Herring Under a Fur Coat at Kachka
720 SE Grand Ave., 235-0059, kachkapdx.com.
Kachka chef Bonnie Morales was once embarrassed by the Russian food she grew up eating: the pickled fish and pink-topped casseroles served next to bottles of vodka.
But after a dinner at her mother's house, Morales' future husband and Kachka partner, Israel, was enthralled with both the food and culture, and Morales changed her mind about the worth of her humble home foods.
At Kachka, which opened in 2014 and is now widely considered one of our nation's best Russian restaurants, Morales' pelmeni dumplings and beef-tongue stroganoff are wonders of richness, texture and savory satisfaction. But the most striking dish—the one everyone comes home talking about—is also the most humble, a pink-topped salad called herring under a fur coat, served in the shape of a lovely rainbow-layered galette of fish and vegetable. It looks like nothing else on earth, and it tastes like pure comfort.
As told by Morales…
"When you think of Russian food from the Soviet era, there are a handful of dishes. This is one of them. It's something my mother had at parties, something I'd grown up around. Growing up, I found it horrifying—I wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole. I don't think I ever tried it myself until Israel and I were dating, and he thought it was so good.
It's really interesting when you think about it. There are all these soft flavors. Usually you want there to be a variety of textures, but there are exceptions. The unctuousness builds on itself until it becomes decadent. The differences are very minor on our dish to what my mother does: Herring is normally its own layer, but we instead make a marinade and dice it up with sweet onion and dill and oil to integrate the flavor into the herring.
And we make our own mayonnaise, which is something most home cooks never do. Part of making herring under a fur coat is, you put plain old mayo on top, and the mayo turns pink. It tastes better fresh, so we mix the beets in with the mayonnaise. It's a little bit of a trick to make it look like it sat a little bit. That pink can be very striking in small quantities."
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