We’ve probably all had a Chicken Kiev at some point, and it was probably disappointing. Dry mealy chicken with a soggy crust and no discernible garlic or butter flavour but a thin layer of unidentifiable green in the middle. But done properly, Chicken Kiev can be gloriously delicious, oozing with herby garlic butter and with a moistness that beggars belief. Whipped up in under half an hour with largely pantry staples it’s a common weeknight treat in our household. G is no big chicken lover but I swear by pollo diablo (bonus points to anyone who gets the reference without clicking the link) that Chicken Kiev hits the spot every time. You can even do all the prep work in advance before people come round or whilst kids are at school. However, to make a good Chicken Kiev we must have three things – a crackingly crunchy exterior, deliciously moist chicken and a flavourful butter filling which is in every bite (not just hidden in the middle).
The first problem to solve is how to get a flavourful, crunchy exterior which protects the chicken. Whereas regular store bought dried breadcrumbs often have a slightly strange texture, fresh breadcrumbs just don’t work for this purpose. The time (or heat) required to dry out the breadcrumbs and make them crispy means the chicken will be overcooked and dry. However, we also want to avoid the unusual, sort of cardboard like texture that loads of store bought dried breadcrumbs provide. The answer is Japanese Panko breadcrumbs. They’re available in almost all supermarkets now but you can also make them super easily at home. Essentially panko breadcrumbs are larger flakes of white bread which are then dried. They absorb less oil, go crispier and are all round awesome. To make at home, just cut the crusts off a nice white loaf, process in a food processor until you get medium sized flaky crumbs and cook in a low heat over (150 degrees celsius) until dried but not browned – that’s really all they are! What they provide though, is a crunchy coating that protects your Chicken Kiev from ever drying out, just make sure to season them well before you coat the chicken.
So, now we come to the cooking of the chicken itself. Most recipes I’ve come across tell you to throw the Chicken Kiev into a hot (180-200 degrees celsius) oven, some say fry over a high heat first and others just straight into the oven. But they all seem to agree that you want high heat and you want an oven. Now, I’m not saying they’re wrong, you can get a good result that way. However, I always find that it tends to lead to a drier chicken breast. In fact, when I started to think about it, it didn’t really make sense. You see, high heat is normally used to promote browning quickly on the surface. Take the example of a steak, we want the outside to reach temperatures above 140 celsius so maillard reactions happen and it browns, but we want the inside to be around 55 degrees celsius for medium rare. Therefore we need a large temperature gradient from outside to centre so high heat makes sense. At first thought, the same is true for Chicken Kiev – we want the crunchy coating to brown, but the chicken itself to be between 60-70 degrees celsius so it stays moist. However, there are a few big differences – the first is that we want the inside of a Chicken Kiev to be hotter than a steak because no-one likes rare chicken. The second difference, is the breadcrumb coating provides quite effective insulation to the heat of the pan leading to slower temperature exchange. The third, is that panko breadcrumbs are already quite dry so there is significantly less surface moisture to expel and therefore browning happens faster. All this together means that not using an oven at all and cooking gently over a low-medium heat entirely in a frying pan works wonders. This can be a little difficult if you’re cooking more than about four (two pans is my limit) so I’ll include an oven method below as well but I do recommend giving the pan a go!
Finally, you’ve got to get the butter filling just right. I like a mixture of parsley, tarragon and garlic with a little kick from cayenne. Just make sure to fill the Chicken Kiev all the way. The best way to do this is to use a sharp knife that is a little less wide than the chicken breast. Insert it into the middle of the fat end of the chicken breast making a deep hole running all the way through the middle lengthwise. Stuff as much butter as you can into the gap, pushing it right down into the back without stuffing it so full that it bursts. That way your Chicken Kiev will have a little bit of filling in every bite. I find it’s best to leave just a little gap near the hole so the butter doesn’t leak out and to give that side a double coating of crispy panko crumbs. I hope you guys like this recipe as much as I do – if I may paraphrase a quote from one of the great food writers – Kenji Lopez-Alt at seriouseats.com. Cooking a classic dish well is like waking up next to your wife every morning – familiar, comforting and exciting all at once.
Chicken Kiev: (serves four)
- Four boneless, skinless chicken breasts, fillets removed
- 200g panko breadcrumbs
- 200g butter
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- large bunch of parsley, finely chopped
- small bunch of tarragon leaves, finely chopped
- 5 large garlic cloves, crushed (I do this with the flat of a knife by preference)
- Salt and pepper
- 4 eggs, lightly beaten
- 100g plain flour
- First make the butter filling. Cut the butter into cubes and place in a food processor. Add the garlic, parsley, tarragon, garlic cloves, a good pinch of salt and a few turns of black pepper and process on high speed for around 30 seconds to a minute until fully mixed together. Place in the fridge to cool and firm.
- As described above in the post, cut a deep hole into the chicken breast running lengthwise starting from the thick end. Make sure not to break the skin. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel. Season with salt and pepper and stuff the hole with as much butter as you can without it bursting. You want to leave a small gap near the opening so it doesn’t leak too much and it closes.
- Prepare three large bowls or trays. Place the flour, eggs and breadcrumbs in separate bowls. Season the flour and the breadcrumbs with a little salt and pepper. It’s really important to seaosn the breadcrumbs or the outside tastes strangely bland.
- Working with a dry hand and a wet hand place the chicken first into the flour, then eggs and then breadcrumbs. Ensure that the flour gets a light even coating of flour and dust off the excess. Similarly drain off the excess egg but ensure every bit was covered. I quite often double coat the side with the hole to give it a better coverage. To do this, after covering with breadcrumbs, dip that side of the Chicken Kiev into the egg and then back into the breadcrumbs. Place in the fridge until ready to cook.
- Place a frying pan over gentle to medium heat and add a good layer of oil – I like to use canola/vegetable oil but olive oil works well too. Add the chicken with the side with the hole in facing down for around 30 seconds to a minute to crisp up that side and create a kind of barrier to the filling leaking out. Then lay flat and cook, turning every few minutes until cooked through. It will take around 15-20 minutes depending on the heat of the pan and thickness of the Chicken Kiev. If a little filling leaks out don’t worry. You should hear a sizzle but it shouldn’t be aggressive or overly loud, nice gentle heat making sure the outside is nice and crispy and golden and the chicken is cooked all the way through.
- (Optional oven method). If you are cooking more Chicken Kiev than comfortably fits in your pan or you just want a slightly more relaxed option then cook for a few minutes on each side over a slightly higher heat in the pan until golden. Then transfer to a 180-200 degree celsius oven for 20 minutes until cooked through fully.
TimedEating tips and tricks for cooking Chicken Kiev in advance:
- The butter can be made a week in advance and is really great for lots of other dishes. It’s a great finish to risottos or mashed potatoes and makes great agrlic bread or mushrooms.
- The Chicken Kievs can be kept in the fridge for a few days before cooking with no ill effects.
- They can be frozen. However, find that the thawing process softens the panko breadcrumbs which means they don’t go quite as crispy and delicious. Therefore, I don’t freeze them.
- They’re actually surprisingly delicious as leftovers. Although they never are quite as good as fresh out of the oven after a quick reheat in the oven they’re not bad at all!