Sunday 17 December 2017

10 things you didn't know about the humble chicken Kiev

The chicken Kiev - chicken breast stuffed with an oozing core of garlicky butter - was one of the defining foods of the 1970s
The chicken Kiev - chicken breast stuffed with an oozing core of garlicky butter - was one of the defining foods of the 1970s

Lucy Rahim

With all eyes will be on the Ukranian capital of Kiev this weekend, for the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest, what better way to celebrate than with the city's most iconic dish?

The chicken Kiev - chicken breast stuffed with an oozing core of garlicky butter - was one of the defining foods of the 1970s, a staple on dinner-party menus. Over time, its popularity eroded and it was disregarded as a culinary embarrassment, left to gather dust along with the prawn cocktail and Black Forest gâteau.

The recipe has experienced something of a renaissance in recent years, and has crept timidly back onto restaurant menus, with chefs at Coin Laundry, Straight And Narrow and Parlour all offering a take on the traditional dish.

 

1. No one really knows where it came from

The history of the dish is convoluted and littered with contradicting theories, with its invention attributed to French, Russian and Ukrainian chefs. Some argue that the dish was created in early 19th century Paris, when French cuisine and culture were extremely fashionable in Russia, and Russian chefs were sent there to train.

 

2. No one knows how it got its name, either

The history of the 70s cult dish remains a mystery
The history of the 70s cult dish remains a mystery

Whether the dish was invented by a French or Russian chef remains disputed, but by the early 20th century it seems to have attributed both the name côtelettes de volaille (literally 'poultry cutlets') and poulet à la Maréchale (meaning something wrapped in breadcrumbs and fried). The loss of the French name has been attributed to anti-bourgeousie feeling in the Soviet Union and a need for simpler, proletarian terms. Ukrainian chef Viacheslav Gribov argues that the reason for the name change is because chefs in Kiev changed the recipe, while others insist the name was coined solely as a way of attracting Eastern European immigrants to American restaurants.

 

3. It used to come with a health and safety warning

The dish was so popular in Soviet hotels that visitors were warned of the risks of splattering themselves with hot butter in tourist brochures.

 

4. Everyone makes it differently

Most modern recipes suggest making a pocket in a chicken breast and stuffing it with garlic butter, but a book of Russian cooking suggests it should be made with "boned, flattened chicken breasts with ends neatly tucked in". In Kiev, it is always served on the bone.

 

5. Garlic is not always necessary

The heady hit of garlic associated with chicken Kiev may be a prime reason not to serve it on a first date, but Ukrainian chef Viacheslav Gribov (who has served the dish to Fidel Castro and Bill Clinton) insists that the authentic recipe eschews it altogether. "This began as a dish for dignitaries meeting one another. You would never serve them garlic."

 

6. It made UK food history

It was the first chilled ready meal, sold by Marks and Spencer's in 1979. It was intended as a sophisticated alternative to the TV dinner, the kind of meal that a working middle class woman could serve to friends.

 

7. It was once used to study the economy...

The dish was considered so essential to the UK consumer that it was included Office for National Statistics basket of consumer goods used to measure inflation.

 

8. ...but became very unpopular very quickly

Chicken Kiev was one of the most iconic foods of the 1970s, but fell out of fashion by the late 1980s with the rise of glamorous nouvelle cuisine. 

 

9. It has been the subject of recent political controversy

In February this year, a New York Times reporter noted on Twitter that a dish identical to chicken Kiev was being served  in the canteen of the Russian Foreign Ministry called Chicken Crimea - interpreted by some as a statement of Russia's claim over the Ukrainian peninsula. The Russian Ministry were quick to point out that the dish was different because it was made with chicken thigh, not breast.

 

10. We turn to it when times are tough

Despite its negative association, chicken Kievs have seen asurge in popularity in recent years. In 2011, M&S and Tesco reported increased sales of over 20%, attributing the interest to consumers' desire for the comfort and familiarity of childhood foods during the recession.

Telegraph.co.uk

Promoted Links

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Promoted Links

Editors Choice

Also in Life