Chicken Kiev is a popular dish of boneless, skinless chicken (usually breast, but can be thigh) stuffed with a knob of herb butter, then rolled, breaded, and either fried or baked. Named after the queen city of the Ukraine, it was said to have been ‘invented’ in the Moscow Merchants’ Club in the early 20th century and was renamed Chicken Kiev (kotleta po-kievski, literally ‘cutlet, Kiev-style’) in one of the Soviet restaurants in later years. Considered the pinnacle of Russian cooking, most Ukrainians however don’t usually make Chicken Kiev at home because it is considered a gourmet treat.
My introduction to Chicken Kiev was at the ritzy Manila Polo Club in the 1970s. The occasion was the birthday of my computer programming classmate (Meralco batch 1974-2) who eventually became my youngest daughter’s ninang. The club’s version was true to the original Chicken Kiev—with a bone that sticks out, primarily for presentation only. But because of that bone, and because I prefer thighs to breasts, I often use chicken thighs instead of breasts. For butter-lover me, it was love at first bite or rather, love at first spurt. The first weekend thereafter I was making my own Chicken Kiev.
Cobbled from various recipes but mostly from “From Julia Child’s Kitchen,” this recipe uses chicken breasts, referred to by the venerable Julia as suprêmes, which are skinned and boned breast halves from a frying chicken. The first cut into a Chicken Kiev releases a flavorful stream of hot butter—drama!—which makes the chicken incredibly moist and tender. I find however that when Chicken Kiev is allowed to sit a certain length of time, the butter is partially absorbed into the meat, giving it a lovely flavor—but no dramatic spurt of the butter as you cut into it. Evidently you can’t have it both ways, so pick whichever floats your boat.
Chicken Kiev is an absolute delight, and rightly so because the combination of chicken and butter is one that always works. For example, any roasted chicken is kicked up several notches by a generous spread of butter on or under the skin. Plus the herbs—they’re a wonderful treat, adding a refreshing contrast to the warmth of the butter and the crispiness of the fried coating. And lastly, despite the thumbs-down in recent years there’s something so luscious about deep-fried foods, and a breaded chicken is to me the ultimate, mouth-watering, finger-licking expression of this.
Most home cooks, not just in Ukraine, might consider Chicken Kiev to be too complex to make. But really, it isn’t beyond a good cook’s skill set; in fact, even a budding cook, if she follows the instructions, can make Chicken Kiev satisfactorily. Besides, making Chicken Kiev can be spread over time; in fact, most of the work needs to be done ahead of time in order to let the herb butter chill so it can be handled well and to let the breaded chicken chill thoroughly to let the coating set. The finished product is gorgeous and will be appreciated by even the fussiest eater, young ones and young once alike. Who doesn’t like crispy fried chicken anyways? This one even has the most pleasant treat tucked inside its warm cavity. Shhhh but don’t tell the first-timers that. Let them savor the surprise treat . . . it IS quite an experience!
- 8 T 1 stick butter, at room temperature
- 1 T finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
- ½ T finely minced fresh chives
- ½ T lemon juice
- 1 shallot finely minced
- 1 garlic clove finely minced
- ½ t salt
- (¼ t dried tarragon}
- several grinds of the peppermill
- 4 suprêmes skinned and boned breast halves from a frying chicken
- salt and pepper
- ¾ c flour
- 1 t salt
- 2 eggs beaten
- 2 t water
- 1 t oil
- ¾ c coarse bread crumbs see Cook’s Notes
- salad oil
- sour cream
- chopped parsley
- In a small bowl, beat butter (warm the bowl if butter is chilled, then beat over cold water if butter gets too soft). When butter is creamy, beat in the rest of the filling. On a piece of plastic wrap or waxed paper, pat the butter into a 3-inch square. Wrap tightly and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. When ready to use, unwrap herb butter and cut into 4 rectangular strips. Keep chilled (set over cracked ice while you stuff each fillet).
- Using a spritzer with water, lightly spray the suprêmes with water. Place a suprême between two layers of plastic wrap that have also been lightly sprayed with water. This will allow the wrap to slide rather than stick to the suprême. Now, using a meat mallet (or a pestle, a rolling pin, or the side of a bottle), lightly tap away at the suprême in order to flatten it, being careful not to pound or tear through it. (The thinner you can get it, the better, at least to a point, as you will have more meat to wrap the butter. Besides, the thinner the meat, the more tender it becomes. The flattened suprême should be about double in width and between 1/8 inch to ¼ inch thick—it should be thinner along the edges which will help to seal the suprême and keep the butter from oozing out during cooking. Avoid tearing as this will allow the butter to ooze out during cooking.) Remove plastic wrap and season suprêmes with salt and pepper. Repeat for the remaining suprêmes.
- Place a strip of the herb butter lengthwise on the large side of the suprême, making sure not to extend all the way to the edges. Fold the near end of the suprême over the butter. Then fold the two sides over, and begin rolling the suprême, making sure to keep the roll tight. (By folding over at both the end and the two sides, you are trapping the butter inside. When the chicken is being cooked, the outside will get cooked enough to seal the butter in before it has time to melt and leak out. Yum!) Press the suprême together on all sides to enclose stuffing completely. Repeat with remaining suprêmes. Chill the stuffed chicken rolls in the fridge for at least 2 hours or up to 1 day. This allows everything to set, which prevents the butter from oozing prior to a good seal being created by the cooking.
- Line up 3 plates: (1) In the first plate, mix flour and salt. (2) In the second plate, mix eggs, water, and oil. (3) In the third plate, place the bread crumbs. Season the chicken rolls lightly with salt and pepper. One by one, dredge the chicken rolls with flour, dusting off any excess flour. Then dip the chicken roll in the egg wash, being sure the egg coats it completely so the crumbs will stick to it. Finally lay the chicken roll in the plate of crumbs, toss crumbs over the top and sides, and pat them firmly all over each suprême, making sure the crumbs cover the entire surface; gently shake off any excess. (For a perfect finish, coat the rolls a second time in the egg wash and bread crumbs.) Place breaded chicken rolls in a single layer on a rack over a tray or cookie sheet, cover lightly with waxed paper, and refrigerate to set the crumbs, about 1 to 2 hours. Or freeze for future use (but thaw overnight in fridge before cooking).
- In a saucepan, heat 3 inches of canola oil to about 350° F. (Anything less will simply boil the chicken in oil, which isn’t just as tasty.) Deep-fry chicken rolls (no more than 4 pieces at a time) for 10 to 15 minutes until browned and firm when pressed with the back of a fork (do not pierce). If you want to cut the fat and calories, you may want to bake these rather than fry them. Before breading the suprêmes, pre-heat oven to 350° F. Put the rolls into a baking dish and bake covered for 45 minutes; then uncover and bake for another 15 minutes. Drain cooked Chicken Kievs on a plate lined with paper towels and serve immediately. Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley.
- Make the sauce: In a small bowl, combine sour cream and chopped parsley; serve on the side of Chicken Kievs.