10 June 2008

Ukrainian Cuisine Part 1: Chicken Kiev

A lot of my friends already know about my abilities and experiments in cooking. Living alone for more than 5 years and having an unstoppable fondness to test local cuisines (although dangerous in Post-Soviet Union) in wherever I go, I have rightfully earned the nickname of "intrepid culinary adventurer" that my dear friend, Jack "Ze Ameriken", has given me two years ago in a filthy Moscow restaurant-cum-nuclear dump.

I definitely agree that Moscow is not the place to be (like Paris or NYC) to enrich and tackle one's taste buds but it nonetheless has a lot of alternatives to disrupt an expat's digestive system...

Actually Russia, a country that boasts of potato and beetroot as its best agricultural produce out of its nonfrozen lands, naturally do not have any national cuisine to match French or Turkish and we have been told in many occasions that the majority of the dishes with Russian names are indeed Ukrainian. No wonder why I didn't have any difficulty in ordering from the menu in Ukrainian restaurants (except the greasy TGI Friday's, which has the uniform and unexplainable low levels of food everywhere with high levels of artery clogging fat). So what is Russian...oops...Ukrainian food?

Here is a visual guide to differentiate Russian and Ukrainian cuisine. (If still undecided the answers are below)

(Answers: 1. Russian 2. Ukrainian)

Let me start with the most famous of all dishes from the Soviet Union, the Chicken Kiev or Kotlet Po Kievsky as the locals call it. (Roughly translated as "Meatballs cooked in Kiev style"). Although a simple dish from breaded-fried chicken breast halves stuffed with butter, it has more than the name. Despite the obvious Ukrainian touch in the name, Russians claim it as their own; but oddly enough, it was invented in France (where else would it be?!) and supposedly named in New York by the avid restaurateurs trying to please the wealthy Russian immigrants. The widespread reckoning of the dish in Soviet cuisine came with the Red Army soldiers returning from European battlefields (not only with looted German riches)

My last Chicken Kiev...in a restaurant on Khreshatyk

The base of the dish is, of course, chicken and no part of Kiev is necessary in the preparation. Typically chicken breasts are used and they are often beaten (like political dissidents in KGB prisons) so that they are tender. A sharp knife is used to create a pocket in the chicken breasts for the filling (but 1922 issue Mosin-Nagant rifle bayonet is more than ideal for the job as it leaves a cruel pyramidal hole that is designed to mutilate the capitalist enemies but leaves a good filling space in the chicken). Some cooks prefer to roll flattened chicken breasts around the filling. In both cases, the chicken is secured with toothpicks to ensure that the filling does not leak as it cooks.

The filling of Chicken Kiev is made with "seasoned" butter. Parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper is a classic combination, although other herbs and spices such as thyme, rosemary, oregano, and sage (or anything with the name Zelen in Russian) may be used. As a general rule, approximately two tablespoons are used for each chicken breast being prepared. Any seasonings are finely chopped and blended like the "Friendship of Nations" in USSR before being spooned into a pastry bag (like the ones used to decorate cakes) for easy use.

In one USSR-USA joint mission, American astronauts display the zenith of Soviet Aerospace technology that put Chicken Kiev in tube

After the chicken breast has been filled, it is dredged in flour, egg, and bread crumbs. It will be wise to stash the Chicken Kiev to freezer (like prisoners in a siberian Gulag prison) at this point for some time to solidify the butter so that it will be less likely to leak. After chilling, the Chicken Kiev is fried in a deep frying pan for six to eight minutes until it is golden brown in color.

This is Goooood Marketing...Breast Kiev!

A speech made in Kiev in 1991 by then U.S. President George H.W. Bush (father of George W Bush) was labeled Chicken Kiev by the US media. (It was drafted by Condoleezza Rice, then the President's Soviet and East European Affairs Advisor and now the Secretary of State) It cautioned Ukrainians against "suicidal nationalism". A few months later, Ukrainians voted to withdraw from the Soviet Union and Ukrainians still hold on fast to their signature suicidal nationalism.

Warning: hHicken Kiev is often served hot...very hot. Don't behave like this comrade; wasting food is for the evil capitalist pigs :)

In Part 2: Borsch...

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