Russia, as Churchill opined, may be, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”, but if you’ve not had these the only mystery you’ll be left with after tasting kotletki is, “Why haven’t I eaten these before!?!”.
The origins of kotletki are unclear. They are, after all, a version of the minced meat patties that appear in the cuisines of different countries under different names. In Russia they may date back to at least the early nineteenth century and are attested to by none other than the great Alexander Pushkin who wrote to his friend, S. A. Sobolevsky, in 1826, “dine at Pozharsky in Torzhok, try fried cutlets and set out with a light mood”.
It’s also said that kotletki were introduced to Russia by Anastas Mikoyan, Stalin’s food commissar, after he’d enjoyed a hamburger or two during his American visit in 1936. Another theory is that they developed as a way of stretching out scarce and expensive meat to provide a more substantial meal for the family.
Whichever the case may be, kotletki are a Russian family favourite and a delight to eat. As with all home cooked food there’s no single definitive recipe. Each family cook has their own variation on a theme. They can be made with any minced meat, and can include a variety of additional ingredients according to individual preference . Here is my version:
2 slices of stale white bread
1 medium onion, grated finely
12 ounces of minced pork
12 ounces of minced turkey
4 large cloves of finely minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Seasoning mix (I use a teaspoon of Knorr Aromat)
Finely chopped dill
Oil for frying
Blitz the bread in a food processor to make bread crumbs. Place these in a bowl and add enough milk to soak them. You want the breadcrumbs to absorb the milk, rather than leave them swimming in a pool of milk. Set the breadcrumbs aside for a few minutes so they thoroughly soak up the milk.
In a large bowl mix the soaked breadcrumbs, minced meat, onions, garlic, dill and other flavourings together. Get your hands in there and squeeze, as you want to create as smooth and fine a texture as possible. You can put the mixture in the fridge for an hour or so before cooking. I like to do this as I think it helps the flavours to develop before cooking, though I may be wrong about that.
When you’re ready to cook your kotletki, heat the oil in a frying pan. Form the kotletki mixture into small patties and fry in batches for 3-4 minutes per side. You want the kotletki to be nicely browned. Add additional oil as required for successive batches.
Make a couple of extra kotletki than you need, so you can nibble on a couple while cooking the rest.
I’ll typically eat kotletki with a side salad if I want a light meal, or with mashed potatoes and pickles if I want something more substantial. Pretty much any condiment goes with them. Mustard, horseradish, or a sweet sticky chutney are favourites of mine. They’re also delicious cold and make an ideal addition to a packed lunch, a picnic, or a buffet table.
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