Martin Bosley brings New Zealand flavour to an entertainer’s classic – wow your guests with this sensational salmon centrepiece.

The New York Times’ celebrated food writer Craig Claiborne once wrote that salmon coulibiac is “celestial, the world’s greatest, manna for culinary gods and a main course unto itself”, describing it as “that excelling and sublime creation known in French as Coulibiac de Saumon”. He also said that the only course preceding it should be a spoonful or two of caviar. Cookbook author James Beard called it “the most unusual dish” he ever encountered and it was Prince Philip’s favourite dish. It is not easy to explain in simple terms exactly what coulibiac is. You could say that at its most basic it is like a paté en croûte but this is woefully inadequate. At the other end of the spectrum you could say it’s like a fish version of beef Wellington but that also doesn’t do it justice, for this is a dish requiring patience and an enthusiasm beyond just making sure the meat is medium-rare when served. The good news is that any cook can master it. If you can make pastry, then you can make this. The dish is Russian and, in short, it’s a brioche or pastry crust into which is baked an entire meal, a multitude of textures and flavours: rice, salmon, mushrooms, crêpes, hard-boiled eggs, velouté, dill and shallots. I first cooked coulibiac about 30 years ago, from the ground-breaking cookbook New American Classics by Jeremiah Tower. It was the most exotic recipe in the entire book and for two days I prepared the ingredients, making the brioche and the crêpes, boiling and shelling quails eggs and cooking wild rice. The Russian recipe called for sturgeon and its chopped spinal marrow. It was both the first and the last time I made it this way. All this sounds terribly fussy and theoretically it is difficult to cook all the components to the correct levels of doneness. So, I have lightened it up: I use rough pastry not brioche; instead of buckwheat crêpes I use sheets of toasted nori seaweed; and I replace the mushrooms, rice and eggs with a fish mousse flavoured with dried kawakawa. Instead of serving it with melted butter, I make a sauce from sour cream. The result is still majestic. As Mr Claiborne also said, “Blessed be the holiday table graced with coulibiac.”