National Pi Day 2021
After reading through Darra Goldstein’s incredible book, Beyond the North Wind, on traditional Russian cooking last spring, a recipe for these fish pies really jumped out at me. I applied a sticky note to my brain, despite the fact that I was quickly running out of room, to make something like them one day when I felt like making pies.
Well folks, today is 3.14 or National Pi Day, so what better time than now?
I wanted to make my rasstegai with a local ingredient, so I chose northern pike that I had in the freezer. Traditionally the pies were made with sturgeon meat and burbot liver, but today are more often made with salmon. Pike could very well have been used though, since they happen to be found in northern Russia too.
This is a great meal because it uses the entire fish. Rasstegai are usually served with ukha, a famous Slavic fish soup. Ukha is made from simmering fish heads and skeletons, crating a lovely, rich broth. I used the pike carcasses leftover after filleting the fish for the hand pies. The soup often served with fish meat, carrots, onions, potatoes, and herbs, but I kept mine very simple, adding only carrots, dill, and parsley, and a smidge of saffron to the broth. As per tradition, I added a shot of vodka to the broth at the end; a necessary step if you ask any respectable Russian fisherman.
I took the de-boned fillets of the raw pike and chopped them, mixed them with cooked onions, garlic, fresh dill and parsley, then stuffed it all into rounds of rolled yeasted dough. I also tucked in pieces of the pike’s liver to stand in for burbot liver and enrich the pie. Pinching the edges together into a boat shape, I left the middle open. Rasstegai means ‘unbuttoned’ or ‘unfastened’, probably describing the hole left open on top of the pie like a shirt missing a button.
This hole not only allows steam to escape, but also makes for the perfect opening to pour some ukha broth into the pie before eating it, just like Russians have been doing for hundreds of years. Doing this makes for an even juicier hand pie, the taste of which is really something special.
Some tart homemade fermented pickles and vodka finished off the delicious meal. I’ll take a savoury fish pie over a fruit pie any day!