Where it came from and how to make it
By Ashpaz Baashi
May 14, 2001
This salad was originally the creation of a French chef, M. Olivier,
who had a fashionable restaurant in Moscow called The Hermitage in the 1860s.
The lavish presentations that I remember at parties when I first visited
in Tehran in the 1960s seemed to echo that world, sculpted domes that were
coated with mayonnaise and clear aspic studded with carefully placed olives
and unidentifiable bits of color. (And for dessert there was plombier crowned
with spun sugar.)
But the salad olivier I liked best came later, stuffed into the hollow
of a crusty roll at a certain Armenian sandwich shop. The windows papered
over for Ramazan let in a soft sepia light and hid the traffic. I ate it
slowly, making it last. Much nicer than going back to work.
The key to really good salad olivier is really good mayonnaise made from
really good olive oil. If you get lazy and use commercial mayonnaise, add
a handful of Greek olives, chopped up, to improve the flavor. Boil 2 1/2
lb. of potatoes till just soft, about 20 minutes depending on size. (I prefer
to use 'waxy' red or yellow potatoes with the skins on. Some people like
the softer texture of baking potatoes.)
Let cool and cut into small pieces. Hard boil 3 eggs. Peel and chop them
roughly. Simmer a medium-sized frying chicken in a tightly covered pot half-full
of water for about 35-40 minutes. Let it cool, remove the skin and bones,
and cut the meat into small pieces.
Mix the potatoes, eggs, and chicken together with 1 cup of mayonnaise,
juice of one lemon, 2 cups chopped dill pickles (use kosher-style pickles
in brine, not vinegar), salt and pepper. You can add a little turmuric or
chopped tarragon if you like.
Mayonnaise: Mix thoroughly in a blender: one egg, 1/4 cup olive oil,
1 teaspoon salt, juice of half a lemon. Then add 1 more cup of olive oil,
pouring it slowly in a thin stream while the blender is on.