For his recent birthday, the Mellow Man asked me to do one thing—make City Chicken. Now prior to this, I had eaten City Chicken twice when visiting with his family, but never made it. Actually before my wonderful mother-in-law made it the first time, I had never even heard of it. Have you? Well, I did a little digging into it and found a very comprehensive definition of City Chicken on Wikipedia. Basically, it is a dish that originated in the greater Pittsburgh area, and was designed to taste like chicken without having chicken in the dish. Basically cooks used scraps and bits of less expensive pork to craft a skewered piece of meat that was shaped to resemble a drumstick of a chicken. (It’s amazing what you can learn on Wikipedia!) Mellow Man’s family was originally from Pittsburgh, where I lived for a number of years while in graduate school, so I liked the idea of learning a traditional Pittsburgh dish, other than pirogues! Luckily, my mother-in-law was visiting to meet the Little Peanut, so she helped me learn how to make City Chicken.
My general thought about this recipe is that it takes a fair amount of time, and is somewhat costly. It is interesting that it was once considered to be a cheaper version of chicken drumsticks. My mother-in-law says that it tastes best with lean veal and pork combined, but the Mellow Man’s uncle makes it with pork and beef. It’s up to you about your preference. Using Veal costs more, but using beef makes the final product chewier. I used veal for this recipe, as my mother-in-law prefers the veal. (I generally like veal period!)
To make a full recipe of this dish, you need a pound and a half of lean pork. If your store doesn’t sell it precut pork pieces, a pork tenderloin, or thick boneless pork chops will work. You don’t want super thin pork chops, but something that is at least a half an inch to an inch thick. You also need a pound and a half of Veal, with the similar thickness. It should also be lean. If you must buy meat with a bone in, adjust the weight accordingly. This will make approximately 25 to 35 skewers depending on the size you cut your meat.
Once you have your meat, cube the veal and pork into pieces that are of similar sizes, and are primarily lean meat. Set aside the fatty pieces for later.
The next step involves preparing the bamboo skewers. If you live in Pittsburgh, West Virginia or Eastern Ohio, it is likely that you can find skewers for City Chicken. My mother-in-law says that cousins and siblings in Pittsburgh send her shorter and sturdier skewers than what is readily available in my local grocery store. However, if you can’t find them, like me, all you have to do, it cut the skewers down to 6 to 8 inches, and soak them in water for 30 to 60 minutes. The soaking reduces the likelihood that they will catch on fire or burn, which will affect the taste of the City Chicken.
Thread the Chicken onto the skewers. A tip that my mother-in-law gave me is to count the pieces of veal and the pieces of pork beforehand. Then you can balance them out, so that each skewer has the same number of pork and veal. You will alternate the meats, putting on one piece of veal, followed by a piece of pork.
Once they are all threaded, you’ll coat them with flour seasoned with salt and pepper, and egg wash, and cracker crumbs or Italian bread crumbs.
Cook the fatty pieces in a bit of oil in a non stick skillet. Once the skillet has heated up, you will place the skewers of meat into the skillet to brown them on both sides. (This will take a little while, and you can place the browned skewers of meat into a pyrex dish after they are brown to make space for the remaining skewers of meat.)
Once you have browned all of the meat, place the skewers in the pyrex dish in the oven for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.
When they are done, serve them with your favorite sides. I’m thinking mashed potatoes and red cabbage would be especially yummy, but unfortunately, I’m the only one in my family who likes red cabbage!
Have you heard of City Chicken?