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~The Story Behind City Chicken -- aka Mock Chicken~

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0915119b970dWhat looks like a chicken leg and tastes like chicken but isn't made from chicken?  City chicken. So, if it's not made from chicken, what is city chicken made from?  Coarse-ground pork and/or veal.  Still confused? You're not alone -- nowadays, many folks, even those who love to cook, have no idea what this intriguing, vintage, working-class main-dish is, or, the important part it played in our American culinary history.  Behind almost every recipe, there is a good story:

6a0120a8551282970b02788076d6bd200dDating back as early as the early 1900s, by the 1930s and '40s and into the '50s everyone knew what city chicken was.  Fast forward to present day, not so much, and even the iconic The Joy of Cooking, doesn't exactly clarify the dish for home cooks looking for a recipe.  

If one searches the index looking for "city chicken", and looks under "chicken", city chicken will not be there. That said, if one is looking for a generic pork or veal recipe, and looks under "pork or veal", they will stumble upon it referenced as "mock chicken or city chicken" (the recipe is on page 469).

City chicken -- A depression era meal born out of necessity. 

6a0120a8551282970b01bb091468d8970dA 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 necessary 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 when refrigerated trucks could transport the poultry).  For city dwellers, it was only a wealthy man's family and guests that got to sit down to a well-appointed chicken dinner on a Sunday. That said, the slaughter houses (for pork, lamb, veal, and beef) were all located "in town", and the idea of fashioning the meat scraps into a makeshift faux-chicken drumstick became a cheap alternative.

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.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09147e02970dIn 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 6a0120a8551282970b01bb09147ece970ddidn't sell 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.

Coarse-ground pork &/or veal -- molded into the shape of a chicken leg, skewered, then sautéed in a skillet.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1fb5bc1970cTry my City Chicken -- It Literally is the Other White Meat:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09151a42970d 2"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2022 


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