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Beginning in the 18th century the aristocracy of Russia was becoming increasingly interested in French cuisine. They were either hiring French chefs, or sending their native chefs to France for training. This trend persisted, despite the bitter struggle between Napoleon Bonaparte and Russia that ensued. In fact, quite ironically, Napoleon’s European campaign, which included war with Russia, indirectly led to greater culinary alliances between the nations.
Nobody knew better than Napoleon that a well fed army was a more formidable force. Hence his famous quote: “An army travels on its stomach.” In 1800 Napoleon offered a prize of 12,000 francs to the person who could devise a method of food preservation, a technique that would undoubtedly facilitate sustained nourishment for his troops. In 1809 French chef Nicolas Francois Appert (1750-1841) claimed the prize. Appert, deemed the “father of canning,” devised a method of sealing food in airtight bottles. His invention paved the way for modern canning which, in his honor, is known as “Appertization.”
But what Appert also invented was a dish we now know as Chicken Kiev. As we shall see, Chicken Kiev has virtually nothing to do with Kiev, the capitol of Ukraine. Chicken Kiev is boneless chicken breasts that have been pounded thin. Cold, herbed and seasoned butter is then placed in their center. They are then rolled around the butter, coated with breading, and pan-fried. Appert’s Napoleonic-wars-influenced success with food preservation indubitably placed him in the culinary limelight. His chicken concoction was eventually imitated by Russian cooks. Their facsimile was known as côtelettes de volaille. But, as the story goes, it was the early New York City restaurants, endeavoring to cater to the increasing Russian immigrant population who changed the name to Chicken Kiev. The new name emigrated back to Europe and stuck. By the 20th century, Chicken Kiev was an established classic and being served in Russian restaurants on both sides of the Atlantic. In the Ukraine it is served with fresh peas and fried julienned potatoes.
As stated, Chicken Kiev is made with herbed butter. Herbed butter is very straightforward but has many, many variations. In a nutshell, herbed butter is butter mixed with herbs and seasonings. Any and all types of herbs can be used. The specific herbs employed is a function of the recipe and your personal taste. Examples include rosemary and thyme butter for pork or chicken, tarragon butter for salmon, or maybe basil butter for a Mediterranean recipe. In addition to herbs, salt, pepper, chives, garlic, lemon juice, and an array of spices are just some of the additional optional ingredients.
After preparing herbed butter it is usually refrigerated to harden and then employed just as you would regular butter. Sometimes chefs will roll it into a log so uniform discs can be sliced from it. To do so, simply place the herbed butter on plastic wrap and roll it up like a big cigar. Twist the ends of the plastic wrap in opposite directions to produce a neat cylindrical shape. Refrigerate it and then slice off rounds of it and place them on your finished dish.
• 4 boneless chicken breasts
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 1 stick herbed butter (see recipe below)
• flour, as needed
• 2 eggs, beaten
• bread crumbs, as needed
• oil for frying
One at a time, place the chicken breasts between sheets of plastic wrap and pound them until thin. Don’t pound too hard and use the smooth side of the mallet. You want to prevent creating holes in the chicken which could leak butter later. Season the breasts with salt and pepper. Dividing the butter evenly between the breasts, spread a dollop of butter in the center of each breast, leaving ample room around the edge. Just like rolling a burrito, take the left and right side of each breast and fold them over by an inch or so. Then roll from end to end, thereby sealing the butter within the rolled chicken packet. If you like you can secure the chicken with toothpicks or string. Roll each piece of chicken in flour, shake off the excess, dip in the egg, and then in the breadcrumbs. Pour enough oil in a large skillet to come half way up the chicken and heat it to 375 degrees or until it shimmers and just starts to smoke. Place the chicken in the skillet and cook until the first side is browned. Flip and brown the other side.
• 1 stick (4 oz.) butter, softened
• ¼ cup minced chives
• 2 teaspoons chopped parsley
• 2 teaspoons chopped tarragon or chervil
• Juice of half a lemon (more or less to taste)
• Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl with a fork and then refrigerate the butter for 1-2 hours to ensure it is completely chilled.
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