There are basically two New Year modes.
The first we'll call the Times Square Mentality. People who like to watch balls fall and corks fly and bubbly foam into a glass. They make endless resolutions and laugh hysterically after each one. These are the party goers and party throwers and they initiate the first verse of "Auld Lang Syne" and could probably be persuaded into "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow," in honor of the host. They made their party plans six weeks ago.
Then there's the recluse routine. These people think of New Year's as an adequate excuse for a day off; they never confirmed any commitments for the previous evening. They feel they ought to celebrate but really prefer to recover from the preceding holidays. Their idea of a great time is to hole up in a warm house with a leftover turkey sandwich, good company and an old movie.
For the former, happiness correlates directly with time spent partying. For the latter, there are some sociable options that support seclusive inclinations.
Chicken kiev provides a spectacular but simple dinner for a few friends. It's the perfect dish for a semi-intimate meal because it takes a little effort (so your guests know you've fussed), is most appropriate for small dinners (because it should be served quickly) and is pretty without being gaudy. There are a few tricks to chicken kiev, but it is easy to pull off the first time -- just think of yourself as a Russian Colonel Sanders.
Keep several factors in mind when making the chicken:
* The chicken breast must be large enough to cover the butter completely. The first bone of the wing is usually left attached to the breast in this dish.
* The butter should be shaped into "fingers" and chilled until very firm.
* The frying oil should be 3 to 4 inches deep and 360 degrees. If you don't have a fat thermometer, test by dropping a 1-inch cube of bread into the oil. It should turn golden in a little less than a minute.
* The dish should be assembled before your guests arrive and allowed time for the bread crumbs to set. If you have time, stuff the chicken breasts the day before the dinner, cover them tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
The typical Russian accompaniment to chicken kiev is kasha -- a starch dish composed of toasted buckwheat groats cooked with water or, if you've boned the chicken yourself, chicken broth, and embellished with saute'ed mushrooms or onions. If your supermarket doesn't carry kasha, substitute bulgur wheat, following package directions for cooking, adding saute'ed mushrooms and onions. Peas are also traditional.
All the meal lacks are dessert and champagne, both of which eager friends may be more than willing to bring. Capitalize on their generosity, and you can make this meal with one trip through the express lane of the supermarket, provided you have flour, sugar, salt, pepper and both butter and vegetable oil on the kitchen shelf. A helpful butcher will expedite the process.
EXPRESS LANE LIST: chicken breasts, eggs, bread (for crumbs), tarragon, kasha (buckwheat groats) or bulgur, mushrooms, onions, peas. CHICKEN KIEV (4 servings) 6 tablespoons butter 1/2 teaspoon tarragon 2 large chicken breasts (at least 1/2 pound each without the ribs), with first wing bone attached if desired Salt and pepper to taste 1 egg Flour 1 cup fine, dry bread crumbs Oil for frying Cream butter and tarragon together. Form into a square, cover and chill until very firm. Bone, skin and halve the chicken breasts (or ask your butcher to do it), leaving the first bone of the wing attached if desired. Remove skin from wing bone and scrape the flesh down the bone toward the breast. Gently slice the fillet -- a small, elongated knob of flesh attached to each half -- and fold open to the side of the remaining breast.
The smooth side of the meat should now be lying on a piece of waxed paper. Cover the breast with another sheet of paper and, with the flat side of a cleaver, a rolling pin or a meat mallet, pound the meat to about 1/8- to 1/4-inch thickness. If tears appear, patch with small pieces of breast meat and pound together gently with mallet until the two pieces adhere (this happens fairly easily, so don't despair).
Sprinkle each cutlet with a little salt and pepper. Cut the chilled butter into 4 long, thin fingers. Wrap the chicken meat around the butter, envelope fashion, to enclose the butter entirely. (If you're insecure, you can seal the meat with a toothpick at this point, but that should be unnecessary.)
Assemble the flour, beaten egg and bread crumbs in broad, flat dishes. Coat the chicken breast with each, dipping it first in flour, then in egg and then in bread crumbs. Make sure the meat is completely coated at each dipping and gently shake off any excess. Chill the chicken for 1 to 2 hours, if possible (or overnight).
Heat 3 to 4 inches of oil in a fairly deep, wide saucepan. When the fat reaches 360 degrees, fry the chicken until golden -- about 5 minutes. The chicken should not be crowded while frying. If necessary, fry it in batches. Chicken breasts hold well in a 200-degree oven while you repeat with subsequent batches.
The fun of chicken kiev is having the butter spurt out when you poke your knife and fork into the meat. You might want to tuck your napkin in your collar for the initial bite.
Serve chicken kiev with peas, kasha (recipe follows) or bulgur (cracked wheat) cooked according to package directions with added saute'ed mushrooms and onions. KASHA (4 servings) 1 cup buckwheat groats 2 cups chicken broth or water Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 1 cup finely chopped onions 6 tablespoons butter 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
In a large, dry skillet, stir the groats over medium heat until they are lightly toasted. Place in a saucepan with broth or water, salt and pepper (if using commercially prepared chicken broth, be careful when adding extra salt). Cover the saucepan and simmer the mixture over low heat for about 20 minutes. The kasha should be tender and dry, much as rice would be at the end of cooking. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in original skillet and saute' onions until transparent. Add to cooked kasha. Melt remaining butter in same skillet and saute' mushrooms over high heat, stirring constantly, until they give up all their liquid, have shrunk and are quite dark. Stir these into the kasha and serve.