icon Olivier Salad

Olivier Salad is a type of Russian potato salad, invented in the 1860s by Lucien Olivier, a Belgian chef and the owner of Hermitage restaurant in Moscow. The original recipe is known to have consisted of grouse, veal tongue, smoked duck, crawfish tails, caviar, capers, and lettuce. Olivier held the recipe for the dressing a closely guarded secret, and

Lucien Olivier.
never published it. It remains unknown because Lucien Olivier died in Moscow at age 45 in 1883, and the recipe went with him to his grave at Vvedenskoye Cemetery. What is known is that the original Olivier dressing was a type of mayonnaise, made with French wine vinegar, mustard, and Provençal olive oil. The salad became a signature dish at the restaurant and wealthy Russians traveled from afar to order it. It became immensely popular. Today, the dish is Russian comfort food for the New Years' holiday.

Hermitage restaurant on a 19-th century postcard
from PracticallyEdible.com.
One of Olivier's sous-chefs, Ivanov, attempted to copy the recipe, left Hermitage and went to work as a chef for another restaurant where he began to serve a similar salad called "Stolichny Salad". He later sold the recipe to various publishing houses, which further contributed to the popularization of the dish. One of the first printed recipes for Olivier Salad appeared in 1894, and called for grouse, potatoes, one small cucumber or a large cornichon, 3-4 lettuce leaves, 3 large crawfish tails, 1/4 cup cubed aspic, 1 teaspoon of capers, 3–5 olives, and 11 1/2 tablespoons Provençal dressing (Mayonnaise).

As it often happens with gourmet recipes that become popularized, expensive ingredients were gradually replaced with cheaper and more readily available ones. This was expedited by the Russian Revolution of 1917, when Russia entered the disastrous period of communism and totalitarianism, which in various forms has lasted in Russia to this day. After the revolution, with wealthy Russian nobility and industrialists either dead or in exile, the dish went through a transformation. Cheap ingredients were substituted for the originals, but it lived on. Green peas and hardboiled eggs replaced such decadent capitalist relics as caviar, olives, capers, and crawfish tails, to be more appropriate for comrade Lenin's workers' paradise.

In modern recipes, euphemistically called "Soviet Olivier", the salad usually consists of diced boiled vegetables (potatoes, carrots, green peas), dill pickles, eggs, diced boiled chicken, or ham or bologna sausage, all bound in inexpensive mayonnaise. In post-Soviet countries, Doktorskaya sausage is typically used (a genericized Soviet-era bologna brand). The most common alternative version is called Stolichny salad, after Ivanov's version, in which the sausage is replaced with boiled or smoked chicken. A multitude of other versions exists, but only Olivier and Stolichny Salads have entered the common vernacular of post-Soviet states.

When Olivier's family left Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, the recipe probably traveled with them. This contributed to the spreading of this dish to Spanish, French, Italian and even Czech cuisine. Worldwide, the dish is known today as "Russian Salad" and "Stolichny Salad". Variants exist in Spanish cuisine (ensaladilla rusa) or Romanian cuisine (Salată de boeuf). The Czech family of potato salads with Mayonnaise dressing, such as Bramborový salát or Vlašský Salát seem to have their roots in Olivier Salad. Although potato salads exist throughout Europe and North America, potato salads that originate in German and French cuisine never use Mayonnaise in the dressing. Czech potato salad does, along with mustard, and seems therefore to be a relative of the Olivier Salad of imperial Russia.

Below is a recipe for Olivier Salad published in 1894 in the Russian magazine Наша пища (ref. http://liveuser.livejournal.com/77282.html) The recipe calls for "Provençale Sauce" to be combined with "Kabul Sauce" for the dressing.

"Provençale Sauce" in this context means Aïoli, not Provençale Tomato Sauce, which is a thick sauce made from tomatoes, garlic, and seasonings cooked in oil. Aïoli is an emulsion sauce of southern French and Catalan origin made of garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, egg yolks, and seasonings. It is similar to Mayonnaise.

"Kabul sauce" was a condiment along the lines of Worcestershire sauce. It was made by John Burgess & Son, a company from London that sold imported luxury foods. Later Olivier recipes substituted soy sauce for it.

The 1894 recipe calls for grouse. It does acknowledge that pheasant, partridge or chicken can be substituted, but admits that the taste will not be as exquisite and delicate. In winter months, fresh cucumbers could be substituted with cornichons.


Olivier Salad
(1894 recipe, ref. http://liveuser.livejournal.com/77282.html)



  1. Roast the grouse, allow to cool and slice thin.
  2. Boil the potatoes, allow to cool and slice thin.
  3. While the above ingredinets are cooking, prepare the dressing. Combine the "Kabul Sauce" (Worchestershire sauce or soy sauce) with the aïoli, to taste.
  4. Mix together the meat, potatoes, cucumbers, gelatin, capers and olives. Combine with the dressing and mix well. Serve in a crystal bowl garnished with the crawfist tails and salat leaves.

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Last updated: November 25, 2014
Some photographs from Wikimedia Commons, used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.