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Truly the cuisine of royalty, salmon coulibiac (koo‐LEE‐bee‐ak) was Prince Philip’s favorite dish. It is to fish what the Wellington is to beef. An elaborate layering of herb-seasoned rice, spinach, and mushroom duxelles, encased in the golden glory of puff pastry, one slice is a beautiful meal in itself.
Armand Plumerey, writing in the 1833 L’art de la cuisine française au XIXe siècle, tells us that in St. Petersburg, the pie was usually made with salmon or pike, replaced with sturgeon on state occasions. Reflecting its Russian origins, back then the fish was layered with herbs and duxelles over buckwheat, rather than rice, before being tucked into the pastry. Nearly 150 years later, in his 1976 write-up for the New York Times, American culinary icon Craig Claiborne called coulibiac “the world’s greatest dish,” bemoaning the fact that this “celestial creation, manna for the culinary gods” could rarely be found in restaurants. But, as Claiborne pointed out, you can make it at home…and that’s still true today.
Our recipe includes fragrant spices along with the herbs in the rice. We’ve omitted the layer of boiled eggs, and simplifying things further, we’ve used ready-made puff pastry, easily found at a good grocer. Also a help: You can prepare the mushroom duxelles, the seasoned rice, and the spinach the day before, if you like, leaving the baking and assembly until right before you wish to serve the dish. Either way, salmon coulibiac–both delicious and beautiful, is worth reviving for your own special occasions.
- FOR THE PASTRY:
- 2, 10 x 15 sheets puff pastry, thawed according to package directions
- FOR THE MUSHROOM DUXELLES:
- 3 or 4 shallots, peeled and finely diced to make 1 ¾ cups raw (Note: Don’t confuse shallots with green onions! Shallots are little copper-hued onions)
- 3 Tbsp butter, divided
- 1, 10-ounce container white button mushrooms, washed and patted dry
- 1, 8-ounce container baby bella (cremini) mushrooms, washed and patted dry
- 1 cup heavy cream
- FOR THE SPINACH:
- 16 cups (two 6-ounce packages) baby spinach leaves
- ½ tsp olive oil
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ¼ cup water
- 1 large onion, cored, peeled and chopped fine to make 2 cups raw (you will use half of the cooked onion for the spinach and ½ for the herbed rice)
- 2 Tbsp butter
- FOR THE HERBED RICE:
- 3/4 cups basmati rice
- 1/4 cup black forbidden rice
- 2 cups water
- ½ of the cooked onion reserved from spinach preparation
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp cardamon seeds
- 2 Tbsp finely minced parsley
- ¼ cup finely minced dill
- Salt and pepper to taste
- FOR THE SALMON:
- Two, 1 lb. boneless fillets of fresh salmon
- 2 tsp vegetable oil
- 2 tsp butter
- TO BRUSH THE PASTRY:
- 1 large egg
- 2 tsp water
- 1 Tbsp melted butter
- MAKE MUSHROOM DUXELLES: In a heavy-saute pan over medium heat, melt 2 Tbsp of the butter until foaming. Add diced shallots and saute until very soft and transparent, being careful not to brown. Remove from heat. In a food processor, pulse the mushrooms into very small pieces. Add the mushrooms to the onions in the saute pan, add remaining Tbsp of butter, return heat to medium and saute until the mushrooms have released their liquid, stirring until most of the liquid has been dispersed. Add the cream. Continue cooking and stirring until the mixture has thickened and the liquid has cooked off. Remove from heat and set aside.
- MAKE SPINACH: Place all of the spinach in a large microwaveable bowl. Drizzle with olive oil; sprinkle salt and garlic powder over. Pour 1/4 cup water over all. Cover with microwaveable plate or plastic wrap and steam spinach in microwave for 3 minutes. Remove cover, stir spinach well. Place spinach in colander and press down to extract most of the liquid. Set aside. In a heavy saute pan over medium heat, add butter and vegetable oil and heat until foamy. Add onion and saute until very soft and transparent, being careful not to brown. Add ½ of the cooked onion to the reserved spinach. Set remaining half of the cooked onion aside.
- MAKE HERBED RICE: Combine rice with water in a rice cooker and cook. While rice is cooking, pulse cumin, coriander and cardamom seeds in a spice mill or coffee grinder to make a fine powder. In a saute pan over medium heat, add the ½ cooked onion reserved from the spinach preparation. Add Tbsp of butter. Stir in the spice powder. Stir until fragrant. Add cooked rice and stir to blend well. Stir in minced parsley and minced dill. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and set aside.
- MAKE SALMON: In a heavy-bottomed saute pan over medium heat, add vegetable oil and butter and heat until foaming. Add salmon fillets. Saute on one side only until the fish is partially cooked. Flip the fillets and continue cooking for a scant two minutes; the middle of each fillet should still be quite rare. (The fish will cook for another 35 minutes in the pastry.)
- TO ASSEMBLE:Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cover a large baking sheet pan with parchment paper. Unfold one sheet of the thawed puff pastry onto the parchment, making a 10 x 15 rectangle. Leaving a 2-inch border, carefully spoon and spread a portion of the herbed rice. Spoon and spread a layer of the spinach onion mixture over the rice. Place the two salmon fillets down the center. Spoon the mushroom duxelles over the salmon. Top with another layer of seasoned rice and spinach. Cover all with the second 10 x 15 sheet of puff pastry. Fold and crimp the bottom pastry edge over the top pastry edge to enclose the coulibiac and make an attractive border. In a small bowl, whisk egg with water; brush the entire pastry with egg was. Over this, brush pastry with the melted butter. Using a very sharp knife, carefully score the top of the pastry in a lattice pattern, creating vents to release steam as the pastry bakes. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until golden brown. Slice and serve immediately.
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