I love the wheel that slowly rolls its inexorable way through shifting tastes and influences until it is back to where it began – so suddenly women can wear those gorgeously flattering full-skirted tiny-waisted dresses that were around in the fifties (so sympathetic to the female form.) So suddenly here I am noticing in a smart restaurant with a decidedly contemporary menu the fact that Chicken Kiev is on offer. How can I refuse? Memories of plunging a knife into a golden-crumbed breast to release a liquid pool of yolk-yellow, herb- flicked butter zippy with garlic – all that was missing was Blue Nun or Mateus on the wine list. And because my expectations were so quiveringly high, the shock when the dish arrived was all the mightier. A pallid uncrumbed piece of chook on an ill- matched bed of Tunisian couscous yielded, upon incision, no buttery garlicky heart at all – on the contrary, of garlic there was no trace.
Its presence on the menu continues to encourage me, regardless: if one restaurant is serving it up (in all its abomination) then perhaps the wheel has spun its way back, back to not only Kiev but other permutations like Chicken Cordon Bleu. I adored Chicken Cordon Bleu possibly more than I ever did the Kiev, back in The Day when I considered it the very summit of sophistication to order it. I suspect it was the cheese element to the former.
Chicken Kiev: boneless chicken breast pounded out thinly then rolled around a knob of cold garlic butter you have flavoured with chopped herbs, usually parsley, and then floured, egged, crumbed and generally fried – although some recipes say baked. Modern versions suggest using Japanese panko breadcrumbs for their crunchier coarser texture, and in his ‘The Basics: A Really Useful Cookbook’ chef Anthony Telford folds lemon rind into the herbed butter.
Chicken Cordon Bleu, on the other hand, involves the pounded chicken breasts layered with a slice of ham and a slice of cheese then rolled tightly before being submitted to the same flouring, egging, crumbing and (preferably) frying. So what you get when you stab the finished product is the gentle ooze of melted cheese beneath the crunchy crust. Blue ribbon chicken.
But wait, there is more, there is Chicken Schnitzel and its fancier cousin Chicken Parmigiana. These two have never slipped off the wheel of fashion, but remain cemented to it firmly, albeit in establishments not generally considered abreast of the culinary times, like clubs and taverns and pubs. It is unsurprising that variations on crumbed fried chicken have transcended fashion and are found in most countries around the world : apart from vegetarians and people who pretend not to like food, who can claim not to love it? And so, while Chicken Schnitzel is the pounded- out breast merely floured, egged, crumbed and fried, the Parmigiana, or ‘Parmi’ as it is affectionately referred to in pub- and club-land, has the added excitement of a supposedly Italian tomato sauce, occasionally ham, and a swathe of oozey cheese. These generally occupy most of the surface area of a big white plate, allowing room only for the mandatory chips.
At one Sydney deli where I worked, the Chicken Schnitzels out-ran everything else in popularity – Caesar salads, Nicoises, even the fishcakes and the frittatas and the lasagnes. Everyone loved Maria’s schnitzels, and before I left I begged her for the recipe. I am copying it directly out of my home- made recipe book so it comes, gloriously, with Maria’s own spelling as well.
MARIA’S ORIGINAL SCHNITZEL MARINADE
Break six eggs in a med. bowel. Add 2t of salt and pepper. Season schnitzels,which have been sliced into flat sml. to med. pieces. To the egg mixture add: 6t paprika powder, fresh parsley, which has been finely chopped. Beat wet mixture together. Add around 1 cup vinegar/white. Add a touch of oil.
I suspect the vinegar is the secret. I would accompany these with mashed potato and an iceberg lettuce salad – and a glass of Black Tower.