Salmon Coulibiac, or more commonly known as Kulebyaka in Russian, is the original Russian fish pie. It was so popular in pre-revolutionary Russia, that it was exported into France, made famous by Auguste Escoffier, in his cook book The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery, where it appeared as Coulibiac de Saumon.
Traditionally made with a yeast dough, stuffed with layers of rice, onions, dill and salmon. I’ve seen fancier versions stuffed with all sorts of things, from hard boiled eggs, mushrooms and even wrapped in blini before wrapping it in dough, but I prefer the rustic original.
People now commonly make it with puff pastry, probably because it’s easier to buy, but I’m pretty passionate about preserving the original rustic yeast dough style, maybe it’s from the memories of eating my babushka’s Salmon Coulibiac or Kulebyaka. She was famous for her version of a deep dish fish pie. About 10 years ago, she stayed at our house for almost a week, and I asked her to show my wife how to make her recipe. Looking back now, it’s such a great memory to her food legacy, so glad I took a picture of her with my wife and the pie.
How to make Coulibiac
Our methods for making Salmon Coulibiac are slightly different, babushka cooked the salmon, and flaked it while removing the bones. I hate fish bones in food! My grandfather liked to have the salmon head inside the pie, my mum says it gives great flavour! Gross but probably true. The only way I have fish heads is when I make a creamy Fish Head Soup, but I don’t eat the heads!
I only buy boneless, skinless salmon, ready to be cut up, and put in raw into the pie. That way the flavour permeates through the rice as it cooks, and it’s more moist. Babushka said you must always cook your onions in butter, and to mix the cooked onions throughout the rice. This gives the rice a great flavour, and it’s not as dry. Be generous with the butter, Russian food is full of flavour and fat!
Sometimes she made it with fresh dill, other times not, depending on the season. She said you can either mix the dill through the rice, or you can sprinkle it on top of the salmon. I kept wanting to also put green onions in this meal, but mum said it isn’t usually done but it would work.
Traditionally you use the leftover dough pieces to make a pattern of leaves, branches or flowers on top of the pie, but I opted for a cool lattice look.
What type of fish are in Coulibiac?
Salmon Coulibiac can be made with multiple types of fish, say salmon and cod, or my mum makes an awesome meat version, and there’s even a cabbage variety (although lesser known). I usually use fresh salmon fillet, cut into chunks.
I love eating yeast dough but hate the process of making it. I’ve experimented with a few bread machine recipes and the ratios of ingredients, and I’m happy with this one, and it’s easy, set and forget, the right consistency and most importantly, no kneading! You need to get a bread maker just for the dough cycle, it saves so much time!
This recipe is very time consuming and absolutely worth the effort. You can serve the Salmon Coulibiac (Kulebyaka) with soup, but I prefer to eat it as a meal, smothered in thick sour cream. And don’t use the low fat stuff, why ruin a good thing. Bon Appetit! Приятного аппетита!
Salmon Coulibiac or Kulebyaka (Кулебяка)
Ingredients for Easy Kulebyaka Dough
- 1 cup milk lukewarm
- ¼ cup water lukewarm
- 3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk for egg wash
- 3 tablespoons melted butter
- 4½ cups of flour
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2¼ teaspoons yeast or 7g packet of yeast
Ingredients for Kulebyaka filling
- 900 g 2lbs Salmon pieces, boneless skinless
- 1 large onion diced
- 1 cup uncooked rice
- 1 bunch of dill finely chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons butter
Place ingredients, in the order listed, into your bread machine and select the dough program. Should take about 90 minutes to complete the dough cycle.
Wash and cook the rice according to directions. Fluff with a fork and set aside and allow to cool.
In a frying pan, heat 3 tablespoons of butter on high, and fry the onions until they are opaque and just starting to brown, no more than 5 minutes. Add to the rice and mix together. Add the chopped dill, salt and pepper, mix and set aside.
Chop the salmon into chunky bite size pieces, or what size you prefer. Add salt and pepper and set aside.
On a floured surface, remove the dough from the bread maker (it will be sticky) and quickly knead for about 30 seconds, removing the air bubbles in the dough, and making it less sticky and ready to roll. Cut the dough in half. Roll out a dough piece into a large rectangle around 7mm or ¼" thick, enough to cover your baking sheet. To transfer the dough to your baking sheet, carefully fold the dough into 3-4 pieces and place inside your baking sheet.
Place the rice lengthways down the centre of the dough, making a rectangle rice shape. Leave a clean edge of dough to allow the dough to seal. Top with salmon pieces, spread evenly over the rice. Cut 2 tablespoons of butter into small pieces and place randomly across the salmon.
Roll out the 2nd piece of dough and place over top of the salmon, it will resemble a loaf. Push the edges together to seal the dough pieces, and cut off any excess dough and set aside.
Using your excess dough, roll it out the same way, and use it to decorate your Kulebyaka with designs. For a lattice effect, use a lattice roller, which I don't have. Take a sharp knife and cut 3" x 2" lines (vertically) with a ¼" gap before your next 2" cut starts. Start the next row of cuts where the ¼" gap is, making another 2" cut. Evenly space the cuts vertically, and repeat until your dough is cut. Carefully lift the lattice dough and place on top of the Kulebyaka. Gently press the ages of the dough together, only at the edges of the Kulebyaka. Do not attempt to press the lattice on the top of your pie. Cut off the excess pieces. See photo for better idea of the cuts.
Cover with a towel and allow to rise again for about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 190°C/345°F.
Beat an egg yolk with 1 teaspoon of whipping cream (optional) and brush all over the Kulebyaka. Using a small knife, make 2 incisions on top of the Kulebyaka, or using a wooden skewer, prick 8 holes to allow steam to escape. Place in a preheated oven and bake for a total of 40 minutes. At the 15-20 minute mark, when the top is golden brown, cover with foil to prevent burning.