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~ City Chicken -- It Literally is 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 well-known wartime Winston Churchill quote.  In The Joy of Cooking, if you go to 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.

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_8219Let's go 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 -- It Literally is 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)


Chris -- Ebay is probably the only place you are going to locate this vintage, hard-to-find gadget. I suggest you purchase it while you can, because if you don't, someone else surely will. Single purpose? Yes indeed. That said, it's a great conversation piece with a great food-story to go along with it!

Any suggestions on how to get the chicken sans volaille mold? I checked on ebay and there's one available for $20.00 which seems a bit steep for a single use gadget.

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