From Russian With Love: Chicken Kiev

By Bill Turner

In earlier issues of At The Lake this year, our Cuisine articles have focused on some great international classics using chicken as the key ingredient. In the spring issue, we presented Indian butter chicken. In the summer issue, we offered the great Latin American standard arroz con pollo. (If you haven’t tried these recipes, go to the Cuisine section and give it a go.) We will continue the international theme in this issue with a great Russian favorite, chicken Kiev.

Chicken is such a wonderful protein source — low in fat, relatively inexpensive, with thousands of ways to prepare it. I always remember the 25-year-old Queen Elizabeth requesting that curried chicken salad be served at her coronation lunch instead of the traditional roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Mouths dropped aghast, but she got her way and the Brits still call it coronation chicken. My list of chicken favorites goes on forever, starting with simple roast chicken that we all like to pick up at the last minute at the local supermarket. Then there’s chicken cacciatore, chicken francese, chicken parmesan, chicken noodle soup, chicken fried rice, chicken curry, etc., etc.

A PAST BASED IN FRENCH CUISINE

In our continuing search for new ways to prepare this popular poultry, we decided to try the famous stuffed chicken breast called chicken Kiev. This is a classic Russian and Ukrainian dish with an interesting history.

Throughout the 1800s, French cuisine became very popular with the upper classes in Russia. A famous French chef, Marie- Antoine Carême, was appointed to the court of Alexander I in 1818. Numerous Russian chefs studied in France and many French chefs were coaxed to St. Petersburg and Moscow to ply their trade. All of the restaurants began using French names for the dishes. Côtelette de volaille (chicken cutlet) stuffed in a variety of ways became very popular.

In 1897 the grand Continental Hotel opened in Kiev in Ukraine. Their menu featured the chicken Kiev that we know today; of course, they called it côtelette de volaille a la Kiev. When the Russian Revolution erupted in 1917, all these bourgeois trappings, like French names, were quickly out of fashion and the name was changed to kotleta po-kiyevski, which means cutlet Kiev-style.

KNOWN THROUGHOUT THE WORLD

Russian and Ukrainian emigres brought the dish to western Europe and the U.S. after World Wars I and II. It remains extremely popular in its original homeland and is almost a staple in the UK. It was the first ready-made meal offered by the leading British retailer Marks and Spencer in 1979. It is truly a classic dish that you should try.

This is not the easiest of recipes, so make sure you have enough time for preparation. Also, consider doubling the recipe — the prepared chicken breasts can be frozen and ready for a great meal later. Read the Tech Notes before starting. They’ll help you have success when making this dish.

TECH NOTE: SLICING AND POUNDING CHICKEN BREASTS

A number of recipes, including chicken Kiev, need chicken breast scallops about 1/4″ thick. To do this, remove the filet that is on the inner edge of the breast. Save these to make homemade chicken fingers. Most chicken breasts are too thick to pound and need to be sliced first. Lay the breast on a cutting board and hold down with your non-dominant hand. With your sharpest knife, carefully slice the breast horizontally. Take each scallop and place between two sheets of plastic wrap. With the flat side of a pounder (mallet), gently flatten the scallop with a little outward motion as you pound.

CHICKEN KIEV RECIPE

Servings: 8-10

The Gear:

  • Baking sheet with wire rack
  • Large 51⁄2 quart sauté pan
  • Plastic wrap

Ingredients:

  • 5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts prepared as 1⁄4″-thick cutlets
  • 1 stick of butter, softened to room temperature 1⁄2 cup chopped parsley
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup of vegetable oil or as needed to achieve 1⁄4″ depth in sauté pan
  • 2 cups of panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of flour

Directions:

  • Cream together the butter, parsley and garlic. This can be done on a cutting board using a silicone spatula. Form the butter mixture into a 6″ log, wrap in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator to harden— about 30 minutes.
  • Prepare the chicken scallops as described at left in the Tech Note.
  • Lay the breasts on waxed paper and season both sides with salt and pepper.
  • Once the butter mixture has hardened, cut into 10 equal pads and put a pad in the narrow end of each breast.
  • Roll each breast around the butter mixture and fold the wide end of the breast to close up the ends. Transfer each breast to a piece of plastic wrap and roll tightly. Then twist the ends of the wrap tightly and fold under the breast. Place each breast on a wire rack positioned on a baking sheet. Each breast should be a neat 4″ long “sausage.”
  • Put the rolled breasts in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. This helps maintain their shape while cooking.
  • Preheat the oven to 400 F.
  • Put the following ingredients in three wide, low bowls: flour in one; two beaten eggs with one Tbsp. of water in the second; and the Panko breadcrumbs in the third.
  • When ready to proceed, make sure you have 1⁄4″ of oil in the sauté pan and heat to 350 F. (See Tech Note below.)
  • Remove the breasts from the plastic wrap. Generously dredge each one first in the flour, then in the egg and finally in the panko breadcrumbs. (At this point, take any breasts that you want to freeze, wrap them in plastic wrap, twist the ends of the wrap and put the packets into a gallon freezer bag. Freeze for up to three months.
  • Fry the breasts for one minute on each side or until golden brown. Work in batches, so you do not overcrowd the pan.
  • Put the breasts on the baking sheet with the wire rack and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.
  • Allow to sit for five minutes before serving.

Serve with a rice pilaf or potato and a green vegetable. The real joy of this dish is when you cut the rolled breast open and see the butter mixture ooze out.

TECH NOTE: THE IMPORTANCE OF OIL TEMPERATURE WHEN FRYING

The magic number when frying is 350 F. Anything lower and fried foods have a bland, yellow look. Anything higher and they quickly get dark brown or black. The best way to check temperature is with an instant-read thermometer. The best one is Thermapen, available online for about $80. Costly, but it will last a lifetime and is great for checking temps while grilling.

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