Ingredients: rainbow trout, puff pastry dough, flour, egg, basmati rice, wild rice, button mushroom, chanterelle mushroom, porcini mushroom, onion, parsley, butter, white wine, black pepper, salt.
Served with: cold dill sauce (crème fraîche, dill, black pepper, salt).
Long story short — this took me forever to make and was hardly worth the effort. Since I don’t often write about failures, one might get the impression that everything I cook is amazing. Not true. What usually happens is that I try again, then post when I get it right. In this case, though, I don’t intend to try again.
It all started with an episode of Dinner Impossible. Robert Irvine, in his quest to provide food for several hundred indiscriminately-palated people, wraps an entire side of salmon (plus some other random ingredients) in puff pastry and calls it coulibiac. I’d never heard that term before, so I fumbled around the Internet looking for answers.
Coulibiac is a French interpretation of the traditional Russian kulebyáka (“fish pie”), and is meant to be served at a banquet or other special occasion. Within a brioche or puff pastry shell are layers of salmon, wild rice, duxelles (sautéed mushroom mince), hard-boiled egg, and herbs. Recipes vary, but most recommend serving the slices of pie with either beurre blanc (a tangy butter sauce) or dilled sour cream. It sounded like a worthwhile experiment.
I began the project one day early by poaching 2 whole rainbow trout (which is in the salmon family, but less fatty). I had actually wanted to do something like this for a while, as a means to replenish my supply of fish stock (which I keep frozen in ice cube form). To prepare the stock/poaching liquid, I combined onion, leek, garlic, fennel, carrot, rutabaga, parsnip, and celeriac in a stock pot with plenty of water and brought it to boil. Then I turned down the heat and added bay leaf, parsley, a couple black peppercorns, star anise, salt, and the 2 cleaned trout. After a few minutes of gentle simmering, the fish was perfectly poached. I carefully separated flesh from bone, returning the latter to the pot so as to continue extracting gelatin and flavor. After another 20 minutes, I strained the liquid and let it reduce a bit further before storing it away for future recipes.
In the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t very happy with the stock. It was overwhelmingly “rooty.” I will use proportionally more leeks and onions next time, and perhaps a different fish. On the plus side, the star anise was a nice touch.
Moving on, I prepared 4 hard-boiled eggs and chopped them for later. I also prepared some basmati and wild rice, cooked separately (using some of the fish stock) and then mixed together. It was a hassle, but wild rice takes much longer to soften than regular rice, and I didn’t want to risk ruining the combined texture by having one be under- or overcooked.
Next to prepare were the mushrooms. I used a blend of 3 varieties: fresh button mushrooms, canned chanterelles, and dried porcinis. I soaked the porcinis, rinsed the chanterelles, and diced everything up finely (along with half an onion). I sautéed this mince in plenty of butter on low heat, using a splash of white wine here and there to keep it from drying out. I seasoned the duxelles with salt, pepper, and parsley.
With everything ready to assemble, I began to unwrap the puff pastry. This is not something I’ve ever done before, and it showed. My nice sheets of dough became sad torn lumps on the counter. As I reached for the rolling pin and flour, I wondered resentfully why I’d chosen to buy the dough pre-made, or why I ever bother to bake at all.
In a feat of tireless ambition, I managed to get the damn pie together. My energy level was certainly waning as I carefully spread layers of rice, mushrooms, fish, eggs, and more rice, followed by a top layer of puff pastry and egg wash. In a giggling mockery of anyone who has ever put effort into pie crust latticework, I “decorated” the coulibiac with random strips of unused dough, in no discernable pattern. Regardless, it looked pretty awesome coming out of the oven.
Dinner was a letdown on the plate, though. I really did try to infuse flavor into each component of the coulibiac, but it simply tasted flat and lifeless. I was bored eating it. Did I do something wrong? Why is this considered “a classic?” I think I would have enjoyed the dish with a real beurre blanc sauce on the side, or with a more assertive fish instead of the trout. Either way, I was not impressed or inspired. Mostly I was exhausted.