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06/27/2016

~State of the Union: Famous US Senate Bean Soup~

IMG_8591Bean soup has always been a part of my life.  While you may think of it as snowstorm fare, I associate it with all sorts of outdoor fun-in-the-sun activities.  When I was growing up, bean soup was served all Summer wherever people gravitated to eat, drink and be merry:  church- and hose-company fund-raising street festivals in ours and neighboring towns, both-of-my-parents and half-of-my-friends-parents annual corporate clambakes, and, when it came to planning the Summer family reunion, the biggest question was "Who's making the bean soup this year?"

IMG_8596When I was twelve, I even ate bean soup in the United States Senate dining room.

Dirksen-senate-diningBean soup is on the menu in all of the Senate's restaurant dining rooms every day and has been for over a hundred years, possibly longer -- it's an official mandate.  It a good thing I like bean soup, because, one Summer, while on a family vacation with my Uncle's family to Washington D.C., Uncle Al mandated that me and my three cousins each have a bowl of their famous bean soup for lunch --  it was very good, and, we each got to keep a copy of that days menu which included a little writeup about the soup's history.  

(^^^ Photo of Dirkson Senate Dining Room courtesy of tripadvisor.)  For the record, you can't just walk into the Senate or their dining room "off the street".  You are required to make advance arrangements, via a letter to your own State's Senator requesting passes.  The fun part:  The passes we received included tunnel access from the Senate thru to the Senate Dining Room, which gave us a chance to see various Senate offices and committee rooms en route.

IMG_8585US Senate Bean Soup, Famous Senate Bean Soup, or simply, Senate Bean Soup, is always made with navy beans, ham hocks or ham shanks and onion.  A second version includes celery, garlic, parsley and mashed potatoes (which came as a surprise to me).  Those versions are on their website, but they admit there were others because like all things, times change and so does personnel.  There was a time period when the soup was made with dehydrated mashed potato flakes, and, another in which soup base was substituted for the actual ham hocks.

4b806496a5892aa656416e64dc9ab5a2As the story goes, bean soup was a favorite of Speaker of the House, Joseph G. Cannon (1836-1926) of Illinois.  One hot, humid day in 1904, when speaker Cannon arrived for lunch and found out he couldn't order it because it had been taken off the menu for the Summer, he was outraged. "Thunderation", he roared.  "I had my mind set for bean soup.  From now on, hot or cold, rain or shine, I want it on the menu every day."  A resolution was introduced in 1907 by Senator Knute Nellson of Minnesota, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, that decreed that while the Senate is in session, "no day shall pass without Senate Bean Soup".  From that day forward, Senate Bean Soup has appeared on the menu in all eleven Congressional dining rooms every day -- regardless of the weather.

March 3, 1923: GOP Speaker J. G. Cannon is the 1st person to appear on the 1st issue of Time.

Time out to define and discuss ham shanks & ham hocks.

6a00e54ef13a4f8834015393684e10970b-400wiA bit about ham shanks and ham hocks:  Bony cuts of fatty meat taken from the legs and near the feet of the pig, with the shanks being the meatier of the two.

Ham Shank

Ham Hock

Culinarily, the ham shank and the ham hock can be used interchangeably.

IMG_6020The shank refers to a fairly meaty part just below the pork shoulder (if it is the front of the hog) or the hip (if it's from the back of the hog).  The hock refers to a much bonier cut taken from just above the feet.  Both have a thick, tough skin (which is left on) and contain a lot of tendons, ligaments and fat.  They contain a lot of collagen too, which adds silkiness to whatever they are cooked in.  All of this means they require a long, slow, moist-heat IMG_6275method of cooking, like stewing or braising, to make them edible. They are primarily added to dishes to impart smoky flavor, not substance.

Unlike ham, neither contain enough meat to be the focal point of dinner. Instead, after cooking, the skin is discarded, the meat is removed from the bone and is added to hearty dishes like soups and IMG_6015stews containing beans or peas, greens, and/or potatoes or rice.  

Hocks and shanks sold in American markets are all cured and smoked in the same manner as ham, but, the degree to which they are smoked does vary.  I've never encountered any that have been over-smoked, but, if you do, simply soak them in cold water for an hour or two to leach out some of the overly-smokey intensity.

They're both relatively cheap, but, I prefer the slightly more expensive, meatier ham shank to the bonier ham hock.  When I find them on sale, I always buy several because:  they freeze great.

Screen shot 2016-06-26 at 2.18.15 PM< Here is a screen shot of the two official recipes for Senate Bean Soup, as per wikipedia, posted by the Senate.  As you can see, one is very paired down, and, the second, the one with the more flavorful ingredients, yields 5 gallons.

Having made them both, the first was indeed a bit lack-luster for me. The second was quite good, and, I encourage you to make one or both before tweeking either recipe to come up with your own version (which I did and am sharing below). Mine, with a bit more flavor, and a few carrots too, is sure to please!

Time out to discuss soaking dried bean beans vs. canned beans.

IMG_8559I won't lie, I'm not a snob when it comes to canned beans.  They're a time-saving convenience.  My pantry contains a nice variety of beans, both dried and canned.  Like all conveniences, pound for pound, canned beans are more expensive than dried ones, but they hardly fall into the category of "pricey". There's more:  Both canned and dried are healthy. There is little nutritional difference between canned and dried beans either, except for sodium content: canned 450 mg./dried 0 mg.  They both contain just about the same amount of fiber, protein and calories too.

Note:  1 pound of dried beans (depending upon type and size), yields approximately 2 1/3-2 1/2 cups dried beans.  1  pound of dried beans after soaking overnight (depending upon type and size), yields approximately 5-5 1/2 cups of soaked beans  -- when soaked, beans double in size. For detailed "how to" instructions about soaking beans, along with all of my step-by-step photos, click into Category 15 and read ~ Quick-Soaking Dried Beans vs. Overnight Soaking ~.

IMG_8568^^^Everybody into the pot:  US Senate Bean Soup a la Mel:

IMG_8573As you will see by my ingredients list, I strayed very little from the "5-gallon version" the Senate posted.  While I did add a few bay leaves for flavor and carrots for sweetness and color too (I couldn't resist, I adore carrots in any bean soup recipe), I resisted the urge to substitute chicken or vegetable stock for water.  I made certain to small-dice all of the veggies too, because: the Senate bean soup that I ate in the Senate dining room contained no large pieces of anything.

IMG_85612  quarts cold water

1  pound dried navy beans, soaked over night, about 5 1/2 cups soaked beans, or, 56 ounces canned great northern beans, well-drained (Note:  cannellini beans are of similar-size and texture and may be substituted if that's what you keep on-hand in your pantry.)

1  smoked ham shank (about 1-1 1/4 pounds)

1  tablespoon minced garlic (3-4 cloves)

5  ounces peeled and small-diced carrots (about 1 1/2 cups)

5  ounces small-diced celery (about 1 1/2 cups)

5  ounces small-diced onion (about 1 1/2 cups)

10  ounces peeled and small-diced gold potatos (about 3 cups)

1/2  cup, minced, fresh parsley (about 1/2 ounce)

3  whole bay leaves

2  teaspoons sea salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground or cracked black pepper

crusty bread, buttermilk biscuits or cornbread, for accompaniment

IMG_8566~ Step 1.  Place 2 quarts of water in a 6-quart stockpot.  Add the beans and ham hock.  Prep and add the minced garlic, small-diced carrots, celery, onions, potatoes and parsley to the pot as you work.  Add the bay leaves, black pepper and sea salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, cover the pot and continue to cook for 2 1/2 hours, stopping to give it a stir about every 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to steep for 2 1/2 hours.

IMG_8578 IMG_8569~ Step 2. Remove the shank from the pot. Remove and discard the skin from it, then, remove meat from the bone.  Using a fork, shred it into the smallest pieces you can and return the meat to the pot.  Over medium heat, return the bean soup to a simmer and reheat, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and serve immediately, or:

Tip from Mel:  If you have the time refrigerate the Senate bean soup, in the stockpot, overnight, and, then reheat it gently.  As with many things, this soups tastes better the second day, and, because the beans continue to absorb moisture, it thickens up nicely.  PS:  It freezes great too!

Simple, Straightforward and Scrumptious:  Senate Bean Soup! 

IMG_8598State of the Union:  Famous US Senate Bean Soup:  Recipe yields 3 1/2 quarts (14 cups).

Special Equipment List:  6 quart stockpot or Dutch oven w/lid; cutting board; chef's knife

IMG_6568Cook's Note:  Another one of my favorite, ham shank recipes is my easy-to-make ~ Thick & Creamy Crockpot Split Pea & Ham Soup ~. You can find the recipe by clicking into Categories 2, 19, 20 or 22.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

06/25/2016

~ Mel's Caramelized Onion & Gruyere Cheese Pizza~

IMG_8520Pizza -- the pie that won the West.  Pizza has been in America since the first Italian immigrants arrived on our shores in the early 1900's, but, we have the GI's returning home to the States from Italy during and after World War II for pizza's induction into the American mainstream. Because they had a hankering for the pizza they had eaten while stationed overseas, its popularity soared.  We adopted it, glorified it, gave it a place of honor, and, made it our own.

Few foods are more comforting than a "za" or a "slice", and, we Americans buy over three billion pizzas a year -- salty, savory, toppings piled high onto crusty, chewy bread -- it's portable perfection.  Take your pick:  California-, Detroit-, Greek-, Hawaiian-, New Haven-, New York-, Sicilian- or St. Louis-style.  There are bar pies, grandma pies and tomato pies too.  There are thick crusts, thin crusts, cracker crusts, and, their shape can be round, rectangular or freeform.

The original pizzas of Ancient Greece in Rome were flatbreads topped with oil and herbs.  Pizza as we know it today, in its stereotyped form, the ones made with cheese, tomatoes and crust, made their debut in America's first pizzaria, Lombardi's, in NYC, in 1905.  We've come a long way baby, and nowadays, pizza-lovers like myself are emboldened enough to put whatever we want on our pizza without risk of criticism.  Enter:  caramelized onions and gruyère cheese.

IMG_8545Homemade pizza customized to suit oneself is a thing of beauty:

My favorite pizza is a classic Margarita in all its splendor -- a chunky San Marzano tomato sauce (with bits of garlic), buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil and a drizzle of EVOO on a thinnish, crispy, air-hole-blistered crust.  That said, I like pizzas without red sauce (or any sauce) a lot -- I find substitutions like homemade pesto refreshing and "bianca sauces" ("white sauces") like Alfredo or garlic-white sauce a pleasant change-of-pace.  I don't like pizzas with forms of bacon or ham, salami or pepperoni on them -- high-quality sausage is AOK.  I love pizzas piled with fresh, sautéed or blanched veggies -- broccoli, mushrooms, tomatoes and onions are my favorites.  A homemade pizza, customized to suit oneself is a thing of beauty.  Behold, my beautiful recipe:

IMG_8447Part One:  Making my "Herbes de Provence Pizza Dough" 

Pizza-with-a-French-twist deserves the proper herbes, and, my choice is herbes de Provence:  a mixture of dried herbs typical of the Provence region of southeast France.  It's easy to make your own, but, I started buying high-quality commercial blends back in the 1970's.  They typically contain savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sometimes, a bit of lavender too.  

Note of importance:  Since it takes 40-45 minutes to adequately caramelize onions for this pizza, I "make up the time" by putting one of my favorite pizza dough recipes in the bread machine.  It mixes itself in 55 minutes.  No matter what pizza dough recipe you decide to use (mine or your favorite one)  add some herbs de provence to it and let it proof while you caramelize the onions.

IMG_3835For the pizza dough:

1 1/2  cups warm water

2  tablespoons olive oil

4 1/2  cups all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon each:  garlic powder, herbes de Provence & coarse-gound black pepper

1  packet granulated dry yeast

2  additional tablespoons olive oil, for preparing baking pans

IMG_3843Step 1.  To prepare the dough, place all of the items in pan of bread machine in the order listedexcept for the yeast.  Using your index finger, make a small indentation ("a well") on top of the dry ingredients, but not so deep that it reaches the wet layer.  Place the yeast into the indentation.  Insert the pan into the bread machine, plug IMG_3846the machine in, press the "Select" button, choose the "Pizza Dough" cycle, then press "Start". You will have 2 pounds of dough, ready to use, in about 55 minutes.  

IMG_3851While the dough is rising in the machine, using a pastry brush or a paper towel, generously oil 2, 13" x 9" rectangular baking pans with the additional olive oil, &, caramelize

IMG_3859IMG_3869the onions as directed below in Part Two.

Step 2. Remove dough from bread machine pan and divide it in half. The best way to do this is with a kitchen scale.  The dough will be slightly sticky, yet very manageable.

IMG_3882IMG_3883

Place one piece of dough on each pan and let rest for 10 minutes.  Pat and push dough evenly into the bottom of, into the corners, and, up the sides of each pan, to form a rectangular-shaped pizza crust.  Top pizza as directed in Part Three.

Part Two:  Caramelizing the Onions

IMG_0904A bit about caramelizing onions (bypassing all scientific mumbo jumbo):  Onions contain a lot of sugar and slowly cooking them on the stovetop draws out their natural sweetness.  The longer and slower they cook, the sweeter they get. When lightly-browned or browned, they begin to take on a pleasant, nutty taste.  When caramelized to a deep amber color, they get sweet.  Caramelizing onions could not be easier, but, it can't be done in 15-20 minutes. You'll need to allow a good 35-45 minutes (depending upon how many you are making, how you regulate the heat on your stove, and, on any given day, how long you decide to cook them).  Technically, any onion can be caramelized, but I personally think that sweet onions work best, with yellow onions being my second choice, and, I don't recommend caramelizing red onions at all.  My three favorites are:  Vidalia (from Georgia), Walla Walla (from Washington), and, Maui (from Hawaii).  Also on my list of favorites are Texas Sweet (from Texas) and NuMex (from New Mexico).  Before getting started, here are two important tips:

6a0120a8551282970b014e8a9e51cd970d-800wi

1)  To insure even cooking, the onions must be sliced to a consistent thickness -- 1/4" is best.

2)  Because the onions will loose most of their volume as they slowly caramelize, start out with a lot more than you think you will need.

For onion slicing instructions, read: ~ How to: Select, Slice, Mince, Dice & Chop Onions ~, which can be found in Category 15.

IMG_08052 1/2 pounds (after peeling) 1/4"-thick "half-ring-shaped" slices of yellow or sweet onion (9 cups) 

4  tablespoons olive oil

4  tablespoons salted butter

3/4  teaspoon sugar 

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

2-4  tablespoons white wine, for deglazing pan (stock or water may be substituted)

IMG_0831IMG_0820Step 1. Prep the onions as directed. Over low heat, in skillet, melt butter into olive oil.  Add the onions to the skillet. Season with the sugar and salt.  

Using a large slotted spoon or spatula, toss until the onions are evenly coated in the oil/butter mix.

IMG_0837 IMG_0848 IMG_0860 IMG_0879~Step 2.  Increase heat to medium-high.  Continue to slowly cook, stirring occasionally.  After 10 minutes, the onions will have lost a lot of their volume and will be limp and steamed through. ~ Step 3.  At this point there will be no signs of browning.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, another 10 minutes. It's now that you are going to start to see what I refer to as light browning. ~ Step 4.  Continue to cook, stirring almost constantly, another 10 minutes. Now the onions are nicely browned and they are truly beginning to caramelize.  From this point on, do not leave the stove.  The onions require constant stirring, and, can go from browned to burned quickly.

IMG_0889~ Step 5.  Today, my onions cooked for another 10 minutes, with me stirring constantly, before I added the wine and deglazed the pan, or: for a total of 40 minutes.  Deglazing the pan is an important step that takes caramelized onions from ordinary to great. These are some mighty-fine looking caramelized onions (if I do say so myself).

Part Three:  Topping and baking the Pizza 

IMG_8406For the pizza toppings:

dough (from above recipe)

garlic-infused olive oil or olive oil

1 pound grated gruyère cheese (6 cups)

all of the caramelized onions (from above recipe)

herbes de Provence and coarsely ground-black pepper

EVOO & freshly ground sea salt 

IMG_8413 IMG_8419 IMG_8425 IMG_8435~Step 1.  To top the pizzas, using a pastry brush and a light touch, paint a thin coating of garlic-infused olive oil evenly over the surface of each crust.  Sprinkle half of the cheese, 1 1/2 cups evenly over the bottom of each crust.  Evenly distribute half of the caramelized onions, 3/4 cup, over the cheese on each crust.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese (3 cups) evenly over the tops, 1 1/2 cups on each pizza.  Lightly sprinkle with herbes de Provence and pepper.

IMG_8450 IMG_8452 IMG_8453 IMG_8464 IMG_8439 IMG_8483~Step 2.  To bake the pizzas, one-at-a-time, place pizza, in its pan, on a hot pizza stone preheated in a 375 degree oven.  The stone must be hot.  

Bake each pizza, one-at-a-time, in pan, 11-12 minutes.  Using a long-handled spatula, slide pizza from pan onto stone and continue to bake 5-6 minutes.  Cheese will be bubbling and lightly golden on top and crust will be golden and crispy on bottom.  Using a pizza peel, remove from oven and place on a rack for 3-4 minutes prior to slicing and serving drizzled with olive oil.

Cool on wire rack 3-4 minutes prior to slicing & serving...

IMG_8477... drizzled with EVOO and freshly ground sea salt: 

IMG_8555"When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that's amore."

Mel's Caramelized Onion & Gruyere Cheese Pizza:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups of caramelized onions and 2, 13" x 9" pizzas of 8-10 servings each, depending upon how you slice it.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large slotted spoon or spatula; bread machine (optional); 2, 13" x 9" baking pans; pastry brush; pizza stone; long-handled metal spatula; pizza peel; wire cooking rack; pizza cutter

IMG_4012 IMG_4038Cook's Note: Sliced and served cold, or hot right out of the oven, when I do have a hankering for ham, salami and pepperoni on a pizza, I put it in my pizza and make ~ Mel's Rotolo Di Pizza (Stuffed Pizza Rolls/Bread) ~.  You can find my recipe by clicking into Categories 1, 2, 11, 12, 17, 18 or 22.  It can be made ahead and frozen!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

06/22/2016

~ Lemony English Pea, Mint & Gold Potato Salad ~

IMG_8400The typical English pea salad, or English pea and potato salad, the one that graces picnic and potluck tables this time of year, has never been my cup of tea.  While I have no ax to grind with most of the mayonnaise and/or sour cream concoctions it gets dressed with, traditionally it is loaded with chunks of cheddar cheese and bacon bits too, which I think does those pretty, little, freshly-picked green jewels a disservice.  It's not easy being green -- please show some respect!

IMG_8373For me this is a KISS (keep it simple stupid) salad.  Why?  The moment you put a delicately-flavored ingredient like freshly-picked, freshly-steamed garden peas into a salad, in my mind, you relinquish your license to turn it into another kitchen-sink pasta or potato salad.  You are duty-bound to simply enhance their flavor, and, trust me when I tell you, my lemon-mint mayonnaise is the dressing that sets my version of the English pea salad apart from all others.  

It's bright & fresh, &, "please pass the cold pea salad" because it never tasted so good!

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c756d7fb970bFor the lemon-mint mayonnaise:

1  cup mayonnaise, homemade or the best available (read my post ~ How to:  Make Homemade Mayonnaise ~, in Category 15)

2 tablespoons each: lemon zest & lemon juice, from 1 large lemon

1  ounce coarsely-chopped, fresh mint leaves, 1 lightly-packed cup

2  teaspoons Greek seasoning

1  teaspoon sugar

a generous 1/4 teaspoon each: garlic powder, sea salt and white pepper

PICT1726Step 1.  Prep and measure all ingredients, placing them in a medium mixing bowl as you work. Note:  It's ok to add more zest, but do not add more than 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.

PICT1728Step 2. Using a large spoon or spatula, thoroughly combine all ingredients. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.

Note:  This thickens as it chills, so, it is best to chill it before stirring it into the peas and potatoes.

IMG_8366For the pea & potato salad:

12  ounces fresh garden peas, blanched in boiling, salted water for 3-3 1/2 minutes (2 cups)

16  ounces peeled & 1/2" cubed gold potatoes, cooked in boiling salted water until fork tender, about 4-4 1/2 minutes (2 cups)

1/2-1 cup lemon-mint mayo

ground sea salt, peppercorn blend & mint, for garnish

Note:  Occasionally, I add 4 hard-cooked and small-diced eggs to this salad.  It makes it a bit richer and creamier, and, it stretches the yield to 6 cups.  I leave that choice up to you.

IMG_8344 IMG_8357 IMG_8361 IMG_8364~Step 1.  In a 2-quart saucepan bring 1 quart of water to a boil and add 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Add peas.  Start timing immediately.  When water returns to a boil, adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue cooking until peas are almost cooked through, 3-3 1/2 minutes.  Do not overcook. Drain into a colander and run cold tap water through them to cool to room temperature and halt the cooking process.  Place peas on a paper-towel-lined plate to absorb excess water.

IMG_8345 IMG_8349 IMG_8354 IMG_8356~Step 2.  Peel and cube potatoes as directed.  In the same 2-quart saucepan, bring 1-quart of water to a boil and add 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Add potatoes.  Start timing immediately. When water returns to a boil, adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue cooking until potatoes are almost fork tender, 4-4 1/2 minutes.  Do not overcook.  Drain into a colander and run cold tap water through them to cool to room temperature and halt the cooking process.  Place potatoes on a paper-towel-lined plate to absorb excess water, patting potatoes dry from the top as well..

IMG_8381 IMG_8375Step 3. Place peas and potatoes in a large bowl and add 1 cup of chilled lemon-mint mayo.  Using a rubber spatula, gently fold until both are enrobed in dressing.  Place bowl in refrigerator for 1-2 hours.  Fold again and add more dressing, in 1-2 tablespoon increments until desired flavor and consistency is reached.

Note:  As with most mayonnaise- or vinegar-based potato, pasta or 'slaw concoctions, salads "of this type", are best prepared a day ahead, to allow the flavors to marry, and, served very cold. 

Easy peesy English pea and potato salad -- my cup of tea!

IMG_8403Lemony English Pea, Mint & Gold Potato Salad:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups lemon-mint mayo and 4 generous cups pea and potato salad.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; microplane grater; 2-quart saucepan; colander; paper towels large rubber spatula

IMG_6608Cook's Note: My lemon-mint mayo is a condiment I keep around a lot in the Summer.  I like it in place of plain mayo in and on a lot of things, for example:  As a dressing for egg, chicken or tuna salad and slathered on a simple turkey sandwich. Another favorite creation of mine, ~ A Versatile Tex-Mex Condiment: Chile-Lime Mayo ~, can be found in Categories 8, 10, 13, 17 or 20.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016) 

06/20/2016

~ City Chicken: Literally, "The Other White Meat." ~

IMG_8324City chicken.  It could be said, "it's a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key" -- A wartime Winston Churchill quote.  In The Joy of Cooking, if you go the index intentionally looking for "city chicken", and look under "chicken", you'll not find it.  That said, if you're looking for a pork or veal recipe in the same cookbook, and look under "pork or veal", you will stumble upon "mock chicken drumsticks or city chicken" on page 469.  That's because:

Even though it looks like a chicken leg & tastes like chicken... 

IMG_8311... city chicken isn't chicken, it's made with pork &/or veal.  

IMG_8174A bit about chicken "sans volaille", which is French for chicken "without poultry":  City chicken is a depression era meal born out of necessity.  During the Presidential campaign of 1928, Herbert Hoover claimed that if he won, there would be "a chicken in every pot (and a car in every garage)" -- it was a promise of prosperity.  During that time period, unless you lived on a rural farm where you had the space to raise a few chickens, chicken was very expensive to purchase, especially in the urban cities (chickens weren't raised in volume until the 1950's).  It was a wealthy man's family and guests that sat down to a well-appointed chicken dinner on a Sunday.

Said to have originated in the city of Pittsburgh, butchers began placing inexpensive cubes of pork and veal along with a few wooden skewers in a package, so housewives could thread and fashion what (once dipped in an egg wash, dredged in breadcrumbs and baked or fried) mocked a chicken leg.  It was quite inventive.  Gravy was made from the pan drippings, mashed potatoes and a vegetable were served, and, the family enjoyed a very tasty, faux-chicken dinner.

IMG_8181In Eastern Pennsylvania, where I grew up, my grandmother called it "chicken-on-a-stick", and she, in fact, did skewer cubes of pork and veal to make it.  In my lifetime, the cost of veal sky-rocketed, so I stopped including veal a while ago.

Back in the 1980's I became  friends with a meat-cutter here in Happy Valley who managed a popular mom and pop butcher shop.  While they didn't IMG_8176sell city chicken "in the case", if you ordered it ahead, he and his wife would "make it up", and, a lot of caterers ordered large quantities to serve at big events. Theirs was made from very coarsely ground pork (and veal too if you requested it and paid extra for it), and, it was formed in one of these nifty cast-aluminum gadgets (mine is pictured), with "chicken sans volaille" stamped on the side of it.

I love this low-tech retro cast-aluminum gadget, but if you don't have one, don't fret, it's easy to mock using your fingertips:

IMG_8219Now let's go & get straight to the meat of the no-chicken matter! 

IMG_6002 IMG_60102  pounds pork loin, untrimmed, cut into 1/2"-3/4" slices, then cut into 1/2"-3/4" cubes

1/2  teaspoon each: sea salt and coarsely-ground or cracked black pepper

IMG_6207 IMG_6209~Step 1.  Cube the pork as directed, placing it in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Add the sea salt and black pepper. Using a series of 30-35 on-off pulses, coarsely-grind the pork.  Transfer the ground pork to a large bowl.   No need to wash processor bowl yet.

IMG_8182 IMG_8184 IMG_8188 IMG_8190~Step 2.  Add 1 cup very coarsely-chopped yellow onion (4 ounces) to work bowl and using a series of 20-25 on-off pulses, finely-dice the onion.  Transfer onion to bowl with pork.  Using your hands, thoroughly combine.  You will have 2 pounds, 4 ounces of city chicken mixture.

Holding the city chicken mold like a pair of scissors...

IMG_8200... scoop up some city chicken mixture & tightly close the mold.

IMG_8203Using your fingertips, remove & "clean up" the excess...

IMG_8205... then stick a skewer into & through the hole of the mold.

IMG_8212Repeat process until 16 city chicken are formed...

IMG_8221... placing them on a parchment lined baking pan as you work.

IMG_8227 IMG_8229Step 3.  To dip, dredge and fry the city chicken, in a shallow 9" pie dish, using a fork, whisk 4 large eggs with 4 tablespoons water and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt.  In a second 9" pie dish, place 1 cup French-style bread crumbs.

IMG_8238 IMG_8243~ Step 4.  One-at-a-time, roll each "city chicken leg" around in the egg wash, to thoroughly coat it, then, roll it around in the breadcrumbs, to thoroughly coat it, returning each leg to the parchment lined baking pan as you work.

IMG_8263 IMG_8264 IMG_8290~ Step 5.  In a 16" electric skillet over low heat, melt 4 tablespoons salted butter into 4 tablespoons corn or peanut oil. Increase heat to 250 degrees, add 8 city chicken legs to skillet and gently fry until golden on all sides, for a total of 14-16 minutes.  Remove chicken and place on a wire cooling rack that has been placed in the parchment and aluminum foil lined baking pan.  Add a second 4 tablespoons of salted butter and 4 tablespoons of corn or peanut oil to skillet (don't remove the previous pan drippings) and repeat the process with the remaining 8 city chicken legs.

IMG_8221 IMG_8251 IMG_8309Note:  From beginning to end, sans the wooden skewers, it's remarkable just how much they look like real chicken legs.

Serve hot, warm or at room temp as hors d'oeuvres or snacks, or, ASAP as a meal w/pan gravy, mashed potatoes & a vegetable!

IMG_8332City Chicken:  Literally, "The Other White Meat.":  Recipe yields 16 city chicken/4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; cast-iron "chicken sans volaille" city chicken mold (optional); 16, 6"wooden skewers; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; 2, 9"-round pie plates; 16" electric skillet or a 14" skillet on the stovetop

6a0120a8551282970b013488325365970cCook's Note:  To make a quick pan gravy, stir 1/4 cup flour into the hot drippings in skillet along with 1/2-3/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning.  Stir until a thick roux forms and cook until bubbly, about 30 seconds.  Add 2 cups of canned chicken broth or homemade chicken stock.  Bring to a simmer and taste.  Add a grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend -- how much depends on how seasoned the broth or stock was.  Adjust heat to simmer gently until nicely-thickend, about 2 minutes.  At this point my grandmother added a few drops of Kitchen Bouquet or Gravy Master (both Browning and Seasoning sauces) for color too! 

IMG_7452Extra Cook's Note:  Two weeks ago I posted my recipe for ~ Herbed Pork Skewers w/Apricot Mustard Sauce ~.  My friend Bob commented that it reminded him of city chicken, and, in fact, it is reminiscent of the chicken-on-a-stick he and I grew up eating in our Eastern Pennsylvania, hometown of Tamaqua.  You can find the recipe by clicking into Categories 2, 3, 10 or 17.  Thanks Bob Richards, for the inspiration for me to write and share my yummy city chicken recipe!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)