My husband and I received this hefty yellow book for Christmas. We both love to cook, so a new cookbook is always welcome in our home. This one was, too, although it overwhelmed us. The recipes were long, and complicated. Green chili cheesecake with papaya salsa. Pistachio turkey ballottine with madeira sauce. Apricot souffles with vanilla rum creme anglaise. We couldn't plunge right in; no way. We needed to test the waters slowly and swim into the middle only when we were good and ready. So we placed the book on the kitchen counter and leafed through it whenever we had a few moments to spare.
I considered the various cakes and soups, yet I kept returning to a particular dish: coulibiac. I can't tell you exactly why. Perhaps because the name, which sounds more like an adjective than something to eat, awakened my curiosity. Coulibiac is a classic French rendition of a Russian dish, a relic of haute cuisine of yesteryear: salmon poached in white wine and topped with chopped eggs, then blanketed in a rice mixture, wrapped in a brioche crust, and baked. Whew!
The instructions stretched over three pages, which would generally make a busy person like me pass quickly by. But, "Psst!" coulibiac whispered, and I kept turning back. I read and reread the three pages, and I said to my husband, "John, I think I can do this." Challenge offered and accepted.
No single part of the procedure was especially daunting. Everything I needed to do to make my coulibiac I had done before. It's just that there were so many parts, so many opportunities for something to go wrong. My strategy was to divide and conquer, to break the process into steps that could be completed over two days. Day one: poach the salmon, cook the rice in the poaching liquid, chop and saute two onions, boil four eggs, make the brioche dough. Day two: chop and cook a pound of mushrooms, chop the eggs, and shortly before baking time, assemble the pièce de résistance.
As I chopped and cooked and kneaded, the aroma in the house kept changing. The perfume of salmon in white wine gave way to the mouth-watering promise of onions in the pan, which yielded to the soul-soothing essence of rising dough and the earthiness of mushrooms. But how would the finished product taste? I waited until just before assembly to mix up the rice filling. Into the rice I folded the onions and mushrooms, sour cream, parsley, and dill. I seasoned with salt and pepper, and John gave the filling a taste. "Mmm," he said. "It's going to be good."
And so it was. The crust baked up light and tender, the salmon stayed velvety and moist, and every ingredient contributed its flavor, with none overpowering. And the slices looked so pretty on my testers' plates! Would I make a coulibiac again? Maybe not in a heartbeat, but yes.