I like to use fragrant jasmine rice in my coulibiac for the perfume, but you could use basmati or long-grain, which is more traditional.

You'll need

1 onion, finely chopped 100 gm unsalted butter, coarsely chopped 300 gm Swiss brown mushrooms, stalks discarded, caps finely diced 1 cup coarsely chopped dill leaves 1½ cups cooked jasmine rice (about 100gm uncooked) 900 gm piece skinless salmon fillet, pin-boned, halved lengthways 2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and thinly sliced For brushing: melted butter 1 egg, lightly beaten   Crêpes 125 gm plain flour 10 gm (2 tsp) caster sugar 100 ml cream (45% fat) 2 eggs 300 ml milk, plus extra if needed For cooking: vegetable oil spray   Brioche 250 gm (1 cups) bread flour 8 gm dried yeast 10 gm (2 tsp) caster sugar 150 gm lightly beaten egg (3-4), straight from the fridge 50 ml milk 120 gm softened unsalted butter


  • 01
  • For crêpes, sift flour, sugar and ¼ tsp salt into a bowl. Whisk cream, eggs and milk in a separate bowl, then gradually stir into flour mixture (don’t worry about lumps; they’ll dissolve when lightly beaten after resting). Cover, refrigerate for 1 hour to rest, then stir to dissolve any lumps. Test consistency by dipping a finger into batter – it should thinly coat your finger; thin with extra milk if necessary. Lightly spray a 22cm crêpe pan with oil and heat over medium-high heat until smoking, then remove from heat for 30 seconds and ladle in enough mixture to coat base of pan thinly, tilting to cover evenly. Cook over medium heat until bubbles appear on the surface (1-2 minutes), then turn and cook until pale golden but not dry (30 seconds). Turn onto a sheet of baking paper and repeat until all batter is used, stirring batter between making each crêpe. The recipe makes around 6, but you need only 4.
  • 02
  • While crêpe batter rests, make the brioche. Mix flour, yeast, sugar and 1½ tsp salt in an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook to combine. Whisk eggs and milk in a separate bowl, then gradually add to flour mixture and mix on medium speed, scraping down sides of bowl if necessary, until dough pulls away from sides of bowl and begins to make a slapping sound. Gradually add butter, beating to incorporate well between additions, until dough is smooth and glossy (2-3 minutes). Transfer to a container, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled (30 minutes).
  • 03
  • Sauté onion in butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat until softened without colouring (4-5 minutes), then add mushrooms and sauté until tender (6-8 minutes). Cool, add a third of the dill, season to taste and set aside.
  • 04
  • Preheat oven to 200C. Lay out a clean tea towel on a work surface, place a 15cm x 50cm piece of baking paper lengthways in centre of tea towel and dust with flour. Quickly and lightly knead brioche dough, then roll out on baking paper to a 50cm x 15cm rectangle, using paper as a guide and dusting dough and rolling pin with flour to prevent sticking.
  • 05
  • Place crêpes on dough, overlapping slightly, to cover width and 40cm of the length, leaving 5cm space at each end.
  • 06
  • Spread a third of the rice in a strip about 10cm wide on crêpes. Scatter with half the remaining dill, then place a piece of salmon on top crossways and season to taste.
  • 07
  • Spread half the mushroom mixture on salmon, cover with half the sliced egg, top with remaining salmon and season to taste. Repeat layering, finishing with rice, scatter with remaining dill and press together firmly.
  • 08
  • Fold crêpes over to enclose salmon.
  • 09
  • Use the paper to help lift dough over salmon and form a parcel, finishing seam-side down. Trim ends slightly and fold up to seal.
  • 10
  • Use baking paper to lift coulibiac into a 24cm x 13cm x 11cm-deep loaf tin brushed with melted butter. Brush top of coulibiac with beaten egg; take care not to brush too close to sides of tin as brioche may stick. Rest for 10 minutes, then bake for 20 minutes, reduce oven to 160C and bake for another 10 minutes until puffed and golden. Remove from oven, stand for 5 minutes, then lift coulibiac out of tin onto a platter and rest for 10 minutes. Trim ends (discard), then thickly slice and serve drizzled with a little melted butter.

I fell in love with this dish when I first saw its photograph and recipe in L'Art Culinaire Moderne by Henri-Paul Pellaprat, first published in 1935. I was attracted by the grandeur of Russian aristocratic life and coulibiac was one flamboyant element of it. My first attempt at it, in the '70s, sadly lacked fresh salmon - I substituted canned salmon. This may shock readers, but the result was exciting for a young, passionate cook with his naïve palate.

The history of this dish is somewhat obscure, but it came into the repertoire of French cuisine via the French chefs who were employed by the Russian aristocracy. Its origin appears to have been a pie made by peasants and cooked at the local bakery after the day's baking was finished. The ingredients of what was called kulebyaka consisted of cabbage, onions, dill, parsley and hard-boiled eggs bound with a porridge of grain (kasha in Russian), all encased in a bread dough and baked.

The grander version developed by the French chefs used sturgeon fillets and vesiga, the sturgeon's dried spinal cord, as well as hard-boiled eggs, dill, onions and rice, and was generally baked in brioche or a fish-shaped ceramic dish sealed with puff pastry; funnels were placed in the brioche or pastry so melted butter could be poured in - a far cry from the original humble offering.

I prefer to use brioche, as I have here, but this may present a problem for cooks who don't have a stand mixer. You can make the dough by hand, but it requires incredible effort to incorporate the butter. The alternative is to use puff pastry such as the Carême brand, which employs 100 per cent butter. Place a sheet of pastry on a double thickness of foil, then place the crêpe-wrapped package in the centre, leaving a gap of about 3cm-4cm on all sides. Brush the exposed pastry with eggwash and top with a larger sheet of pastry. Paint with eggwash, taking care that it doesn't run over the edges because this may inhibit the pastry raising. Rest for five to 10 minutes before baking to allow the pastry to relax and prevent shrinkage. I find, however, the effort involved in using brioche is certainly worthwhile, because it absorbs all the combined flavours.

Once the ingredients are assembled in the crêpes - which I include because they make assembly much easier - no time should be lost in wrapping the package in the brioche dough and slipping it into the loaf tin. Prove for just 10 minutes before baking since any longer may cause the brioche to separate from the crêpe package, creating a clumsy gap and making it harder to slice neatly.

Coulibiac has a delicious flavour, rich from the rare salmon, laced with hard-boiled eggs, mushrooms and dill, underscored by the rice, and all seasoning the brioche. I like it served quite alone - it's complete in itself - but I used to serve it with sour cream spiked with chopped chives at Sydney restaurants Claude's and Bistro Moncur. I offer a vegetable salad to start and finish with a fruit dessert. Why not strawberries Romanov?

Damien Pignolet

Damien Pignolet's love of cooking comes from his mother's fare and his French ancestry. Catering college led to a teaching career, food writing, and then to Sydney's Pavilion on the Park as executive chef. During his 33 years in Sydney, he has created nine restaurants including the landmark Claude's and Bistro Moncur, and authored two cookbooks.

At A Glance

  • Serves 6 people
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At A Glance

  • Serves 6 people

Featured in

Jun 2013

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