I was recently having a conversation with a friend about ways to cook salmon to serve on a bed of spinach when, out of the blue, kulebiak popped into my head. Kulebiak, a Polish pastry filled with fish and cabbage, was a go to solution for many a dinner party in my catering days, but it had somehow fallen off my radar, but thankfully not forgotten! I was really excited to get into the kitchen and revisit this old Polish favorite.
Kulebiak is a traditional dish rooted in the Slavic countries with variations in each region. Essentially a pastry dough filled with fish (salmon or sturgeon) or meats along with cabbage or sauerkraut. Other accompaniments that may be included are mushrooms, herbs, rice, or potatoes.
For cooks and hosts alike Kulebiak is is a main course solution that can be prepared in advance and baked off just before serving. All of kulebiak’s savory goodness will be revealed for your guests with the stroke of a fork!
Following traditions, the recipe that follows sticks to the simple paring of salmon and cabbage in puff pastry served with a lemony sour cream sauce. Be that as it is, feel free to try other combinations. The possibilities are endless for this easy entertaining solution.
Salmon and cabbage Kulebiak serves 4
As there are several steps for this recipe it would be best to read through the entire recipe before you begin preparations.
Preparing a broth for blanching the cabbage:
- 3 cups water
- 1/3 cup gin or vodka
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 small onion, peeled and diced
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
- several sprigs of celery with leaves
- 1 sprig of fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 6 juniper berries
- 10 black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Place all the ingredients for the broth in wide sauce pan or skillet that has a tight fitting lid. Bring to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
While the broth is simmering you can prepare the cabbage leaves for blanching.
Preparing the cabbage:
- 1 large head of green cabbage
- blanching broth
Slice off the stem of the head of cabbage and remove the outer leaves and discard. Begin removing the leaves being careful to keep the leaves intact. Once all the leaves are separated, using a sharp knife, remove the center rib of each leaf at the stem end and discard.
Bring the prepared broth back to a rolling boil and promptly add the cabbage leaves to the pan and cover with a lid. Cook for 4-5 minutes until the cabbage leaves are soft, pliable, and translucent. Carefully remove the leaves from the pan and spread them out on a kitchen towel to dry. Set the broth aside and when cool strain. Discard the solids, and reserve the clear broth to season the sauce.
Preparing the salmon:
- 20 oz side of salmon, skinless and boneless
- prepared blanched cabbage leaves
- ½ cup freshly chopped dill leaves
- sea salt
- freshly ground white pepper
- sheets of butter puff pastry, thawed
Slice the side of salmon into 4 equal portions approximately 5 ounces each. With a very sharp knife in hand place the palm of your other hand on top of the salmon fillet lengthwise. Horizontally slice the salmon fillet lengthwise into 1/8 inch thick strips. Stack the strips and set aside. Follow the same procedure for the remaining salmon fillets.
Working with one portion at a time, place a slice of salmon in the center of a cabbage leaf, stem to stern. Scatter the top with dill and season very lightly with salt and a twist of pepper. Wrap the cabbage leaf over the salmon to enclose it in the leaf.
Continuing, drape another cabbage leaf over the first cabbage wrapped layer. Place another slice of salmon in the center, add dill and salt and pepper, and again wrap the cabbage leaf over the salmon. Repeat the same procedure with the remaining salmon strips, stacking one layer on top of another.
Then place two cabbage leaves overlapping on your work surface and place a stacked bundle of salmon in cabbage leaves in the center. Wrap the left side cabbage leaf over the stack and tuck under the stack, Then do the same with the right cabbage leaf. Place on a tray, cover with cling film, and refrigerate.
Place a sheet of cold puff pastry dough on your work surface and cut out a rectangle or oval shape about ½ inch larger than the stacked bundles of salmon and cabbage. Cut a second piece of puff pastry dough about an ¾ of an inch larger than the bottom layer and place on a tray. Cut the remaining pieces of puff pastry and transfer the tray to the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble the kulebiak for baking.
Preheat the oven to 425f/220c. Have ready a baking tray lined with parchment.
Prepare and egg wash:
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon milk
Whisk the egg and milk together and set aside.
Working with one portion at a time, place the smaller piece of puff pastry on the baking tray lined with parchment and place a salmon bundle in the center. Brush the edges of the pastry with egg wash. Then center and drape the larger piece of puff over the bundle of salmon and align the top and bottom edges of the puff pastry and press to seal. You can then crimp the edges by folding the dough over itself, like you would when making empanadas, or simply crimp with a fork. Repeat the same process for the remaining portions.
Return the kulebiak to the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
When you are ready to bake bush the surface of each kulebiak with egg wash and slice a small opening in the center top to vent steam while baking.
Promptly transfer the tray to the oven and bake about 25 minutes. The surface of the pastry should be nicely golden browned when finished.
While the kulebiak is baking you can prepare the sauce.
Preparing the sauce:
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice or more to taste
- 1 to 2 tablespoon cooled broth or to taste
- 2 tablespoons freshly chopped dill leaves
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
- sea salt to taste
Combine all the ingredients and whisk until smooth. Refrigerate the sauce if not using immediately.
Remove the kulebiak from the oven. Lightly dust the tops of each with paprika and serve along with a pool of sauce to the side on each serving plate.