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Life of pie
A French-Russian-Anglo-Indian fusion wrapped in a pastry shell creates a filling meal perfect for a chilly night
Special to The Globe and Mail

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Saturday, January 20, 2018 – Page P6

Coulibiac is the French interpretation of a Russian pirog (stuffed pastry), kulebiaka.

Kulebiaka and coulibiac are usually filled with a collection of grains (rice or kasha), smoked or fresh fish, and sometimes crêpes (or blinchiki) tightly hugging the filling within the pastry shell. From what I can gather, Russian traditions use an enriched yeast-based dough or puff pastry; the French employ both puff and brioche.

Kedgeree is an Anglo-Indian breakfast descended from kitchari (also kichidi), a preparation of rice and lentils cooked together until soft. Kitchari is referenced in documents as early as the 1300s; kedgeree follows during British colonialism. Kedgeree replaces lentils with smoked fish (usually haddock), turmeric with curry powder and adds boiled eggs.

I came to know of both dishes from a single source, The Cookery Year. Published in 1973, it is a collection of recipes from the Reader's Digest Association in London, England. My mother kept her copy in the corner cabinet beside our kitchen table when I was little. In my memory, the pages were always old and slightly yellowed, with her delicate notes filling the margins.

The Cookery Year detailed the way I assumed worldly, sophisticated adults cooked and ate.

The front matter explained the purchase game birds for quality; it specified the most revered cheeses and their uses; and catalogued the virtues of exotic fruits, all accompanied by vivid hand-drawn illustrations. Once finished with groceries, the text moved on to menus for each month, reflecting what was in season and the entertaining needs of the moment - so January had a section on New Year's dinner parties, while February, the apogee of the citrus season, included a two-page spread on marmalade making. Recipes were far-reaching in their scope, with Maryland-style fried chicken, sweetbreads à la Castillane and Peking duck.

A few winters ago I started making an ampedup kedgeree, with a garden's worth of onions, cilantro and chilies to keep it sprightly and an unapologetic amount of curry powder for a fullon aromatic impact. With this intensity muted by jammy-yolked eggs, silky salmon flakes and the soured brightness of cucumber-flecked raita, my version was balanced and spirit boosting.

Leafing through The Cookery Year recently, I fell upon coubiliac and thought that if kedgeree had its moment in my kitchen, maybe it needed one too. So, I put the two together, with fresh salmon steamed inside a gleaming, plump pastry crust, and here we are.

Please note, the eggs should be simmered for 8 minutes then plunged into ice water until cold before starting this dish, and the recipe can be split into two pies, as I've done in the photo.


For the rice

11/2 cups basmati rice

11/2 cups packed cilantro, leaves and tender stems

3 tablespoons ghee or neutral oil

2 onions, minced medium-grain kosher salt, as needed 1 small green or red chili, seeded and minced

2 teaspoons curry powder, preferably Bolst's

To assemble and serve

1 pound frozen all-butter puff pastry, defrosted as per instructions Flour, for the work surface

11/2 pounds skinless, boneless centre-cut salmon fillet

6 eggs Medium-grain kosher salt and freshly ground pepper as needed

1 egg yolk Raita 8 ounces cucumber, Persian or English

1/2 teaspoon medium-grain kosher salt

1 lime

1 cup full-fat yogurt

1/2 cup packed cilantro, leaves and tender stems, minced Toasted ground cumin and Kashmiri chili powder for sprinkling, optional


Tip the rice into a medium saucepan with a lid. Cover with water by two inches and swirl it around with your hands. Drain the rice into a fine-meshed sieve and repeat, washing the rice until the water is clear. Cover the rice again and leave to soak for 30 minutes.

Once soaked, pour off the soaking water through the sieve. Pour in 2 cups fresh, cold water. Bring the rice to a boil over high heat, then cover and turn the heat down to maintain a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes, then pull off the heat, with lid still in place. Let stand for 5 minutes, then fluff lightly with a fork. Set aside.

While the rice cooks, pick the leaves from the cilantro.

Reserve the leaves for later and mince the stems. Melt the ghee in a wide skillet over medium-low heat. Scrape in the cilantro stems and onions, season with a good pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often until the onions are translucent and everything is tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

Be patient here, as the long, slow cooking will bring depth to the rice later. Add in chili, followed by the curry powder, and cook for 1 minute more, stirring all the while.

Gently fold the cooked rice into the vegetables in the pan. Taste for seasoning and let cool. Chop the reserved cilantro leaves and fold those in as well. (This step can be done hours ahead of time, storing the rice in an airtight container in the fridge.)

To assemble, roll half the puff pastry into a 9-by-16inch rectangle on a lightly floured work surface. Slide the pastry onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spoon half the rice onto the pastry, leaving a 3/4-inch border on all sides. Using clean hands or the back of the spoon, pack the rice tightly to make a solid foundation for the fish. Portion the salmon into 1-inch pieces across its width, then season each assertively. Arrange the salmon slices to cover the rice. Slice the previously simmered eggs and drape them across the fish. Top with the rest of the rice, once again packing down firmly, and evenly encasing the eggs and fish.

Beat the egg yolk with a pinch of salt, then brush the border with the glaze.

Roll the second piece of pastry out to a rectangle slightly larger than the first; about 12 by 18 inches. Gently lay the pastry over the fish and rice. Press the pastry together at the border to seal. With fingers or the tines of a fork, crimp the edges decoratively, and trim if needed.

I like to scallop the pastry by pushing it in at intervals with the back of a knife. Use back of that same knife to score the top of the pastry. Brush all generously with the rest of the beaten egg. (At this point the pie can be covered with clingfilm and chilled for a day.)

To make the raita, grate the cucumber on a box grater.

Sprinkle with the salt and place in a fine-meshed sieve over a sink or bowl to drain for 10 minutes. With a microplane, zest half the lime and add to a bowl. Juice the entire lime into the bowl, then scoop in the yogurt.

Stir in the cucumber and most of the minced cilantro.

Sprinkle with the remaining cilantro, and toasted cumin and Kashmiri chili. Set aside.

To finish the coulibiac, preheat an oven to 425 F (220 C), with an upside-down baking sheet on the middle rack. Slide the pie's baking sheet onto the hot one and bake for 15 minutes. Knock the temperature down to 375 F (190 C) and continue to cook for 25 minutes more, until the pastry is golden brown. Rest the coulibiac for 10 minutes before slicing thickly and serving with the raita and lime wedges alongside. It is a strong candidate for a buffet.

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