This is the dish I was initially afraid to put on the menu at Kachka—with its beets-herring-mayo triple punch, perhaps it’s too Russian? But the combination of briny oil-cured herring, sweet beets, and grated potatoes (and, yes, that pink mayo) won people over—and now there would be riots if I ever took it off. It’s a stunning first course and, with the combination of fish, veg, and potatoes, can serve as an all-in-one lunch. Make sure you make this in a glass-sided dish (or a ring mold, if you’re feeling fancy) to show off the full layered effect.
- Preheat your oven to 350°F.
- Give the beets a quick scrub (but don’t peel), wrap them in foil, and bake until they’re fully tender so a knife slides easily through the center (about 1½ hours, depending upon size). Remove the beets from the oven, and as soon as they’re cool enough to handle, rub off the skins, using a paring knife or your hands. Let the peeled beets cool to room temperature.
- While the beets are roasting, place the potatoes and carrots in a saucepan, and add water to cover by 1 to 2 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat until it’s just high enough to maintain a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are tender when pierced with a knife, 5 to 10 minutes, depending upon size. The vegetables may not be done at the same time, so remove as needed—you want to be sure that the potato isn’t overcooked, lest it fall apart, but that the carrot is cooked until soft all the way through, with no resistance. Drain the cooked vegetables, and let them cool to room temperature.
- While the vegetables are cooking and cooling, make the herring mixture: Remove the herring fillets from their package, reserving the oil. Give a taste—if they’re too salty, soak until they’re to your taste. Dice the fillets into ¼-inch pieces. Place the diced herring in a small dish with the onion, dill, and 3 tablespoons of the oil the fillets were packed in (if you’re using pickled herring fillets, drain them first, soak them for ½ hour in cold water to draw down the pickled flavor, and add 3 tablespoons sunflower or vegetable oil). Mix to combine, and set aside.
- When the vegetables have cooled, peel the skin off the potatoes, and grate them on the large holes of a box grater. Rinse the grater, and grate the carrots into a separate pile. Rinse the grater again, and grate the beets, being careful to keep them from bleeding onto the other vegetables.
- In a small dish, mix the mayonnaise with 2 tablespoons of the grated beet, turning it a brilliant pink.
- To assemble, take a large clear glass bowl or pie plate, and lay down a layer of potatoes. Smooth with the back of your spoon to roughly even things out (but don’t tamp them down), and season with salt. Add the herring mixture. Smooth this layer as well, then add the carrots, and smooth them too. Add the grated beet—to avoid making a purple mess, place a mound of beets in the center, and then smooth outward. Season with salt, then top with the beet mayonnaise, smoothing out from the center as well.
- Remove the egg whites from the yolks, and, using the back of a spoon, press them through a sieve to garnish the top of the mixture (you can also finely chop the whites by hand instead, and sprinkle them on). Repeat with the yolks. Garnish with the reserved dill sprigs and serve. If you’re making the dish in advance, wait until serving to garnish with the egg and dill.
- If you want more of a showstopper, Herring Under a Fur Coat can be prepared in 4-inch ring molds: Place each ring mold on a plate, and then follow the instructions as given, using one-quarter of each mixture in each mold. When your individual herring towers have been constructed, gently slide the ring molds up and off. If you only have one ring mold and are reusing it, make sure to rinse and dry the mold between uses, so that you get nice clean stacks.
Excerpted from the book KACHKA by Bonnie Frumkin Morales. Copyright © 2017 by Bonnie Frumkin Morales. Reprinted with permission from Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. Photography by Leela Cyd.