City Chicken, Mock Chicken, California Chicken (History and Recipes)

Growing up one of my favorite meals was City Chicken and different versions of it. Now you are thinking “what is City Chicken”? It is a regional dish made in the Great Lakes area. There has been a debate as to were it was actually created first, but we do know about when and why. It’s description first shows up in News Papers in the late 1920’s and it is made of small chunks of veal and pork skewered on a stick. The meat is browned and simmered to make a gravy. Chicken used to be very expensive if you lived in a City before they started raising chickens in the 1950’s in large volume coops. In the rural areas chickens were common and many people raised their own. Veal and pork were cheaper and available in butcher shops in the large towns and cities. So chunks of veal and pork on a skewer mocked a chicken leg. Also when veal is cooked it is very white like the white meat of chicken. Butcher shops in the Great Lakes, Pittsburgh and Louisville, KY made up the skewered meat and sold it as City Chicken during the 1930’s depression as a substitute for chicken. There were many Scotts and Irish that settled in these areas and brought with them recipes from home and comfort food memories. Food historians note that many entrees was made with veal in English cookbooks in the late 19th century. They would stuff pork knuckles with veal and called them mock goose. There was one recipe made from flattened veal with ground pork filling that was held together with a tooth pick called veal birds that showed up in depression English cookbooks. Besides finding recipes in depression era newspapers, popular cook books then also had recipes for city and mock chicken. It became very popular and is still found in markets in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago today.

Also an other version of this was called mocked chicken or California chicken made from ground veal and pork. The ground meat was put into a mold with a skewer to shape the meat into a chicken leg. Then it was rolled in bread crumbs and sold at the butcher shops. There was a mold made from cast aluminum that is marked “Chicken sans volatile” Las Angeles AMCO BK1 that was made by a food service supply company during the depression. I have one that I found at a thrift shop years ago. They show up on-line auctions and you can still find them. Chicken sans volatile means chicken without chicken. This maybe why it was sometimes called California chicken because the molds are marked with Los Angeles. I found a recipe in a cookbook that came from a grandmother that has California chicken recipe that is pork and veal that is ground and molded on a skewer. The cook book was by Glenna Snow who was a food editor for the Beacon Journal from 1932 until 1949 and it was on page 226. I have the 3rd edition of the cook book that was originally published in 1936. The front pages are missing so I am not sure when this edition was printed. The whole cookbook is written in narrative form that was used in newspapers in the first half of the 20th century in the recipe columns. All the recipes in the cookbook came from readers but no names are given credit for the recipes. I tried this recipe for California Chicken and it was surprisingly delicious and inexpensive to make. It only had a hint of pineapple flavor to it or my grand kids would not of eaten it. My family loved it so I will be making it again. Here is my version of Mock California Chicken that I updated from Glenna Snow’s Cookbook.

Mock California Chicken

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • ½ pound ground turkey or chicken
  • 1 small can 3.5 oz. crushed pineapple drained
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon of pepper
  • ¼ cup finely chopped red and green sweet peppers
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup bread crumbs
  • Wooden skewers
  • Seasoned bread crumbs (recipe follows)

Preheat oven 350 degrees and prepare baking sheet with foil or parchment paper so meat doesn’t stick while baking.

Mix all ingredients except seasoned bread crumbs. Mold about a half cup on to the skewer in the shape of a chicken leg and roll in seasoned bread crumbs. Place on baking sheet. If you don’t want to mess with skewers just make them into patties. My kids really loved the meat on a stick. Bake for 30 minutes or until done..

In Glenna’s recipe it calls for browning them in a skillet first then steaming them in the pan 40 min. Make gravy from the pan drippings. My skewers were too long for that and I was able to make a dozen with the chicken mold so I just sprayed the legs with Pam and baked them. If you make patties you could certainly cook on top of the stove and steam them for a gravy. I think 40 minutes is too long for the top of today’s modern stoves.

Seasoned Bread Crumb Mix

  • 2 cups bread crumbs
  • ½ cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons margarine
  • 3 tablespoon parsley flakes
  • 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Mix ingredients together using a fork to cut margarine in. Or mix by pulsing in a food processor or blender. Store in sealed container in the refrigerator until used. Use like shake n’ bake. Much cheaper then commercial mix. This is an adaptation from U of Main Extension Center recipe for season bread crumbs mix.

Besides Glenna Snow’s Cookbook other cookbooks also had recipes for City Chicken. I found also one in Joy of Cooking that was published in 1936 also. This too was an heirloom gift from a relative. Both recipes are just about the same. They call for veal and pork cubes on skewers. My version of City Chicken:

City Chicken

Place 1 to 1 ½ inch cubes of veal and pork alternating on skewers about 5 or 6 on each skewers. Roll in seasoned flour and place in deep skillet with tight lid. With 2 tablespoons of oil brown on all sides. Add ½ cup to 1 cup water enough to cover about a ½ inch deep. Cover and simmer for 30 min. Remove city chicken and make gravy from drippings in pan. With 2 tablespoons of flour mix in 1 cup of cold water and add to drippings. Stirring constantly bring to a boil. Serve with mash potatoes.

I usually make it with just pork because veal is hard to find in South Florida. My family likes this and I can take a pork roast on sale and cut some of it for city chicken and use the rest for a roast later. For mock chicken I usually make it with ground pork with some ground chicken or turkey in it. Ground chicken and turkey is too soft to mold into chicken legs but is good as California chicken made into patties. For some of us who grew up in the great lakes area, this is comfort food also a great idea when you are out of ideas and low on money.

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25 Comments Add yours

  1. Yelly says:

    Now this is interesting! I shall bookmark this page so that I can go back to the recipe! Thanks for coming by the blog! 🙂 Mucho appreciated!

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    1. trkingmomoe says:

      Also thank you for taking time to visit. I will be doing more with food history.

      Like

  2. ~flowerchild~ says:

    They call it city chicken at the small fruit and meat market where I like to shop. I never bought any because I didn’t really know what it was! I will now, though. I’ll give it a try. Thanks, momoe.

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    1. trkingmomoe says:

      You will like it. It is nice and tender when you finish it and serve it. You can hold back on the salt and use your favorite spices with a light hand when adding them to the flour so the meat flavor comes through. Thanks for stopping by.

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  3. cmaukonen says:

    We used to have “City Chicken” quite a bit. Until the cage chicken was less expensive than veal, which now is not as easy to get.

    My Great grandma Hofner who live in Elyria, would not buy prepared chicken from the store. She would buy a live chicken and keep it in the basement for Sunday dinner and kill and pluck and prepare it.

    According to my mother she was quite something. Had two complete kitchens. One for meals and a second canning kitchen. She canned everything. Always buying fresh. Always made from scratch.

    Some years after she passed away, my great grandfather Hofner went to live with my grandparents. When we went to help empty the house, there in the basement was her “fruit cellar” with shelves and shelves of canned goods still. Probably still good but we did not try anything. 🙂

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    1. trkingmomoe says:

      Many people canned in their basements. The first house I owned I had a plug for a electric stove in my basement and I put an used stove there for canning and extra baking. I would cook in the basement in the summertime also to keep the house cool. My mother canned in the basement also when I was a kid. She had an extra gas stove in hers. I thought everyone had a fruit cellar when I was a kid. Thanks for the comment and I hope you try making some city chicken for yourself.

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  4. petit4chocolatier says:

    I love the food history! I have been looking for different types of recipes to prepare chicken, veal and pork; and this definitely is something new and interesting. Your picture with the dinner plate of mashed potatoes, gravy, cucumber salad, and corn looks delicious and comforting. ~ Sincerely, judy

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    1. trkingmomoe says:

      Thank you for taking time and stopping by. I enjoy your blog and recipes also.

      Like

  5. shadeydaze says:

    Thank you for that..I love it when there’s a story behind food (because there so often is) and we get to find it out…
    This global village we call the internet just opens your eyes to experiences and stories I’d never get to hear otherwise….thanks for this it was really interesting.

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    1. trkingmomoe says:

      Thank you for stopping by. My favorite part is searching through all the other bloggs and reading what they are cooking. You are right it is a global village and we are all better off because of it. Thanks for your comment.

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  6. Thanks for sharing and I had never heard of City Chicken – Great Post

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    1. trkingmomoe says:

      It is a regional dish that has not spread out through the country. Thanks for stopping by. I like your recipes on your blog.

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  7. inukshuk says:

    Interesting – and I really had no idea there was such a thing as a City Chicken 🙂
    I like your concept of food history, keep it up !

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    1. trkingmomoe says:

      Thank you. You are always welcome to stop by anytime.

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  8. Sheryl says:

    Wonderful post! I also love to read about food history.

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    1. trkingmomoe says:

      Thank you. I enjoy your blog about your grandmother. thanks for stopping by. I still have to post the history of jello. A little disorganized right now.

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  9. shelconnors says:

    We used to have city chicken all the time growing up- I never knew why it was called that, just loved having it. Thanks for the background- it was really interesting!

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    1. trkingmomoe says:

      Thank you for your comment. You are welcome to come backed any time.

      Like

  10. I enjoyed this article! I’m fascinated by the “mock” foods of the 1930’s and 1940’s (if interested, see my post at http://kalesijablog.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/when-is-a-duck-not-a-duck/). Some were quite elaborate in making one food resemble another. Thanks for the info!

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  11. Doc Reiss says:

    Having grown up in rural Northwestern Ohio I was very familiar with City Chicken. We used smaller, thicker sticks about the diameter of a number two pencil, but I have never seen them since.

    Thanks for the memories, the fascinating history, and for creating the urge to try an oldie anew. Great post!

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    1. trkingmomoe says:

      I also remember those thicker skewers. Thanks for your comment.

      Like

  12. Robin Cohen says:

    I received a mock chicken mold from my mother in law many years ago, and neither of us had any idea what it was. I happened upon another mold in an antique store and when I asked what it was, they said it was to make fake chicken drumsticks with “other meat”. When I did a good search and came upon this page – I was thrilled! Mystery solved! I sent the page to my mother in law, and she said she remembered her mother in law made city chicken (the kind with the chunks on the skewers) and it was delicious! We will definitely be making both varieties next time we’re together. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!!

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    1. trkingmomoe says:

      You will enjoy making them. It is a family favorite at my house. I like to buy the large shoulder roasts of pork and cut them up for different use. I always include making city chicken and cut up chunks for it.

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  13. Susan Hernandez says:

    Looking for a City Chicken Press. My father was a Butcher for 40+ years and I remember making City Chicken.
    When the Business got sold all items went with it. Would love to be able to share the experience of making City Chicken with my Grandchildren.
    So if anyone has or knows where I can get a press, please email me @ susanvh59@gmail.com
    Thank you

    Like

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