To Russia, with touch of garlic charm

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 March, 2012, 12:00am


Chicken Kiev may have gone from chic to kitsch, but with its golden breadcrumb crust and liquid garlic butter centre, the dish has spread far beyond its eponymous city. That is, if it did originate in Kiev at all.

Many attribute the invention of the dish to a French chef named Nicolas Appert, who is also known for the creation of airtight canning technology. It is said that he simply named the dish c?telettes de volaille (chicken cutlets).

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Russia often looked to France for things cultural and related to the finer things in life. Empress Elizaveta Petrovna, ruler of Russia from 1741 to 1762, is said to have enjoyed Appert's chicken while in France, and asked the cooks in her courts to reproduce it. Others also say that she employed Appert, or at least a French chef, and it was he who brought this dish to Russia and served it to the empress.

From there, it became a fashionable dish among the nobility, and eventually restaurants all around Russia were serving it. At this stage, it was still referred to by its French name.

Some add that the French version was simply a flattened chicken breast rolled around a cube of butter and pan-fried, and that it was the Russians who added the final flourish - the breadcrumb coating, thus making the dish their own.

In the early 1900s, America saw an influx of Russian immigrants. In order to gain their business, it became popular for American restaurants to offer this dish, and to make it clear that it was from Russia (as it was known then, which included present-day Ukraine), they called it chicken Kiev, and the name made its way back to Ukraine, where it is now known by its translated name, kotlety po-Kievsky, cutlet in Kiev style.

Of course, Moscow also lays a couple of claims to its invention. There are legends of it having been created in the 1800s by a chef from Kiev working in the Russian capital, as well as it having been invented in the early 20th century by the Moscow Merchant's Club.