Kotleti for lunch, kotleti for dinner, kotleti of beef, of pork, of ﬁsh, of chicken—even kotleti of minced carrots or beets. The entire USSR pretty much lived on these cheap, delicious fried patties, and when comrades didn’t make them from scratch, they bought them at stores. Back in Moscow, Mom and I harbored a secret passion for the proletarian, six-kopek variety produced by the meat-processing plant named after Stalin’s food supply commissar, Anastas Mikoyan. Inspired by his 1936 trip to America, Mikoyan wanted to copy Yankee burgers in Russia, but somehow the bun got lost in the shufﬂe and the country got hooked on mass-produced kotleti instead. Deliciously greasy, petite, and with a heavy industrial breading that fried up to a wicked crunch, Mikoyan factory patties could be scarfed down by the dozen. Wild with nostalgia, Mom and I tried a million times to recreate them at home, but no luck: some manufactured treats just can’t be duplicated. So we always reverted back to Mom’s (far more noble) homemade version.
Every ex-Soviet cook has a special trick for making juicy, savory patties. Some add crushed ice, others tuck in pats of butter or mix in a whipped egg white. My mother likes her kotleti Odessa-style (garlicky!), and adds mayo as binding instead of the usual egg, with delightful results. The same formula works with ground turkey or chicken or ﬁsh. Buckwheat kasha makes a nostalgic Russian accompaniment. Ditto thin potato batons slowly pan-fried with onions in lots of butter or oil. I love cold kotleti for lunch the next day, with some dense dark bread, hot mustard, and a good crunchy dill pickle.
1 1/2 pounds freshly ground beef chuck (or a mixture of beef and pork)
2 slices stale white bread, crusts removed, soaked for 5 minutes in water and squeezed
1 small onion, grated
2 medium garlic cloves, crushed in a press
2 tablespoons ﬁnely chopped dill or parsley
2 1/2 tablespoons full-fat mayonnaise
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
2 to 3 cups ﬁne dried bread crumbs for coating
Canola oil and unsalted butter, for frying
1. In a mixing bowl, combine the ﬁrst eight ingredients and blend well into a homogenous mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
2. With wet hands, shape the mixture into oval patties approximately 3½ inches long. Spread bread crumbs on a large plate or a sheet of wax paper. Coat patties in crumbs, ﬂattening them out slightly and pressing down for the crumbs to adhere.
3. In a large skillet heat 2 tablespoons of the oil with a pat of butter until sizzling. Working in batches, fry the kotleti over medium-high heat until golden-brown, about 4 minutes per side. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low, and fry for another 2 to 3 minutes to cook through. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat with the rest of the patties. Serve at once.
Reprinted from the book MASTERING THE ART OF SOVIET COOKING by Anya von Bremzen. Copyright © 2013 by Anya von Bremzen. Published in the United States by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.