Kulebyaka recipe history culture origin

Kulebyaka is a large Russian pie, known for its often layered and complex filling. Click here for original image.

Kulebyaka: The Refined Pirog

Published: July 20, 2018

Kulebyaka (Кулебяка) is one of Russian cooking’s refined delicacies. It’s also somewhat of a mystery to many, who know of it only from the works of great Russian authors such as Chekhov and Gogol. Chekhov, in “The Siren,” makes the dish sound sensual: «Кулебяка должна быть аппетитная, бесстыдная, во всей своей наготе, чтоб соблазн был.» (“The Kulebyaka should be appetizing, shameless in its nakedness, a temptation to sin.”) Gogol, meanwhile, gives a near-ridiculous recipe that stuffs everything and anything into the dish (see below).

Closely related to the “пирог” (pirog), the kulebyaka is typically known wherever the hand-held stuffed-bread pirog is known. However, the kulebyaka is a much rarer find. The shortages of Soviet times helped to push the richer, more complex кулебяка, known as a food of the aristocracy, off the menu. Inside Russia today, however, traditional Russian cooking from the pre-Soviet era is making a comeback. Thus, the кулебяка is finding its sometimes-sensual, sometimes-near-ridiculous way back onto Russian dinner plates.

How It Earned Its Name

(Почему они носят такое название?)

Pirogi, or pies, are a staple of Russian cuisine. Tasty and filling, the pirog comes with a bready shell that is filled with just about anything – savory or sweet. The word “pirog” comes from an ancient proto-Slavic word “пир” which referred to a feast or festivity, indicating that they were once regarded as a delicacy to be savored on special occasions. Today, however, they are a staple of the Russian diet and can be found in supermarkets, restaurants and cafes, sold by street-side vendors, and are frequently made at home.

The kulebyaka essentially puts the “пир” back in the “пирог.” Whereas the pirog is generally made to be a self-contained, hand-held unit, the kulebyaka is generally large enough to be cut and shared. Whereas the pirog is often 50% bread to 50% filling, the кулебяка is always dominated by its filling, often with a bread crust just thick enough to prevent the filling from breaking and spilling out of the shell.

The name “kulebyaka” comes from the Russian word “кулебячить,” which means “to knead” or “to sculpt; shape with the hands.” The artistry of the kulebyaka is usually immediately apparent. Whereas the pirog is generally a simple dish, with one ingredient in a simple package, the kulebyaka is complex, often with multiple, layered ingredients in a decidedly large and artful bread shell.

Incidentally, kulebyaka is often rendered in English as “coulibiac.” This is because it was, apparently, first introduced to many English speakers via the many French chefs who were brought to Russia in the 19th century and took the recipe back to France when they departed. The English word is derived from the French rather than the original Russian.

When and How to Eat Kulebyaka

(Как правильно есть кулебяку?)

Although kulebyaka is now making a comeback, it is still very much the delicacy it always has been. One is most likely to find kulebyaka on banquet menus for weddings or corporate parties. One can also find it in a chain of inexpensive Russian restaurants called Shtolle. Shtolle, which has locations across western Russia, hangs historical pictures at all locations to create a somewhat old-time environment remembering tsarist times. It specializes in Russian pies – both pirogi and kulebyaka.

Kulebyaka is nearly always a savory dish. It can be eaten as a main course (as is generally the case at Shtolle), but can also be eaten as side, or served with soup in place of bread. Kulebyaka is served as slices from a usually rectangular but sometimes round loaf.

Kulebyaka recipe history culture origin
Kulebyaka is traditionally decorated with figures made from the crust – or formed into shapes. Here, a particularly large kulebyaka is pictured with smaller kulebyaka shaped like fish. Click here for original image.

When served as a main course, the kulebyaka will often have a dipping sauce such as béchamel to accompany. If it is served as a side dish along with soup, it does not require any sauce.

Preparing Kulebyaka

(Как правильно готовить кулебяку?)

The dish of kulebyaka can be made from nearly any savory filling and is always served hot. The most traditional fillings are fish or meat accompanied by such options as buckwheat, mushrooms, eggs, and spices. However, it can be filled with almost anything available. Traditional recipes for kulebyaka tend to make use of more expensive ingredients such as caviar and other delicacies such as those mentioned in Gogol’s description. During the Soviet era, for instance, “капуста” (cabbage) became a common base in the dish when it was still made, replacing the more expensive fish.

In a classic kulebyaka, the fillings will be layered, sometimes even going so far as to separate the layers with a thin “блин” (blin) to keep the flavors from mixing until a full bite melts together in your mouth. These layers are often layered vertically, but can also be side by side, pyramid shaped, or just about in any other arrangement, creating “pockets” of unique flavor. Simpler kulebyaka recipes will mix the filling ingredients together. A common rule is that, no matter what ingredients are used, the quantity of filling should exceed that of the shell by at least 2 to 1.

Kulebyaka often have shells decorated in designs or shaped to resemble an animal such as a fish, pig or even a crocodile.

Let’s Cook!

(Давай приготовим!)

See below for a free recipe for kulebyaka. See also the free videos online. If you are interested in cooking from Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, and other places in Eurasia, make sure to see our other resources! You might also be interested in the following specialized cookbooks we’ve enjoyed:

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Кулебяка с лососем Kulebyaka with Salmon

Для теста:

  • 500 г муки
  • 50 мл молока
  • 20 г свежих дрожжей
  • 5 яиц
  • 10 г соли
  • 20 г сахара
  • 200 г слив. масла

Для начинки:

  • 1 филе свежего лосося без кожи целым куском
  • 10-12 перепелиных яиц
  • 1 пучок свежего шпината
  • соль, перец

Для грибной начинки:

  • 20 г слив. масла
  • 1 ст.л. рубленого репчатого лука
  • 1 ст.л. рубленого лука-шалот
  • 200 г шампиньонов
  • 1/2 пучка петрушки
  • соль, перец

Для рисовой начинки:

  • 1 ст.л. слив. масла
  • 1 небольшая луковица (100 г)
  • 200 г риса басмати (или другого длиннозерного)
  • 400 мл овощного бульона

Для блинчиков:

  • 125 г муки
  • 250 мл молока
  • 2 яйца
  • соль

Для соуса бешамель:

  • 20 г слив. масла
  • 20 г муки
  • 250 мл молока
  • 1 веточка тимьяна
  • 1 лавровый лист
  • 1 маленькая луковица
  • 2 цветка душистой гвоздики

Для смазывания теста:

  • 1 желтoк
  • 50 мл молока
  • 1/2 ч.л сахара
  • 1/2 ч.л. соли

Для подачи:

  • 1 стаканчик (250 мл) сметаны)
  • 1 баночка (50-90 г) красной икры
  • Cок 1/2 лимона


  1. Из приведённых ингредиентов приготовьте сдобное дрожжевое тесто бриошь. Дрожжи разведите в молоке, яйца размешайте с солью и сахаром. Смешайте все ингредиенты, кроме сливочного масла. Замесите однородное тесто, постепенно добaвляйте масло комнатной температуры, Хорошо вымесите, чтобы тесто не прилипало к рукам. Накройте плёнкой, дайте подойти, обомните и для повторного подхода поставьте в холодильник.
  2. Филе лосося подготовьте: обрежьте брюшко, отрежьте хвостовую часть ‒ чтобы получился длинный ровный брусок весом около 1 кг. Положите на противень и поставьте в разогретую до 180 °С духовку на 10 мин. Выньте из духовки, накройте фольгой, остудите и уберите в холодильник до момента использования.
  3. Сварите вкрутую перепелиные яйца. Листья шпината забланшируйте в кипящей подсоленной воде 1-2 минуты, остудите в ледяной воде, выньте из воды и разложите на бумажных кухонных салфетках. Каждое яйцо заверните в лист шпината.
  4. Для грибной начинки репчатый лук и шалот спассеруйте на сливочном масле, добавьте мелко порубленные шампиньоны, держите на огне, помешивая, пока не испарится жидкость. Посолите, поперчите, посыпьте рубленой петрушкой и остудите.
  5. Замесите тесто для блинчиков. На большой сковороде испеките тонкие блинчики.
  6. Спассеруйте на сливочном масле лук, добавьте к нему рис, перемешайте. Влейте кипящий бульон, перемешайте, доведите до кипения и больше не мешайте. Накройте кастрюлю калькой и поставьте в разогретую до 180 °С духовку на 30 минут.
  7. Приготовьте соус бешамель. Растопите сливочное масло, слегка обжарьте муку, размешивая венчиком, чтобы не было комков. Остудите. Положите в молоко тимьян, лавровый лист и луковицу с воткнутыми в корень гвоздичками, доведите молоко до кипения, снимите с огня, накройте кастрюлю крышкой и настаивайте несколько минут. Выньте лук и специи. Тонкой стрyёй вливайте горячее молоко в муку, постоянно помешивая венчиком. Поставьте на огонь и, продолжая размешивать венчиком, доведите смесь до кипения. Держите на медленном огне еще 2 минуты, следя, чтобы не пригорeло.
  8. Соедините рис, грибы и бешамель, осторожно перемешайте.
  9. Приготовьте смесь для смазки, смешав все ингредиенты.

Сборка кулебяки

  1. Поверхность рабочего стола застелите калькой, на нее положите внахлест несколько блинчиков ‒ они будут предохранять тесто от влаги, содержащейся в начинке.
    На блинчики выложитe слой риса толщиной не более 2 см, на него положитe подготовленное филе лосося и поверх него снова тонкий слой риса. Слой блинчиков должен выступать с каждой стороны на 5 см по ширине и на 3 см по длине.
  2. Вдоль по центру выложите завёрнутые в листья шпината перепелиные яйца, покройте их тонким слоем риса. Накройте слоем блинчиков.
  3. Заверните все в кальку таким образом, чтобы рыба и рис оказались со всех сторон покрыты блинчиками. Уберите в холодильник.
  4. Отделите 3/4 теста, остальное заверните в плёнку и уберите в холодильник. Раскатайте тесто в прямоугольник толщиной 1 см, переложите его на лист кальки. Уложите на него сформированную начинку так, чтобы яйца оказались внизу. Соедините края теста, смазав их подготовленной яично-молочной смесью. Уложите заготовку на застеленный калькой противень швом вниз.
  5. Раскатайте oставшуюся 1/4 часть теста в прямоугольник толщиной 0,5 см по длине заготовки, надрежьте специальным валиком или ножом, чтобы при растягивании получилась сетка. Поверхность кулебяки смажьте яично-молочной смесью, накройте сеткой. Поставьте в холодильник, чтобы сетка лучше приклеилась.
  6. Выньте из холодильника, снова смажьте поверхность.
  7. Выпекайте в разогретой до 170 °С духовке около 1 часа, пока кулебяка хорошо не подрумянится.
  8. Смешайте сметану с лимонным соком, добавьте икру, осторожно перемешайте. Подайте соус к кулебяке.

For the dough:

  • 500 g flour
  • 50 ml of milk
  • 20 g fresh yeast
  • 5 eggs
  • 10 g of salt
  • 20 g sugar
  • 200 g butter

For the filling:

  • 1 whole fillet of fresh salmon without skin
  • 10-12 quail eggs
  • 1 bunch fresh spinach
  • salt, pepper

For the mushroom filling:

  • 20 g butter
  • 1 tbsp chopped onion
  • 1 tbsp chopped shallot
  • 200 g mushrooms
  • 1/2 bunch of parsley
  • salt, pepper

For the rice filling:

  • 1 tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 small onion (100g)
  • 200 g of basmati rice (or other long grain rice)
  • 400 ml vegetable broth

For the pancakes:

  • 125 g flour
  • 250 ml of milk
  • 2 eggs
  • salt

For the béchamel sauce:

  • 20 g butter
  • 20 g flour
  • 250 ml of milk
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 cloves

For dough glaze:

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 50 ml of milk
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt

For the presentation:

  • 1 Cup (250 ml) sour cream
  • 1 jar (50-90 g) red caviar
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon


  1. From the above ingredients, prepare the rich brioche dough. Dissolve the yeast in milk, fold in the eggs with the salt and sugar. Knead all ingredients together except the butter into a homogeneous dough, gradually adding the butter at room temperature. Knead well so the dough doesn’t stick to your hands. Cover with plastic film, let rise, then punch it down, and transfer it to the refrigerator to rise a second time.
  2. Prepare the salmon: trim the belly, cut off the tail portion to get a long flat piece weighing about 1 kg. Put on a baking sheet and place in a preheated 180 °C oven for 10 min. Remove from oven, cover with foil, cool and refrigerate until use.
  3. Hard boil the quail eggs. Cook the spinach leaves in salted, boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Then, immerse them in ice water, remove from water and place on paper towels. Wrap each egg in spinach leaves.
  4. For the mushroom stuffing, sauté the onions and shallots in butter, add chopped mushrooms. Continue cooking and stirring until the liquid has evaporated. Add salt and pepper, sprinkle with chopped parsley and let it cool.
  5. Mix the bilni dough. In a large pan, bake thin blini.
  6. Sauté the onion in butter, add the rice, stir. Pour boiling broth over this and stir, bringing to a boil and then let stand. Cover the pot with wax paper and place in a preheated 180 °C oven for 30 minutes.
  7. Prepare the Béchamel sauce. Melt the butter, add flour to the melted butter and cook for few minutes, stirring with a whisk to avoid lumps. Cool. Put the milk, thyme, bay leaf and an onion stuck with cloves into the mixture. Bring the milk to boil, remove from heat, cover the pot and steep a few minutes. Remove the onion and strain the herbs. In a thin stream, pour the hot milk into the flour, stirring constantly with a whisk. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes, making sure it doesn’t stick.
  8. Mix the rice, mushrooms and Béchamel well.
  9. Prepare the glaze mixture by mixing all ingredients.

Assembling the pie

  1. Cover the surface of the working table with parchment paper, lay out several overlapping pancakes ‒ they will protect the dough from the moisture in the filling.
  2. On the pancakes, put a layer of rice not more than 2cm thick. Place the prepared salmon fillets on top of this. Top that with another thin layer of rice. The pancake layer should be about 5 cm wider and 3 cm longer than the filling.
  3. Along the center lay the quail eggs, wrapped in their spinach leaves, and cover them with a thin layer of rice. Cover with a layer of pancakes.
  4. Wrap everything in paper so that fish and rice are covered on all sides by pancakes. Place in the refrigerator.
  5. Separate 3/4 of the brioche dough, wrap the rest in plastic and store in the refrigerator. Roll out the dough into a rectangle 1 cm thick, transfer it onto a sheet of parchment paper. Add the filling on top of the dough so that the eggs are on the bottom. Connect the edges of the dough, brushing them with egg and milk mixture. Lay the piece on a baking sheet covered with the paper, seam side down.
  6. Roll out remaining 1/4 of dough into a rectangle of thickness 0.5 cm along the length of the baking sheet, cut with a roller or knife, so that when stretched out, the sheet would create a netting. Brush the surface of the pie with the egg-milk mixture and cover with the dough netting. Put in the refrigerator to set.
  7. Remove from refrigerator, brush the surface with the egg-milk glaze again. Bake in a preheated 170 °C oven for about 1 hour until the pie is well browned.
  8. Mix the sour cream with lemon juice, add the caviar, and carefully stir. Serve the kulebyaka with the sauce.


 Excerpt From Dead Souls,
By Nikolai Gogol
Part 2: Chapter 3

Оригинал Translation
– Да кулебяку сделай на четыре угла. В один угол положи ты мне щеки осетра да вязигу, в другой запусти гречневой кашицы, да грибочков с лучком, да молок сладких, да мозгов, да ещё чего знаешь там этакого…

– Слушаю-с. Можно будет и так.

– Да чтобы с одного боку она, понимаешь – зарумянилась бы, а с другого пусти ее полегче. Да исподку-то, исподку-то, понимаешь, пропеки её так, чтобы рассып’aлась, чтобы всю ее проняло, знаешь, соком, чтобы и не услышал её во рту – как снег бы растаяла.

«Чёрт побери! – думал Чичиков, ворочаясь. – Просто не даст спать!»

– Да сделай ты мне свиной сычуг. Положи в серёдку кусочек льду, чтобы он взбухнул хорошенько. Да чтобы к осетру обкладка, гарнир-то, гарнир-то чтобы был побогаче! Обложи его раками, да поджаренной маленькой рыбкой, да проложи фаршецом из снеточков, да подбавь мелкой сечки, хренку, да груздочков, да репушки, да морковки, да бобков, да нет ли ещё там какого коренья?

“Start by dividing the kulebyaka into fourths. Into one of the divisions put the sturgeon’s cheeks and some viaziga (the dried spinal marrow of the sturgeon), and into another division some buckwheat porridge, young mushrooms and onions, sweet milk, calves’ brains, and anything else that you may find suitable. Also, bake it to a nice brown on one side, and but lightly on the other. Yes, and, as to the underside, bake it so that it will be all juicy and flaky, so that it shall not crumble into bits, but melt in the mouth like the softest snow that ever you heard of.” And as he said this Pietukh fairly smacked his lips.

“The devil take him!” muttered Chichikov, thrusting his head beneath the bedclothes to avoid hearing more. “The fellow won’t give one a chance to sleep.”

Nevertheless he heard through the blankets:

“And garnish the sturgeon with beetroot, smelts, peppered mushrooms, young radishes, carrots, beans, and anything else you like, so as to have plenty of trimmings. Yes, and put a lump of ice into the pig’s bladder, so as to swell it up.”

Our Favorite Kulebyaka Videos

From a Russian cooking show called “Обед безбрачия” (a play on words from the Russian phrase “обет безбрачия,” which means “vow of celibacy,” with “безбрачия” meaning “without marriage.” Thus, the name of show refers to “lunch without marriage.” The host shows us how to cook a classic, three-layered fish kulebyaka. He comes across as perhaps more than a little sexist as a running assertion in the piece is that the kulebyaka is an “absolutely masculine pie” that “should never be touched by women’s hands.” However, the Russian is spoken slowly with a lot of pauses which helps with comprehension. The cooking steps are clearly shown which should make it easy to follow along at home as well.


Vegetarian kulebyaka! The filling is a single layer with cabbage as the main ingredient. The spoken Russian is fairly simple and clear, but it also has English subtitles.


Anti-vegetarian kulebyaka! A guy with a mohawk makes an extra-meaty kulebyaka. He has something of a strange accent, but is fairly easy to understand.

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About the author

Jonathan Rainey

Jonathan Rainey majored in History and English at Francis Marion University in Florence, SC. While at Francis Marion, he was a member of Phi Alpha Theta, National History Honors Society and worked as a reporter for The Patriot, the university's newspaper. Jonathan will be serving as an SRAS Home and Abroad Scholar in Vladivostok for the 2015-2016 school year.

Program attended: Home and Abroad Scholar

View all posts by: Jonathan Rainey