Chicken Kyiv and mash. | Andrew Valente

Wild English restaurants in the Sixties and Seventies served two dishes that were considered to be rather posh. And they were popular among the gourmet cognoscenti of the day. They were both chicken dishes and first on the scene was ‘chicken in a basket’ which was followed by ‘chicken Kiev’, a stuffed chicken breast dish that became a worldwide success.

I first came across chicken in a basket in 1960 when I was working as a reporter and jazz columnist on a weekly paper called the Reading Standard. Word got round in the reporters’ room that a country place in Berkshire was doing this fried chicken that was served in a basket. English restaurants in those days didn’t even serve bread in a basket, so getting fried chicken in one sounded more than a little exotic. Several reporters were interested and we tried it one Saturday night. Pieces of chicken on the bone are marinated the day before in a brine flavoured with demerara sugar, black peppercorns, cloves, bay leaf and sprigs of thyme.

The chicken pieces are then taken from the brine, dried, dipped in well beaten egg and then rolled in flour flavoured with herbs and spices of one’s choice. They were shallow or deep fried until the covering was crisp. Some cooks rolled the chicken pieces in breadcrumbs. There was nothing new in this way of doing chicken. It was being done like that since way back in all the southern states of America, especially Louisiana.

And Colonel Harland Sanders (1890-1980) had opened the first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in Salt Lake City (Utah) in 1952. The first British KFC didn’t arrive until 1965. His speciality, made with a flour paste that contain 11 spices and herbs, was simply his way of doing southern fried chicken. I adore chicken done this way and frequently do it at home because it makes a quick lunch or dinner dish. I first did it with breadcrumbs but in later years I used the Japanese panko crumbs and I also with crushed corn flakes to get en especially rough outer covering.

A Chinese couple who had a small restaurant in Avda Joan Miró just before you get to Plaza Gomila, were enamoured of KFC and would eat there every time they had to go to the centre of Palma. I knew the husband as Señor Velano, because that was what Yeung of the nearby Mandarin restaurant called him. His name in Chinese meant ‘Summer’ so when speaking Spanish, Yeung called him Señor Velano. Yeung, like most Chinese people, had difficulty pronouncing the ‘r’ sound and it came out as an ‘l’. Señor Velano, on the other hand, spoke excellent Spanish and every day read El Pais newspaper, a kind of mixture of The Guardian and the Times. He and his wife, who had a beautiful classic Chinese face, could have eaten traditional southern fried chicken every day at their restaurant (and it would have been marvellous) but they preferred going to KFC.

Although I also adore southern fried chicken I have never had a KFC dish, either as a takeaway or a sit-in meal. I used to pass a KFC place in Plaza España two or three times a week, but I never got round to giving it try. I really must go KFC one of these days.

KFC in Plaza España.

When chicken Kiev came to Palma I quickly discovered it and it became one of my most cherished dishes. In those days we wrote ‘Kiev’, the Russian way of pronouncing the capital of Ukraine.
But when Putin invaded Ukraine most people in the West went over to writing Kyiv, which is the way the Ukrainians pronounce it. In Kiev, the accent is on the ‘ev’ ending but the Ukrainians accent the start of the word ‘Kyiv’. So the Ukrainian way of saying it is ‘KEE-ev’. The Russians say ‘Kee-EV’. That’s the one you want to avoid and you should always pronounce it ‘KEE-ev’.

I was fortunate in that the first chicken Kyiv I had was at the old Gina’s restaurant in front of La Lonja, which was part of small hotel called Pensión Gina’s. Gina’s was an old-fashioned place which was still quite common in the Sixties but which have now almost completely disappeared. The one common denominator was that you ate extremely well as these places and the prices were always most reasonable.

Another feature of these old world eating places was that although the table had a linen cloth, it was always covered with a transparent oilskin. That meant that any splashes of sauce or dribbles of wine were easily wiped off the oilskin covering. That saved money on laundry bills and kept the prices down. At Gina’s you were always sure of eating a fine paella, gazpacho, grilled gilt-bream or sea bass, frito mallorquín and sopes mallorquines…and the best chicken Kyiv I have ever had.

Chicken breast is a notoriously difficult meat to cook because it has so little natural fat. If is even slightly overcooked its natural juiciness soon disappears and it becomes dry and tasteless. We don’t know the name of the Ukrainian cook who first made a chicken Kyiv, but his main idea was to counteract the basic lack of fat by stuffing the breast with a well flavoured butter. A slit was made in the thick part of the breast and a generous sized piece of butter flavoured with garlic and parsley was inserted. The breast was then dipped in flour, beaten egg, breadcrumbs and deep-fried. The cooking time was relatively short, but it was at a high temperature and this left the chicken breast nice and juicy with extra succulence coming from the butter stuffing. The cook at Gina’s really understood this recipe and the dish was always superb. You had to be careful when cutting into it because a sudden puncture with a fork could send the melted hot butter spurting out and over blouses or shirt fronts.

Last week I had the largest chicken Kyiv I have ever seen. It was made by Rhona, the wife of my nephew Richard, and each breast must have come from huge chickens. As you can see in the pictures they were so gigantic Rhona decided so fry them to get the breadcrumb costing crisp and then she finished them off in the oven. A little problem here was the chance of overcooking the extra thick breast meat — and that would ruin the chicken Kyiv even with its generous flavoured butter stuffing.
But Rhona timed it beautifully, finishing off the dish in the oven at 170C for 20 minutes, and the meat was totally succulent, a huge success.

Chicken Kyiv has gone out of fashion and I can’t remember the last time I saw it on a restaurant menu, but we can do it easily at home. You should buy the biggest breasts you can find, make a deep slit and press the stuffing right to he back. It helps if you make the breadcrumb coating on the thick side as this will protect the stuffing from oozing out. You can serve it with chips or mashed potatoes and your favourite vegetables. Rhona used mash and buttery French beans that were nicely al dente and that was a good choice.