The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!!

…to dinner, that is.

You have to be careful when cooking an ethnic dinner for ethnic friends. You don’t want to appear cliché or offend anyone. Will your Mexican friends really appreciate it, for example, when they come for dinner and you announce, “Hey, I’m making burritos! Muy bueno!!“?? (Imagine your own horror should you be invited to a dinner party in Paris or Tokyo, anticipating delicious local cuisine, only to have your hosts serve you meatloaf and mac n’ cheese.)

But our Ukrainian friends, The Fedorowyczs, are first-generation American kids of immigrant parents. They grew up in Michigan. So eating Ukrainian food is fun and exciting for them, a way to connect with their heritage. I think.

Ukrainians are not, technically, Russians. (And damn proud of the fact.) But for cold war kids like me, when the USSR spread across all of Asia, anyone who ate borscht and painted eggs was Russian. Much of what the Ukrainians consume is the same as what the Russians do (i.e. borscht, piroshkis, vodka). But one dish that is at least Ukrainian in name is chicken Kiev (its origins are a little hazy, it may have originated at a supper club in Moscow). My mom used to make it when I was a kid, likely from the same recipe in the Time/Life “Foods of the World” Russian cookbook that I adapted my recipe from. And it’s one of my favorites — chicken breast filled with butter, breaded and fried, what’s not to like??

Now that I’ve scared off all the yoga students, I will add that the butter used is a relatively small amount, which serves largely to keep the chicken moist and form a sauce when you cut into the breast and it spills out across the plate. And the chicken is pan fried, not deep fried. So all in all, it’s a reasonably healthy dish, especially if served with sauteed greens as below.

Tonight I will serve chicken Kiev to the Fedorowyczs, and hope to see delight on their faces. Or at least polite smiles. Here’s the recipe, in case you’ve got Ukrainians coming to dinner soon.

*   *   *

Chicken Kiev with rice pilaf and sauteed beet greens
serves 4

2 large chicken breasts
1 stick butter
2 eggs
1 cup Japanese panko bread crumbs
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
olive oil
1/4 lemon
flaky sea salt & freshly ground pepper

Cut each chicken breast into two even halves. Place each half between two sheets of plastic wrap, place on a cutting board and lightly pound with a wooden mallet or meat tenderizer until you’ve got a large, flat disk approximately 1/4 inch thick.

Cut the stick of butter into quarter batons lengthwise, then cut in half into eighths. Place two half batons of butter slightly off center of each chicken cutlet, on the side closer to you, and sprinkle with a little thyme. Roll chicken away from you, tucking in the corners, as if you were rolling up a burrito. Butter should be entirely wrapped by chicken. Set aside. Proceed with each half breast until all four have been prepared.

Cover a dinner plate in flour for dredging, beat eggs in a bowl, and place bread crumbs on another plate. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Working quickly, dredge each chicken breast in flour, dip in egg, then roll in bread crumbs to cover. Place chicken in pan and cook over medium heat, turning breasts 1/4 turn every couple minutes as the bread crumbs brown. Total cooking time should be about 8-10 minutes. Some of the butter will escape, which is okay. When breasts are done, remove each to a plate with some pilaf and greens. Drizzle escaped butter over the chicken, squeeze a little lemon over top and season to taste with salt and pepper.

*   *   *

Rice Pilaf

1/2 cup long grain white rice
1/2 white onion, chopped
1 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
flaky sea salt & freshly ground pepper

Melt 1 tbsp. butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Add onions and cook, stirring, until golden. Add rice, stir for 1 minute. Add olive oil and toss to combine. Add chicken broth, bring to a simmer, cover and lower heat to low. Cook for 15 minutes, and turn heat off. Let sit for 10 minutes. Toss in butter and parsley, salt and pepper to taste.

*   *   *

Sauteed beet greens
*Beet greens are, in my humble opinion, the very best greens. Go to your local farmer’s market and watch in horror as most people ask for the greens cut off. Their loss is your gain, as the farmer will likely give you the greens if you ask politely.

Leaves from one bunch of beets
olive oil
dash of rice wine vinegar
flaky sea salt & freshly ground pepper

Wash the beet leaves thoroughly. If they are large, chop roughly. (Small leaves may be left whole.) Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add beet leaves and cook, tossing, until wilted. add a dash of rice wine vinegar, toss again, and remove from heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kathryn Coulibaly
    Mar 18, 2011 @ 01:38:21

    Very funny and a delicious recipe, too. When I lived in West Africa, people thought I would only eat pasta for some reason so it just goes to show that we all have our weird assumptions about other people’s cultures and food. I hope your Ukrainian-American guests enjoyed the meal!



    • scolgin
      Mar 18, 2011 @ 02:41:14

      Must’ve been your Italian last name, Kathryn. ; ) The Ukes were pleased (don’t tell them I called them that), it was a good evening. Thanks!


  2. Andrea Thompson
    Mar 18, 2011 @ 05:08:37

    I can’t wait to make this. It sounds incredible. Dude, you gave me this recipe a long time ago and I’ve never made it; probably because of the yoga/thin neurosis. But now that I’ve lost 20, I don’t worry about that anymore…..butter doesn’t make me fat! TOO MUCH butter makes me fat. At little butter now and then not only doesn’t make you fat, it satisfies you so you don’t over eat at other times! OMG, I’m not kidding….I lost 20 pounds in 5 months and have kept it off for over a year. So MAKE Kiev, everyone. Just don’t eat too much. Hee hee.


  3. Leslie
    Mar 18, 2011 @ 16:55:02

    This might just be my favorite post. I’m gonna have to watch that whenever I need a “pick me up”.


  4. The Kat and The Falling Leaves
    Nov 15, 2012 @ 20:39:37

    Love, love, love this post!!!
    Chicken Kiev is something that everybody loves, even skinny yoga girls (I allow myself 3 bites :P)
    Not sure about using Japanese panko crumbs and thyme in this Russian (or Ukrainian) recipe; but that the Ukrainian in me going “….hmmmm”


  5. The Kat and The Falling Leaves
    Nov 15, 2012 @ 20:50:15



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