Ukraine’s Chicken Kiev Spills Political Drama And French Connections
Image Credit: From Russia to Ukraine and France, the origins of Chicken Kiev still remain blurred.

History is proof of the fact that several dishes that we relish today have a deep historical connection and carry the weight of a legacy from the past. For instance, the tunday kebabs of Lucknow have been credited to a one-armed chef who created these melt-in-your-mouth kebabs. Kulcha, the Indian flatbread is believed to have been associated with the Asaf Jahi dynasty as a symbol for their flag. Not only does food carry a story but also points us to the direction of its origin. The style of cooking, the use of certain ingredients, the flavours etc. reflect the culture of the place of origin, in turn helping us position the dish on the food map. 

Then there are food items with unclear histories, misconstrued connections and complicated associations. In such scenarios, it becomes important to trace the path in the backwards direction and see where it leads us. Such is the case with Chicken Kiev. For those living under a rock, Kiev is the capital of Ukraine and given the popularity of the dish in the country, it is but natural to assume that it originated there. However, you would be surprised to know that once cut open, the chicken kiev oozes out political lineage and diplomatic ties of the past. 

Chicken Kiev Does Not Belong To Ukraine 

Let’s establish this fact first. Although the name is derived from the capital city of Ukraine, the origins of this dish can be traced back to France of 1800s. Historical records suggest that Russian royalty was fascinated by French culture and sent their chefs to Paris for training in the 1700s. A head chef of French origin, Nicolas Francois Appert, has been credited with devising the first dish that was closest to Chicken Kiev. 

Travelling back to Russia, the chefs brought with them what they called Mikhailovska cutlet. From the Parisian to Russian transition, what changed was the essence of the dish as veal was replaced by chicken and stuffed with herbs and coated in bread crumbs for the crispy edge. The Russians liked to call them poultry cutlets and William Vasilyevich Pokhlyobkin, a Russian writer who specialises in food has stated that he has found evidence of the recipe in the 20th century where it was served to the Merchant’s Club. 

What Is In The Name? 

Changes in recipe, style of cooking etc. led to several people claiming the dish as their own, be it the British, the Americans, the French or the Ukrainians. The French can be credited for being the forerunners in this journey of creating this dish however, their name lost significance with the fall of Tzarist era. Claims made by Viacheslav Gribov, a Ukrainian chef suggest that the dish acquired the name Chicken Kiev due to the alterations made in the recipe by the chefs in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital. 

This claim also resonates with the Russian belief that the traditional Chicken Kiev was born in Muscovy and finally given its present shape in the 19th century by Ukraine. The disintegration of Soviet Union in 1990s was a political standpoint in the history of this dish when Mikhail Gorbachev, the then leader made a speech in front of the diplomats after a hearty dinner which consisted of Chicken Kiev as one of the dishes. The dish acted as a catalyst in conveying his ideas of unifying the world and living together in peace, sending out a message of internationalism and consumerism from Russia. This was also a symbol of Russia’s complex relations with Ukraine where the old master does not let go of the strong hold over the newly-independent entity. 

The British and Americans did not give up and continued their efforts to make the authentic Chicken Kiev as their own. The dish that was once served to dignitaries at the Washington embassy and paved the way for several new diplomatic ties is now easily found in European supermarkets for mass consumption. It started being consumed as a ready-to-eat meal, to be simply picked off the shelves and heated. 

The present-day idea of a Chicken Kiev is a far cry from its authentic recipe. The Russians stuffed it with cheese and the Europeans added parsley and garlicky flavours to it but the original recipe could not have garlic as it was to be served to high-end diplomats and butter was used in place of cheese, with a bone sticking out to stop the butter from flowing out completely. 

Striking the right balance between an appropriate melt and a complete crispy exterior was an art that has somewhere got lost with the frozen Chicken Kievs that claim to be authentic.