This Russian salad recipe may not originally be Spanish, but no tapas bar menu would be complete without it.
There are a few standby items that you can almost always count on when ordering at a tapas bar. Usually they’re things like croquettes, tortilla de patatas, and ensaladilla rusa.
That’s right—while not originally native to Spain, Russian salad is now a staple tapa throughout the country. But it’s especially delicious down south, where many places add fresh seafood such as local shrimp to the recipe.
This Spanish-style Russian salad recipe will take you to a bustling Seville tapas bar from the first bite. Just don’t forget a glass of crisp, dry sherry to wash it down!
The history of a classic
As you might imagine, Spain’s modern Russian salad recipe has its roots in…well, Russia. But the early version was quite different than the simple tapa we know and love today.
Belgian-born cook Lucien Olivier worked at Moscow’s famous Hermitage restaurant in the mid-19th century. It was here that he brought his famous Russian salad recipe to life.
Olivier’s original recipe was so popular that he made an effort to keep it as secret as possible, but those who were lucky enough to try it reported that it contained caviar, smoked duck, and more. The dressing—a simple mayonnaise in today’s version—also had a mayo base, but included French wine vinegar and mustard as well.
Before long, one of Olivier’s sous chefs managed to figure the recipe out, took it with him to a competing Moscow restaurant, and eventually sold it. As the salad became mainstream, more and more Russian home cooks began attempting to recreate it, substituting the expensive ingredients with more accessible items.
Versions of Russian salad (or “Olivier salad” as it’s now called in its home country) soon began to spread across Europe. By the time the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) was underway here in Spain, it had already become quite popular here—though at that time, it was called “national salad” due to mentions of Russia being forbidden!
Making and eating Russian salad today
You won’t find any caviar or other expensive ingredients in Spanish ensaladilla rusa. The beauty of this recipe is that it comes together with pantry staples, but can also be adapted to use similar ingredients.
This Russian salad recipe is inspired by what you’ll find in Seville tapas bars, where it’s common to add fresh shrimp from the southern coasts. Additionally, we use a homemade mayonnaise recipe here. It’s easier than you think to whip up, but if you’re short on time, any good-quality store bought mayo will do the trick.
Russian salad recipe
- 1 kilogram (2.2 lbs) potatoes
- 500 grams (1 lb) carrots
- 250 grams (1/2 lb) peas
- 650 grams (2 cups) whole, raw shrimp
- 2 eggs
- 160 milliliters (2/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil
- Splash of sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon capers
- Salt and pepper
- Wash the potatoes and cover them with cold water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and cook until just tender (they’ll fall apart if overcooked). Let cool completely, then remove the skins and cut into cubes.
- Peel the carrots and add them to cold water. Bring to a boil and remove from the heat as soon as they become tender so they’re just a little bit cooked. Run the carrots under cold water to cool, then chop.
- Meanwhile, boil the peas until fully cooked.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the raw shrimp. Let cook for 1–2 minutes until the water starts boiling again. Take the shrimp out and put them into an ice bath. Peel when cool enough to touch.
- Boil one of the eggs until hard-boiled.
To prepare the mayonnaise:
- Carefully separate the remaining egg.
- Add a pinch of salt and a few drops of vinegar to a small bowl. Beat in the egg yolk until combined.
- Slowly pour in the olive oil, beating quickly and constantly to emulsify until it has the consistency of mayonnaise.
- Set aside about a quarter of this yolk-only batch to use with the garnish.
- Beat the egg white to stiff peaks. Slowly add it into the remaining mayonnaise (this is your clarified mayo, which will serve as the main dressing).
Putting it all together:
- Mix together the shrimp and half of the cooked vegetables with the clarified mayonnaise in a bowl or on a large serving platter.
- Stir the remaining cooked vegetables into the yolk-only mayo and sprinkle over the top of the salad to garnish.
- Slice the hard-boiled egg and place the pieces on top. Sprinkle capers over the salad as an additional garnish.
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