I am a veteran of the heyday of Chicken Kiev, London in the early 60s with beehive hairdos and skinny sheath dresses that so easily were splashed with the delicious herb and butter filling of Chicken Kiev. In superior restaurants, the waiter would enquire if we wanted your crisp golden packages of deep fried chicken breast pierced in advance to avoid disaster, but I always wanted to spear my own. Then the fashion passed, killed by cheap freezer versions that could be baked instead of deep fried. But I came across genuine chicken Kiev in an out of the way restaurant just the other day. Like any killer recipe, it has not quite died and is due for resuscitation. I had expected to find Chicken Kiev in the Guide Culinaire — somehow the recipe has an Escoffier air — but no. Apparently it was invented early in the 20th century, not in Kiev (capital of Ukraine) but at the Merchant’s Club in Moscow. Everyone agrees on the recipe. To absorb the melted herb butter on the plate, a bed of boiled rice is the traditional accompaniment, but I prefer a cheerful bed of arugula.
- 2 medium boneless chicken breasts (8-10 oz/about 250g each)
- Vegetable oil (for frying)
- Boiled rice or arugula (for serving)
For herb butter
- 3 tablespoons/45 g butter
- Grated zest of 1 lemon and a squeeze of juice
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1 teaspoon chopped tarragon
- 1 teaspoon chopped chives
- Salt and pepper
For the coating
- 1/4 cup/30 g flour
- 1 egg, beaten to mix with 2 teaspoons oil and 2 teaspoons water
- 1/2 cup/60 g dry breadcrumbs
1. Cream the butter, beat in the lemon zest and juice, herbs, salt and pepper. Spread the butter in a 1×2-inch/2.5×5-cm layer on a piece of foil, and freeze until very firm, 30-40 minutes.
2. Discard any skin from the chicken breasts, turn them cut side up, and using a small knife, strip out the white tendons that run from one end to the other. Butterfly the breasts: Holding one hand flat on a chicken breast, hold the knife parallel to the cutting board and cut lengthwise through the meat almost to the other side. Open up and lay the butterflied breast on a sheet of plastic wrap.
3. Cover with a second sheet and pound with a rolling pin or the base of a heavy saucepan to flatten the breast to about 3/8-inch/1 cm thickness. Repeat with the other breast. Cut the herb butter lengthwise in half and lay each piece in the center of a breast. Wrap the chicken, folding over the ends like a springroll to completely enclose the butter.
3. To coat the breasts with crumbs, spread the flour on a plate and season with salt and pepper. Break the eggs into another deep plate, add the oil and water and whisk with a fork until frothy. Spread the breadcrumbs on the third plate. Add a chicken breast to the flour and coat it thoroughly, turning and patting with your hands to form an even coating. Transfer the breast to the beaten eggs and brush with the egg, turning until the chicken is completely coated. Transfer with two forks to the breadcrumbs and turn with the forks until the breast is evenly coated. Transfer to a flat plate and coat the other breast in the same way. Refrigerate the breasts, uncovered so they dry, for at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours.
5. To cook the breasts: Heat a wok or a wide, deep pan with a 3-inch/7.5-cm layer of oil to 360°F/180°C. Using a spider or draining spoon, lower the breasts into the oil. Fry them, turning once, until thoroughly cooked and very brown, 6-8 minutes. Drain them on paper towels, transfer to warm plates, and serve on a bed of boiled rice, or arugula. Take care when piercing the chicken with a knife as the hot butter may splash.