Haddock Mayonnaise and Russian Easter

Russian Easter has always been one of my, and my family’s, favourite times of the year. Unlike Christmas, we eat the same dishes every year, and there is something so comforting about that, anticipating flavours embedded in my memory, and quite possibly my DNA.

We make Paskha, a pyramid of cream cheese impregnated with dried fruit and toasted almonds to be eaten with Kulich, a domed cylinder of sweet bread and dried fruit. I boil eggs, and then dye them the colours of the rainbow. We crack the shells by knocking it against our neighbours egg, and then eat them with all types of anchovies, herrings, and caviar, washing everything down with copious amounts of vodka.

Different cold meats, fish dishes, and salads are served, all made to recipes past down from my grandmother and Aunty Tamara. We always have more than we need; excess is normal.

And while all these dishes are traditional in most Russian households, there is one, which I have never seen in any cookbook. This dish, which we call Haddock Mayonnaise, seems to be exclusive to us, and is a favourite of family and friends. I used to watch it being made, no recipe being used, with the fish, chopped eggs, and mayonnaise being layered with a practiced eye.

These days I use smoked cod, haddock being unavailable, and make up enough so there are leftovers for the next day to be eaten with a few boiled potatoes and a green salad. I’ve written down quantities to make it easier, and remember to make it a day ahead, so all the flavours can mingle, and get to know each other.

Happy Easter everyone, or as my Russian grandparents used to say, ‘Khristos Voskrese.’

Haddock Mayonnaise

Serves 8-10 people as part of a selection of dishes

  • 1kilo smoked haddock or cod
  • Up to 1litre full cream milk
  • 3 fresh bay leaves
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 1.5-2 cups mayonnaise (preferably homemade)
  • 6 boiled eggs, egg whites roughly chopped, yolks set aside
  • ½-1 bunch dill, roughly chopped

Place the smoked fish in a large pan, overlapping if necessary. Pour in milk just to cover, throw in bay leaves and peppercorns, and bring to a gentle simmer over a low heat.

Poach for 10-15 minutes over a very low heat. When the fish is just starting to flake, turn off heat and let the fish cool in the milk.

When cool, remove fish from milk and drain. Discard milk, bay leaves and peppercorns.

Flake the fish into pieces, discarding skin and any bones.

Cover the base of a pretty serving bowl with some mayonnaise, just to cover, and scatter over a couple of spoons of chopped egg whites, some chopped dill, and then a layer of the flaked fish.

Repeat layers until all fish is finished. Cover with a last layer of mayonnaise, and then sieve the egg yolks directly on top, and scatter with sprigs of dill.

Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight before serving.