Russian Salad, known in Russian as Салат Оливье or Salad Olivier, was once a common feature on festive tables all over the world. Russian salad Italian style is distinguished by the use of Italian-style mayonnaise made with fruity olive oil. This venerable dish seems to have gone out of fashion, perhaps because of all that mayo it contains. But if you ask me, it’s well worth reviving. A great choice for buffets or an antipasto, insalata russa can be made ahead of time and lends itself to scaling for a crowd. It is incredibly versatile: can be dressed up for a fancy occasion or left just as it is for a family dinner or picnic. It’s also really easy to make.
For a crowd, as part of a buffet
- 5-6 medium carrots, cut into dice
- 5-6 medium waxy potatoes, cut into dice
- One package (usually around 500g/16 oz) frozen peas
- 400-550g (14-16 oz) mayonnaise, homemade or store-bought and ‘doctored’ (see Notes)
Steam carrots, potatoes and peas, each separately, until tender but still firm, usually about 5-8 minutes. Make sure to salt the water in the bottom of your steamer generously. Do not let the vegetables overcook. As each vegetable is done, put it in a colander to drain and cool. Taste the vegetables for seasoning and sprinkle with a bit of salt if you think they need it.
Add all the vegetables to a large mixing bowl. Add the mayo and fold it into the vegetables until each bit is well covered. Add more mayo if it seems a bit dry, but take care not to ‘drown’ them.
Line a mold just large enough to contain your salad with clear plastic wrap (cling film) and then add the salad, pressing it down into the mold so as not to leave any holes. Close up the top with any wrap hanging from the rim of the mold. Place the mold in the fridge for a couple of hours (or more) to firm up. (This will allow the salad to hold its shape.)
To serve, unmold the salad onto a platter.
Of course, your Russian salad will be at its best if you make the main condiment, the mayo, yourself, following our recipe for Italian-style mayo. But if you don’t have the time or inclination—or you’re worried about raw eggs—then buy a good quality mayonnaise without extraneous flavorings (for readers in the US, I would recommend Hellman’s brand) and ‘doctor’ it to resemble Italian mayonnaise by whisking into it as much fruity olive oil as you like. If the mayonnaise is made with real eggs, then it will absorb the oil just as if you were making it from scratch. ,
For a fancier presentation, you can decorate the top of your unmolded insalata russa, if you like, with gherkins, pimentoes, olive, capers, boiled shrimp, hard-boiled eggs or whatever strikes your fancy arranged in an attractive pattern. (You can also add these to the salad itself if you like.) If you want to get really fancy, you can flute more mayo through a pastry bag in elegant designs. Russian salad Italian style can be served as is—the multi-colored vegetables are beautiful just by themselves. In fact, if you’re making this for a family dinner, you don’t even have to mold the salad. But a couple of hours in the fridge will do it good anyway.