Russian salad is served everywhere in Spain, although there was a brief period during our dark fascist past when Franco ordered it to be called ensaladilla nacional — a bit like the Americans calling French fries ‘freedom fries’. Potatoes form the starchy base of this dish but in reality it is all about the piquant salty highlights of peppers, olives, garlic mayonnaise and luxurious crab. The other interesting thing to note is just how pragmatic its preparation really is. Based on home cooking, it reflects a simpler past when the Spaniards were less affluent and everything was cooked in the one pot.
If necessary, clean the potatoes. Put them with the carrots and eggs in a large saucepan of cold water over high heat and bring to the boil. After 3 minutes on the boil remove the eggs. Boil the potatoes and carrots for a further 35 minutes, or until cooked. Test with a skewer — they should be tender but not too soft. Drain the vegetables and set aside until cool enough to handle. Peel the potatoes and carrots, and shell the eggs.
Dice the potato into 1 cm (½ inch) cubes. Don’t be too neat as the rough bits help to absorb the flavour and will break off into the alioli to make a nice starchy sauce. Dice the carrot into similar but neater cubes. Put the carrot and potato into a bowl and immediately add the onion, to allow the residual heat of the potato and carrot to soften the onion.
Season the vegetables so they soak up the salt before the alioli is added. Roughly chop eight of the piquillo peppers and add to the bowl. Add the peas.
Add the alioli and stir through the vegetables, working gently to make a sauce without turning the whole thing into mash. Gently mix in most of the crabmeat, reserving some for decoration. Slice the olives, reserving a few slices for garnish, and mix the rest into the sauce. Roughly chop the egg whites from three of the eggs and slice the egg white of the fourth egg. (Reserve the yolks for another dish: put the yolks in a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator — they should keep for 3 days.) Add the chopped egg white to the mixture.
Now is a good chance to practice your culinary decorative arts, circa 1972. Put the salad into a serving bowl and smooth over the top with the back of a spoon. Dollop
Slice the remaining piquillo pepper. Decorate the salad with the sliced egg white, piquillo pepper slices and the reserved olives and crabmeat.
© 2007 All rights reserved. Published by Murdoch Books.