It must be, I think dreamily, like an endless Russian summer, so impossibly short and crammed with fresh berries and beets and onions and herring and sweet new potatoes and greens that one can’t believe it will ever be dark and cold and time for fur hats again…
…then I’m off to St. Petersburg and I’m Anna Karenina, pining with love. The injustice. The peasants in the fields drinking kvass. And I’m Orlando on the ice, spinning, spinning…
Oh wait, that’s not summer. Or happy. Nvrmnd.
I’m a dacha garden, smartly lined rows, outgreening my brethren in the smiling sun. And I’m a yellow kvass truck, chugging down the thoroughfare, children chasing me. And I’m billows of rich, sour cream. And I’m a squat dumpling filled with beef and veal and chives, waiting to be bitten and my juices drunk. And I’m soft loose berry preserves, waiting for tea.
I have taken the opportunity to indulge in Portland’s trifecta of Russian eateries (as reported by my dinner companion, ex-Eugenius and current Merc food critic Andrea Damewood here): Chef Vitaly Paley’s glorious pop-up, DaNet; the Sellwood food cart Russian Horse; and the truly marvelous Kachka. And I can’t get enough. (Above, pirogies at Russian Horse and a cocktail featuring a fur coat of olive oil and smoked trout salad at DaNet.)
A quick Russian luncheon dish, then, a 20th century working man’s classic, Seledka pod Shuboi, or more familiarly, “Herring Under a Fur Coat.” According to legend (and the link above), salted herring symbolizes the proletariat, potatoes symbolizes the peasantry, beets symbolize Bolshevik blood and the mayonnaise symbolizes, um, French people who also did that whole Revolution thing. Shuba is not only the acronym for “Shovinismu i Upadku – Boikot i Anafema,” or familiarly, “Death and Damnation to Chauvinism and Degradation,” but also the word for fur coat.
Death and Damnation to Chauvinism and Degradation!!!!!
Luckily, I happened to have on hand some salted herring in oil, purchased at the Good Neighbor Market in Portland after being yelled at by a little old Russian man for my idiocy in not understanding that he wanted me to help him thread his arms with his grocery sac so he could carry it like a backpack. I’ve bought salted herring at Newman’s in Eugene, but not in oil — perhaps you’d need to oil it yourself. (Above is the market’s sign and some beautifully burnished metallic-hued smoked mackerel).
My version of death and damnation contains yellow beets, since I didn’t have any Bolshevik blood handy, and it substitutes homemade sour cream with just a touch of Hellman’s for the mayo. Vive la Résistance!
You might think of this as a herring-laced version of the midwestern modern classic, 24-hour salad. It’s a pressed, molded savory cake of love.
Herring Under a Fur Coat
Using a plate as a base, mound up layers of cooked grated veg and chopped salted herring in oil: potatoes on the bottom, then herring, then onion. Rest.
Pour a little sour cream over. And a little dill? Or a grated dill pickle? Then add carrot, beet, and the rest of the sour cream.
Grate some hardboiled egg on top and add a bit more dill.
Carefully mold into a cake shape, pressing with your hands to solidify the shape, and wrap in saran wrap then refrigerate overnight to let the layers combine.
Eat as a crowning achievement, or as a centerpiece to a workaday zakuski party.