A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from December 17, 2008
City Chicken

The name “city chicken” is first cited in Ohio on 1926. “City chicken” is not chicken at all—it’s cubes of meat (such as pork or veal) placed on skewers, then breaded and fried. An earlier name—“mock chicken”—is cited from the 1900s.


Wikipedia: City chicken
City chicken (also known in some locations as mock chicken) is a food entrée consisting of cubes of meat that are placed on a wooden skewer (approximately 4-5 inches long), sometimes breaded, then fried and/or baked. The origins of the entrée and its name are not entirely known, but it is rumored to have originated during the Depression Era, when people took meat scraps and fashioned a makeshift drumstick out of them. During this period, pork was cheaper than chicken in many parts of the country, especially for those far from rural poultry farms. Sometimes the meat was ground, and a drumstick-shaped mold was used to form the ground meat around a skewer. Today, better cuts of meat (usually pork loin, beef, and/or veal) are used. In spite of the name, the dish almost never contains chicken.

The dish (and hence the term) seem to be regionalized to the areas surrounding Pittsburgh, PA, ranging from Central Pennsylvania and the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia to as far west as the western suburbs of Cleveland, OH and Hamtramck, MI.

The most common version is made using pork as the base meat. Pittsburgh-area preparations are almost always breaded and usually baked, whereas the Cleveland version is generally baked without breading it is usually rolled in flour browned, baked and served with gravy. Grocery stores in both areas sell wooden skewers of pork cubes pre-prepared as city chicken.

Chronicling America
1 December 1908, Winchester (KY) News, pg. 7, col. 3:
Fried Mock Chicken.
Buy two pounds of veal off the leg, cut into medium-sized pieces; stew for half an hour, adding a little salt; then dip in egg and roll in bread or cracker crumbs; fry to a light brown. This is excellent; equal to fried chicken.

20 June 1911, Muscatine (Iowa) Journal, pg. 6, col. 6:
Mock Chicken Cutlets.
Put cold, cooked veal or mutton through the chopper. To one-half pint allow one tablespoonful of minced parsley, a slice of onion minced, salt and pepper to suit; form into cutlet shape, dip in flour and saute in hot fat. Sauteing is commonly, but incorrectly, called “frying.” When brown on all sides serve with potatoes cut into cubes and cooked tender in salted water. Drain off the water and add to the vegetables a level tablespoonful of melted butter, dust with salt and shake over the fire until heated through. This way of preparing the potatoe gives an attractive variety without much work. Watch them while cooking in the water, that they do not become broken or mushy.

22 October 1926, Marion (OH) Star, pg. 10, col. 5:
City Chicken
Two pounds veal steak.
Two pounds pork tenderloin.
Cut in pieces about 1 1/2 inches square. Put alternately a piece of veal, then a piece of pork on wooden skewers, like are used for rolled roast, until six pieces are used. Roll each chicken in cracker crumbs and beaten egg. Brown well on all sides, season well. Put in roaster, add two cups of water, cover and bake about two hours. When done add a cup of rich milk to make the gravy.

15 March 1927, Mansfield (OH) News, pg. 7, cols. 4-5:
City chicken—Have 24 two-inch squares of lean veal and the same number of lean pork, have eight wooden skewers (the butcher will furnish these), place alternate squares of veal and pork on skewers using six squares on each skewer; press in shape like chicken drum sticks. Season. Roll in fine crumbs, then in slightly beaten egg, again in crumbs, brown in hot fat on all sides, add one and one-half cups hot water, cover and cook slowly one and one-half hours.

8 April 1927, Athens (OH) Messenger, pg. 7, col. 1 ad:
Dressed Chickens, Veal, Lamb, Beef, Pork and City Chicken.
(F. I. Hatfield, General merchandise—ed.)

10 August 1931, Los Angelest (CA) Times, “Requested Recipes” by Marian Manners, pg. A8:
MOCK CHICKEN
Mrs. J. F. G.  Your request for “City Chicken” suggests something that “jes ain’t,” as the dear ole mammy used to say. We are therefore giving you the following, “Mock Drumsticks,” with the note that they do taste like chicken, although not composed of it. Two-thirds pounds of veal, two-thirds pound pork, two eggs, four tablespoonfuls cold water, one and one-half cupfuls milk, cracker crumbs, six tablespoonfuls fat and salt and pepper to taste. Cut the meat into two-inch squares, and stick on wooden skewers, alternating pork and veal. This gives the apeparance of drum sticks. Allow one drumstick to each person.  Dip the meat first into the beaten egg to which the water has been added, then roll in cracker crumbs and fry in fat until well browned on all sides. Season with salt and pepper; add the milk and cover and cook for one hour in a slow oven—300 deg.

Google News Archive
24 November 1931, St. Petersburg (FL) Evening Independent, pg. 8, col. 3:
Mock Chicken Legs With Grilled Tomato Halves
Method: Cut beef and pork into 1 1-2-inch chicken. Put four of each on wet skewer, alternating beef and pork cubes.

Roll each “drum stick” in beaten egg, then in bread crumbs. Let meat stand 1-2 hour after crumbing to settle the crumbs and the egg batter. Heat a generous amount of shortening in heavy frying pan or hot roasting pan. Brown the drum sticks in it, turning the meat to brown on all sides. Then add a little hot water and cover. Bake in moderate oven two hours. WHen done, push the meat down to one end of the skewer and place a paper collar or frill on the other end. These look like chicken legs and may be served either hot or cold, for bridge, luncheon or picnic.

Serve with grilled tomato. Brush tomato slices with melted butter, dip in cracker crumbs. Place on pan broiler, broil until golden brown.

5 May 1932, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “Today’s Menu” by Marian Manners, pg. A7:
*CITY CHICKEN
One and one-half pounds veal steak, one and one-half pounds pork steak, one teaspoonful salt, one-fourth teaspoonful paprika, one-half cupful flour, four tablespoonfuls fat, two tablespoonfuls chopped onions, two tablespoonfuls chopped green peppers, two tablespoonfuls chopped celery, one cupful water.

Have steaks cut one-half-inch thick and then cut into one-inch pieces. Alternate pork and veal pieces on skewers, allowing six pieces to each serving. Sprinkle with salt, paprika and flour. Heat fat in frying pan. Add and brown meat. Add rest of ingredients, cover and bake for hour in moderate oven. Inspect frequently and turn the “chicken” to allow even cooking. When ready to serve place chop frills on the ends of the skewers.

The Food Timeline - City Chicken
Mock Chicken Legs
1 lb beef steak
1 lb veal or pork
2 tesapoons salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 cup fat, melted
1/4 cup flour or 3.4 cup cracker crumbs
6-8 wooden skewers
Have steaks cut about 3/8 inches thick. Pound well and cut in 1 or 1 1/2 inch squares. Arrange 6 pieces alternately through one corner on each skewer, having top and bottom pieces somewhat smaller to represent drumsticks. Brush over or roll in fat, then in flour or crumbs, season with salt and pepper. Fry in fat left over and brown on all sides. Cover pan closely, cook slowly about 1 1/2 hours, or until tender, adding water if necessary.
-- The Settlement Cook Book, Mrs. Simon Kander [Settlement Cook Book Co.: Milwaukee WI] 21st edition enlarged and revised 1936 (p. 161)

Mock Chicken Drumsticks (City Chicken)
6 servings
Cut into 1X 11/2 inch pieces:
1 pound veal steak
1 pound pork steak
Sprinkle them with salt, pepper
Arrange the veal and pork cubes alternately on 6 skewers. Press the pieces close together into the shape of a drumstick. Roll the meat in flour.
Beat 1 egg, 2 tablespoons water
Dip the sticks into the diluted egg then roll them in breadcrumbs.
Melt in a skillet 1/4 cup shortening
Add 1 tablespoon minced onion (optional)
Brown meat well. Cover the bottom of the skillet with boiling stock or stock substitute or water. Put a lid on the skillet and cook the meat over very hot heat until it is tender. Thicken the gravy with flour (2 tablespoons four to 1 cup of liquid). If preferred, the skillet may be covered and placed in a slow oven 325 degrees F. Until the meat is tender.”
-- The Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer [Bobbs Merill: Indianapolis] 1936 (p. 95)
[NOTE: Mrs. Rombauer does not offer an explanation regarding the origin of the term “city chicken”.]

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • (0) Comments • Wednesday, December 17, 2008 • Permalink