From Russia with love.Coulibiac pillow, a dream of a dish

The salmon are running, so that must mean Coulibiac!
A coulibiac,or Koulibiac as it is sometimes spelt, is a Russian fish pie. As well as its main ingredient( which could be eel,sturgeon,sometimes chicken but more often than not salmon) it contains rice,hard boiled eggs and vegetables.This filling is encased  in a crust of either puff pastry or brioche dough,which is simply wrapped around it to form a sort of pillow shape,rather than being baked in a dish.My description sounds like one of those terrific medieval pies where every luxurious ingredient in the house was jammed into a pie crust out of spite,to get around sumptuary laws.(I must have been thinking subconsciously what a splendid dish this would make for our annual Casa Rosada medieval banquet for Dias Medievais in August). Its like nursery -rhyme meets temple of doom dining conjuring up images of Heston Blumenthal cutting the crust and four and twenty salmon flop onto the table- Now there is a cool idea.If ever  there was second series of Heston´s feasts ?
Why on earth am I making a Russian dish in the Algarve anyway you might say.I don´t know is the answer.The salmon tails in the market were so fresh and appealing, I had puff pastry in the freezer and with a bag of field mushrooms some baby spinach leaves I was well on the way to making one of the best fish pies ever invented.Not that I was expecting  guests, but this majestic dish is also perfect for entertaining as it can all be made well in advance.I remember watching the Hairy Bikers make this on their TV show and I also remember making dear Delia´s version from her "Winter Collection".This time for my revival coulibiac I improvised, taking the best of method and ingredient from both.Lo and behold it was a real joy and a change from a meat dish for the main plate of a Sunday.

Serves 6
I packet of ready-rolled fresh puff pastry
500g ( 11/4 lb ) salmon fillet tail or centre cut in half lengthways, skinned,pin bones removed
75g (3oz) butter
75g (3oz) basmati rice
225ml (8 fl oz) Fish stock
1 medium onion finely chopped
110g (4oz) mushrooms finely sliced
2 large eggs,hard boiled ( 7 minutes from simmering)cut in half length ways
1 Tbsp Chopped fresh flatleaf parsley
1 Tbsp Chopped fresh chives
100g (3½oz ) baby spinach leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper
I free range egg,beaten for glazing

Melt 1 oz (25g) of the butter in a medium saucepan and stir in the rice.When the rice is coated with the butter,add the stock and a little salt and bring it to a gentle simmer,then stir well and cover with a lid.Cook the rice for 15 minutes exactly,then take the pan off the heat,remove the lid and allow it to cool.While the rice is cooking,take a sheet of buttered foil and lay the salmon on it.Season with salt and pepper.Wrap it up loosely,pleating the foil at the top and folding the edges in to seal the package.Place it on a baking tray and pop it in the oven for just 10 minutes-the salmon needs to be only half cooked,Remove it from the oven,open the foil and allow it to cool.While the salmon and rice are cooling,melt the other 50g (2oz)of butter in a small pan and gently sweat the onion for about 10 minutes until it softens.Add the sliced mushrooms and continue cooking gently for another 5 minutes.
Now take a bowl and combine the rice mixture with the onions and mushrooms, the parsley and chives and mix well.
Cut your pastry into two rectangles the second one 5cm/2in larger than the first one.Lay half of the spinach leaves over the smaller sheet of puff pastry, leaving a 2cm/¾in gap around the edge of the pastry.Place one of the salmon fillets on top of the spinach leaves, then spread the rice mixture over the salmon. Place the second salmon fillet on top of the filling mixture to make a 'sandwich'. Cover the salmon with the remaining spinach leaves.Brush the edges of the puff pastry with beaten egg and cover the salmon filling with the second, larger, sheet of puff pastry. Seal the edges of the pastry parcel together with your fingers, trimming off any excess. Carefully transfer the salmon coulibiac to a greased baking tray. Using a knife, cut one or two small holes in the top of the salmon coulibiac, then brush all over with the remaining beaten egg. Transfer the salmon coulibiac to the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the pastry is crisp and golden-brown.Serve in slices with a light salad of your choice.


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