There is so much dispute about where the chicken Kiev comes from. The French claim it as theirs, but so do the Russians, of course. The Americans have a say, suggesting immigrant Russians served it in their restaurants to lure in homesick countrymen. The British weigh in too, with a notion that it was really an invention of Marks & Spencer in the early ’70s, and one of the earliest iterations of a frozen instant dinner. Sounds as if complicated world politics are reflected in food too.
It’s such an enduring dish that a skinless chicken breast with the first wing bone attached is known as a Kiev cut. But there is no denying it is just another version of a very well-loved thing: chicken coated in breadcrumbs. Chicken schnitzel, chicken parmigiana, chicken Kiev, chicken cordon bleu. On special occasions people will also coat a chicken Florentine in breadcrumbs, probably to disguise the fact it has a green vegetable in it and to keep its popularity near its rivals.
The Kiev is undoubtedly my favourite of the aforementioned pack. However, there is a huge discrepancy in what is a good Kiev and what is not. They are ubiquitous in butcher’s shops, in frozen food sections and on pub menus, but they are often indescribably awful. The chicken is some horrid factory-produced, hormone-filled, flavour-emptied flesh, the garlic “butter” is often made with the sort of garlic that comes in a bucket and leaves a residual taste in your mouth long after it should, and the actual butter is probably solidified vegetable oil. The crumbs are as questionable as the other ingredients. And then, of course, there is the cooking technique, with the breasts tossed into the deep-fryer and finished in the oven, or just cooked completely in the fryer.
Here is your chance to right all those wrongs and cook something that is often maligned but, when done properly, is naughtily delicious. I would start by purchasing whole, free-range chickens. Familiarise yourself with taking the legs off and then removing the breasts from the frame to create your Kievs. The legs can be used for a curry or a casserole, something that is slower cooked and saucy. The other two parts of the wing and the frame can be used to make a little chicken stock, either in the European style with a classic mirepoix and used for soup or in braises, or with the more Asian influences of ginger, garlic, spring onions and so on for a pho or a soup. To prepare the breasts, remove the outer two joints of the wing and clean the remaining bone of meat so it sticks up like a handle. The garlic butter also needs a little care. Use fresh garlic, crushed into a paste with salt and added to unsalted butter. Add fresh chopped parsley and correct the seasoning. For your breadcrumbs, choose a good white or sourdough bread, remove the crusts and dry overnight somewhere warm. Then place in a food processor and process to a nice, fine crumb. While dried crumbs are handy, homemade are always superior. I recommend cooking the Kievs in the oven. They won’t look like bought ones and will lack the consistency of colour provided by deep-frying, but they also won’t have that deep-fried taste and will be a great deal more delicious.
Time: 1 hour preparation and cooking
- 250g unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed with salt
- 1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
- salt and pepper
- 4 skinless chicken breasts with wing bone attached
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- ½ cup flour
- salt and pepper
- 2 eggs
- splash milk
- Place 150 grams of the butter in a bowl, crush with a fork and add the garlic and parsley. Mix well and add seasoning if necessary. Place the butter on a piece of baking paper and roll into a cylinder, twist the ends and then chill.
- Clean the meat off the wing bones. Turn the breast over and with a sharp knife open the breast out so it is a flat “canvas”, sort of heart shaped. Repeat with the other breasts. Unwrap the butter and cut it into four, lengthways. Place a section in the middle of each breast, then wrap the chicken flesh around the butter to make a neat cylinder. Place in the fridge to chill for 20 minutes or so.
- Preheat your oven to 200ºC. Assemble your crumbing kit by placing the breadcrumbs in a bowl or on a tray, seasoning the flour with a little salt and pepper, and mixing the eggs with a splash of milk in a bowl. Dust each fillet with flour, dip into the egg mix and then roll in the breadcrumbs. Be gentle through this process so you retain a nice tight cylinder of chicken.
- Put a piece of baking paper on a tray, place the Kievs on top and dot with the remaining butter. Cook for 20 minutes. The Kievs should be golden brown and cooked all the way through. Serve with a sharp salad or mash and vegetables.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 11, 2022 as "A good crumb".
For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.
All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.
There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.
Select your digital subscription