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:
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.