This was an experiment born of necessity: I was intending to make Basil Chicken with some Thai basil a coworker had given me from the garden. I forgot the basil at work, it went bad, and I was left with a pound of ground turkey I needed to do something with. Fortunately, a 19th Century Russian restaurateur had already solved my problem.

In 1827, a man named Pozharski owned an excellently located inn; my sources differ on wether it sat astride the road from Moscow to St. Petersburg, or Moscow to Novgorod, but either way it was in a prime spot to catch nobles and bureaucrats traveling from the Tsar’s court in St. Petersburg to their estates in the country. Pozharski was a dab hand with a chicken and partridge cutlet – the poet Pushkin, a man who wasn’t afraid to
be enthusiastic about food, was one of his biggest fans. By 1861, the Pozharski cutlet was an entrenched feature of Russian cuisine and Russia’s 19th Century Martha Stewart, Elena Molokhovets, included it in her magnum opus, A Gift to Young Housewives:

Turkey Or Chicken Patties:

Cut off the fillets from 1 turkey or two chickens, remove the membranes, and chop the meat fine. Add 1/8 lb butter, less than 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, salt, and 1/2 French roll, soaked with milk and squeezed out.  An egg may be added as well.  Mix everything together and pound in a mortar. Shape into small patties, dip in egg and rusk crumbs, and fry in 2 spoons butter. Arrange the patties on a platter, and pour on the following sauce: Add the juice of 1/4 lemon and 3/4 wineglass of Madeira to the pan in which the patties were fried. Add a few capers, dilute with one glass bouillon,  and bring to a boil.

Or, pour on a sauce made  of field mushrooms or truffles.

Or, arrange the patties around the edge of the platter and fill the center with fresh or dried peas.

…Or serve with mushroom sauce, or with greens or root vegetables, etc.

The advantages of this recipe to an innkeeper, particularly an innkeeper in Tsarist Russia, are obvious. Consider the following scenario:

It’s late evening at your inn, you’re cleaning up, and it’s raining or snowing outside. Suddenly, the door flies open and a noble or high official who could send you and your entire family to Siberia with a single stroke of the pen bursts in and says “Stabling for six horses, and I want dinner NOW!” You run to the kitchen, grind up some leftovers from the roasts, add some spices and enough butter to disguise the age of the meat, shape some cutlets, dip ’em in egg and breadcrumbs, pour over whatever sauce you’ve got on hand, and before you can say “I beg you sir…spare the children…at least spare the children!” you have a hot and tasty meal all ready.

That said, the usefulness for the rest of us who need something quick to eat is also obvious. Lesley Chamberlain’s excellent Food and Cooking of Russia (one of the first cookbooks I ever bought) has a handy modern version, which I have adapted slightly:

Pozharski Cutlets (from The Food and Cooking of Russia)

  • 1 lb ground chicken (or turkey)
  • 1 stick (1/4 lb) butter, softened
  • 2 cups white breadcrumbs
  • milk
  • salt, pepper, and nutmeg, to taste
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • oil/fat for frying (traditionally butter)

Soak 1 cup breadcrumbs with milk and squeeze out. Mix with chicken and butter. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste, and mix thoroughly. Roll in flour and divide into small cutlets. Roll again in flour, dip twice in egg and breadcrumbs, and fry in fat about 3-5 minutes per side.

Chamberlain says the traditional accompaniment for Pozharsky cutlets is mushrooms in sour cream, but the original Molokhovets recipe gives some other good ideas. In particular, I think the Madeira sauce would be a nice touch. Sadly I didn’t have the time or ingredients to try any of them, and had to make do with mushroom wild rice.