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The Tale of Two City Chickens

For as much as Yinzers hate Clevelanders down to the bone, we all come from similar backgrounds. And eat similar food.


Pittsburgh and Cleveland are separated by only 135 miles but ask either Yinzer or Clevelander and we are worlds apart. But are we really?


We both are considered "Rust Belt" cities. That's to say industry decline of the 1980s forced these once bustling cities to reinvent themselves. The urban decay due to lost jobs in the iron and steel industries took these cities into the brink of socioeconomic disrepair. But leave it to the tough nosed citizens to dig out from the rubble and start anew.


The pair of cities now flourish with new identities, very similar identities.


Health Care and Information Technology companies have made home to these two water-focused cities-- Pittsburgh with The Three Rivers, Cleveland with Lake Erie.


Both cities love their sports teams and hate the other. The Steelers and Browns rivalry dates back to the height of the cities' industrial peak of the1950s. With 138 meetings it is the oldest rivalry and the most storied in the AFC Conference of the NFL.


Each has their interpretation of the perfect sandwich-- Primanti Brothers vs Virgil Whitmore's Polish Boy-- both invented during The Great Depression and both include French Fries and Cole Slaw on the sandwich. And each love their pierogies and corned beef sandwiches. Yes, more immigrant food.


Another Great Depression food similarity that claims origins from both cities: City Chicken.


If you do a Google search for city chicken, you will find that it originated in both cities by the Polish immigrants who lived there. How can this be?


City Chicken is a traditional dish of Polish American heritage and has a very interesting ethos. During The Great Depression, chicken was scarce and more expensive than pork or beef. Since slaughterhouses where still within city limits, scraps of pork and beef were more readily available than chicken since chicken farms could only be found in rural areas.


Fried chicken, the real thing, was reserved for special occasions due to its cost, but "city" chicken could be eaten as a more budget conscious meal. Why? Scraps or ground meat could be combined on a 4-5" skewer to resemble a chicken leg. Dredged in egg and breadcrumbs then fried to golden brown, at first glance you may not know the difference.


Even today, Pittsburgh and Clevland grocery stores carry packages of cubed pork along with 4-5" skewers for making "city chicken". It's still more economical than chicken breast, and in my opinion, much tastier.



If you're reading this blog from outside the Rust Belt, have no fear. You can still prepare city chicken even if your grocery store does not carry the already cubed pork and skewer packages.


So, you see, as much as Yinzers hate Clevelanders and vice versa--when it comes down to it, we really are the same people living in similar reinvented cities, with nothing but love for our families, friends, traditions and our beloved football team. Go Stillers!!! (that's how a Yinzer-- a Pittsburgher-- would say Steelers)



Cooking Class with Carol


Things to Consider

The title of this blog reads The Tale of Two City Chickens. Mostly a play on the words and the fact that two cities claim it as their own, but really, I mean two types of city chicken combined into one recipe.


Every city in The Rust Belt made their City Chicken a little differently.

  • Pittsburgh PA: breaded and fried

  • Binghamton NY: marinated, battered, deep fried

  • Cleveland OH: dredged in flour only (no breading), pan fried and finished in oven. Served with gravy.


While doing research for this blog I came across newspaper article from 1932. It sounds like a rather straight forward recipe, as like most recipes I receive from folks of that generation; they leave very much everything to interpretation. How quickly do I brown? Fry? Bake? Dip the meat in egg-- whole eggs? beaten? Add how much water? How do I know if they are tender and juicy?












Then I came across this recipe also from the 1930s. Once you brown well (up for interpretation, right?) and season well put in roaster with 2 cups of water for 2 hours.


This recipe will work if you are getting pork butt (shoulder). But even the two hours may be excessive (To be honest, I never cooked this recipe so I don’t know how it will turn out). If anyone wants to give it a whirl, let me know how it turns out.

If you decide to get pork sirloin, a more tender cut of meat, the cooking time does not need to be as long.

I feel like baking it in the oven for short period of time with moisture (water in the pan) yields the same result of cooking it over a long period of time. I make gravy on the side.


My Mom made her city chicken as a mash up between the Pittsburgh and Cleveland styles— breaded, fried and baked. This is how I prepare City Chicken as well.


I only use pork pieces for city chicken. You can also purchase veal and alternate veal and pork pieces on the skewers. I feel that pork has the best ratio lean protein to fat that gives the city chicken the perfect flavor.





Ingredients

1 package "city chicken" found at your local grocery store OR

1 pound pork sirloin cut into 1 1/2” cubes

6 to 8 4-5” skewers (usually included in the city chicken pack)

2 eggs

3 T milk or water

1/2 cup chicken stock

2 cups seasoned bread crumbs

crisco shortening (butter flavored if desired) or vegetable oil for frying

salt and pepper to taste


What To Do



  1. Heat the oven to 325°F.

  2. Onto wooden skewers, 4 to 5 inches long, alternately thread the pork and veal cubes. Generously season with salt and pepper. Dust the skewers with a little flour, shaking off any excess.

3. Coat the meat with the beaten eggs, then coat with the breadcrumbs.




4. In a large skillet, pour in the oil to a depth of about 1 inch and heat over medium-high heat. Working in batches, fry the meat until well browned on all sides, about 2-4 minutes each side.

5. Arrange the skewers on a sheet pan fitted with a wire rack.

6. Pour the broth into the bottom. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 10-15 minutes. Uncover the dish, increase the oven temperature 350°F, and continue to bake for 5-7 minutes more, until the desired degree of doneness, 145 degrees for pork.


7. The broth in the baking dish keeps the meat moist and creates a little sauce to dress the meat, or use to make gravy and the must-have mashed potatoes and corn!



enjoy!






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1 Comment


mark singo
mark singo
Apr 22, 2022

Awesome, that city "chicken" looks really tasty!! Haven't had it in years...need to wash it down with an Iron City...

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