This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
The Vesiga is a gelatinous substance that envelopes the backbone of the sturgeon. It is sold in a dry state, and bears some resemblance to Russian isinglass. Before using, it should be soaked several hours in water, and then boiled in some light broth until it becomes quite tender. It is then cut in pieces about one inch long, and served in a clear consomme with or without the addition of vegetables cut in fancy shapes. The Vesiga soup is considered in Russia as very nutritious and wholesome.
Cucumber soup prepared with salted preserved cucumbers (a dainty dish in Russia). It is made as follows: Cut four or five salted cucumbers into squares or lozenges of uniform size, and boil them in water until done. Boil, likewise, some parsley root and celery cut in pieces one inch long. Prepare a chicken broth with two young chickens, and when ready to serve, put the cucumbers, the parsley root, the celery and the cut up chicken into the soup-tureen, and pour over the whole the chicken broth, which has been previously thickened with six yolks of eggs mixed with cream.
Another national dish considered as a great delicacy in St. Petersburg is bears' paws. They are first skinned, washed, and put into a marinade for several days. Then they are cooked in a mirepoix, and when done put away to get cold. When wanted to serve, the paw is cut into four pieces lengthways; egged, breadcrumbed and broiled. A sharp sauce, such as. poivrade, piquante, or Robert sauce is served with it.
There is just at the present time a craze among the Parisians of the haut ton for things Russian which extends to the dishes at table. At not a few good houses the sideboards are now garnished with the Zukuska. which always forms the preface to a Russian dinner. The Zukuska consists as a rule of caviare, herring, anchovies, smoked goose, smoked sausage and cheese. These delicacies are served on little enameled plates. The guests are supposed to go to the sideboard and help themselves at pleasure, drinking a little glass of bitters or vodka, English gin, or even kummel, to stimulate their appetite. When this has been sufficiently provoked, the com pany take their seats at the table, where good Rus-sophiles serve a soup prepared from the sterlet, a fish caught in the Volga. There is another soup, which is said to be a great favorite with the Czar and his family. This is the savory " shtshi," the quintessence of all national soups, and which according to a Frenchman lately come from St. Pe tersburg is prepared thus wise: Take a large and juicy piece of mutton, boil it down with juicy pieces of beef, and an unlimited number of onions, garlic, herbs, beets and spices; and serve the same, cut in small cubes.
In Poland, a similar mixtum compost'-turn is called " borshtsh," on which the Russian looks down with sovereign contempt. Another soup, which is frequently put upon the Imperial table, is called " okroska," a sort of mush or cold decoction of pears, apples, plums and oat grits, with an admixture of small pieces of meat, herring and cucumbers floating therein. The Czar greatly affects chicken cutlets a la Poskarki, i.e. a chicken chopped very fine and roasted with slices of bread and eggs, served up in the shape of a cutlet; also pork boiled in milk, eaten with a highly spiced gravy. Other favorite dishes of the autocrat are fish prepared in an infinite variety of ways, and a rich and spicy gravy called a la Samoyede (the latter being one of the great secrets of the Imperial kitchen), cucumbers in vinegar, and capons. All these dishes are now attempted in Paris. (See Coulibiac, Russian Salad, Soups).