Thursday, June 23, 2011

Saveur Savors My Old-Time Favorite

A northern country with a long-lasting winter, Russia has never been known for an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables. When it snows nine months out of the year, baby greens are a rare commodity. Therefore, much of Russian cuisine is based on carbs and fats that can generate energy and warmth, pickled and salted produce that preserve well, and root vegetables that, if properly stored, can last through spring. A salad dish won’t have spinach sprinkled with lemon juice, but rather potatoes, carrots, pickled cucumbers,and hard-boiled eggs swimming in sour cream.

So would you ever think herring and beetroots go well together? Yes, when joined in a multi-layered, chilled cake with a slew of other unlikely ingredients. Russians are creative, and they give their creations interesting names – like Herring in Fur Coat (Selyodka Pod Shuboy)

Herring in Fur Coat is a winter favorite every Russian cook makes with his or her own twist. It is essentially a stratified cake of root veggies with barrel-salted fish buried underneath. It has always been my favorite too, although in the past ten years, I hardly ever made it and almost forgot the recipe. The salty raw fish didn’t take well in my American family and neither did the blood-red beets that make the colorful top. The picturesque, juicy Shuba was almost a thing of the past – until I was stunned to see its picture on the page of Saveur. I could barely believe my eyes, but the photo looked authentic, although it had a multi-colored striped top sprinkled with fresh chopped dill – must’ve been a nouveau, summer twist. Intrigued, I kept flipping the pages wondering how Saveur called my childhood dish until I found the recipe. It was called Selyodka Pod Shuboy. And it listed the right ingredients. Almost.

From grandma’s kitchen to Saveur’s pages! I knew it had to be an American writer with Russian heritage. And I was right.

Anna Gershenson, whose parents immigrated to the United States thirty-five years ago from Riga, Latvia, back then a Soviet republic and now a small country wedged between Russia and the Baltic Sea, had gone back to rediscover her heritage. And to write about Latvia’s people, markets, and food. Over the centuries, Latvia experienced many cultural influences – from German to Polish and from Russian to Swiss. The Herring in Fur Coat has definitely been the Slavic legacy.

So without further ado, here’s the recipe. Not Saveur’s, but my own. Apparently, the Riga folk decided to add Granny Smith apples to it, but I beg to differ. There were no Granny Smith apples in Russia, and certainly not amidst the eight-foot tall snow piles in January.
2 Large carrots, boiled
3 Large potatoes, boiled and peeled
2 Medium-sized beets, boiled
3-4 eggs, hard-boiled
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2-3 filets of salted herring (can be marinated in oil and vinegar)
1 ½ cup sour cream
1 ½ cup mayonnaise
Salt to taste.

Grate the vegetables and the eggs. Combine mayo and sour cream in a mixing bowl, set aside. Chop the herring and place it in the bottom of a bowl, cover with onions. Add a layer of grated potatoes, cover with 1/4 of the mayo-cream dressing. Add a layer of carrots, cover with 1/4 of the dressing. Add a layer of eggs and another 1/4 of the dressing. Make sure the veggies soaked through; otherwise Shuba will taste a little dry. Finally, top it with grated beets and spread the remaining quarter of the dressing on top, which will give it that yummy reddish color. Variations include adding a layer of walnuts and, according to Saveur, a strata of apples to the mix.

To create especially impressive, tall, and memorable Shuba – double the layers and use the dressing to draw snowflakes on the top. I usually did.

Like the Russian winter, Shuba is best experienced chilled.


  1. I love beets. I do. They taste like the earth. Herring will be new to me, but I'll give it a try. On the side, I'm going to add this dark, sour bread our Russian neighbors make. I don't know what it is, but they are generous to share it!

  2. This sounds weird but good. :) By weird, I mean, such an unusual combination of ingredients. Beets and fish....who woulda thunk. I'll try it. One problem....the mayo. Can we just double the sour cream for an equally good affect?

  3. Yes, you can certainly double the sour cream - I personally don't like Mayo at all. But beets are sweet-ish and the fish is salty - that's why it works. Kinda similar to the Italian Prosciutto Di Parma – sweet slices of cantaloupe wrapped in salty ham.