Is it worrisome or more comforting to write about food ‘a la Kiev’ today, when the streets of the Ukrainian capital are flooded with events and people seemingly so removed from the joys of a full belly?
Food – and a belly that is not just full but is satisfied with dishes that link us back to our (comforting or less so) past – is never of course far away from the wars of power, from the very real daily ‘happenings’ surrounding us, so easily called ordinary punters.
Chicken a la Kiev is a fitting example of a dish that’s drenched in, uncertain, contradictory, history.
Little chicken breast stuffed with butter, herbs and garlic, then baked or deep fried, is a curious example of a dish that is recognised globally (in fact, still is probably the only thing many in the world can associate with Ukraine). We call the dish kotleta po-Kievski. Cutlet being the generic term for a dish of minced meat – a burger, in other words.
Google the little Kiev and by an large you’ll find a neat story describing either a hazy history of ancient roots or a much more recent, Soviet, ‘invention’ (see renowned Russian food historian Pokhlebkin) – where communist nomenklatura of a Soviet restaurant helped to re-create the dish.
What is definite, as Olga and Pavel Syutkins (the couple behind the most thorough and rich books on the of Russian and Soviet culinary histories) have argued, is that the little ‘cutlet’ could not have been invited until at least 18the century for two simple reasons:
‘Chukhonskoe’ butter, ie quality cow’s butter from recently acquired Baltic regions, wasn’t available
‘Cut up’ or minced (ryublenoe) meat was not part of Slavic culinary repertoire until European gastronomic influences were taking much wider impact
…I will no doubt continue my story into many things a la Kiev, but with weathers wet and windy outside, the appeal of a hot little deep fried kotletka has been overwhelming and so here’s my recent – re-invention, how else – of the famed dish.
Trout bonbons a la Kiev.
(serve little bonbons, the size of a small walnut, as canapes; or larger as a little burger to serve as a starter or main course)
I like to serve the larger kotletki with good quality or home-made mayonnaise to which I’ve added lots of dill and lemon zest and juice.
To serve as a canape, make the smaller version and put onto tooth picks.
You can re-heat the bonbons in the microwave briefly just before serving but they loose a tiny bit of crispness.
What you will need:
- For butter:
- (make larger quantities, use the rest with jacket potatoes, pasta, on toast etcetc)
- Broccoli, cooked till just soft
- 150-250 gr softened butter (decide yourself how broccoli and green you like it)
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- pitch of chilly flakes
- salt if butter is unsalted
- For bonbons:
- Fry white bread - a couple of toasts, just the soft part, soften in just enough milk
- 200 gr trout fillets (or salmon, or tinned in fact)
- 2-3 gherkins (depending on size), finally chopped
- 2 tsp capers (chopped if large)
- 1 egg, lightly whisked
- Chopped dill/parsley - optional
- 5-6 tbs breadcrumbs (Panko work great)
- For frying:
- 300-400 ml of oil
What to do
- To make butter:
- Puree broccoli, add it to softened butter, with garlic, chilli flakes, mix well, wrap in clingfilm and keep in the fridge for at least 20 mins or until firmed up.
- Take out of the fridge, cut out (or just use your fingers to pinch away) pieces which are the sizes of your little fingernail or more like your thumbnail for the larger version. Put back in the fridge till needed.
- To make the bonbons:
- Squeeze most of milk out of your breadcrumbs.
- Mix (blitz several times till more or less pureed but still chunky) salmon, breadcrumbs; add gherkins, capers, egg, pitch of salt and pepper. Mix well again.
- Cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge to firm up a bit (say half hour).
- Take out and shape your croquettes depending on the size you desire.
- Roll in breadcrumbs. Chill in the fridge till you actually start deep frying them.
- Final stage:
- Pour flavourless oil enough to cover your bonbons and heat it till a small piece of bread takes about 20-30 secs to become brown (the oil shouldn't be smoking hot).
- Take both out of the fridge, insert your pieces of butter into each bonbon, making sure the butter is well covered so that not to sip out during frying.
- You'll probably need to re-shape each kotletka and roll in breadcrumbs lightly again.
- Carefully put several bonbons into oil; don't crown the pan too much as it's easier to take them out if they wobble freely.
- Put on kitchen towel to drain.