almost everywhere but my own home: I’d only ever seen pasty, congealed versions I would never wish to eat until I tried this one from Vladimir Ocokoljic, served at his Serbian restaurant Kafana in New York City. While not quite as demanding as his aunt back in Belgrade, who used to slice even the peas in half, Mr. Ocokoljic insists on the tiny dice (each ingredient should match the size of a pea) and emphatically dislikes any sweet pickles (only gherkins or cornichons are a fit), making the finished dish delicate, luscious and savory. Whisking pickle brine into the mayonnaise creates a liquidy slurry, loose enough to dress the salad without its becoming smushed and gluey.
- Serves: 6 persons
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 3medium yellow potatoes (about 1 pound), washed
- 5thin carrots (about 1/2 pound), washed
- 10ounces frozen peas
- 4large eggs, fridge-cold
- 3 ½ounces boiled ham
- 1cup drained cornichons and 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of their brine
- 1scant cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise
Step 1Bring a large pot of water to boil. Season with salt.
Step 2Add whole potatoes to the boiling water, and cook 15 minutes. Add whole carrots to the cooking potatoes, and cook both another 10 minutes. Remove potatoes and carrots with a spider when easily pierced with a cake tester or a very thin knife blade, and set aside in a bowl.
Step 3Add frozen peas to boiling water, and using the spider, remove them to a separate bowl as they float, until all peas have floated and been transferred to the bowl.
Step 4Gently add the eggs, and allow to boil 10 minutes.
Step 5While the eggs cook, peel the potatoes and carrots under cold running water by rubbing them gently with your fingers. Rinse the peas under cold running water to cool.
Step 6Once the eggs are cooked, drain them, and peel under cold running water.
Step 7Neatly dice the potatoes, carrots, ham, eggs and cornichons to the same approximate (and rather small) size as the peas, aiming for uniformity. Gently toss them all together in a large bowl.
Step 8In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise with the cornichon brine, and pour over the salad. Toss gently with rubber spatula or using your fingers until the salad is well coated. Season with several hearty grinds of black pepper.
Step 9Refrigerate overnight, and serve cold.