As I drove through Marblehead, OH last weekend, I saw a sign in front of a closed-down restaurant: CITY CHICKEN - EPA APPROVED. The restaurant was closed, and I was looking for brunch, not dinner, so I didn't stop. And really, I don't think you could have paid me to eat at a place that advertises their food as approved by the EPA. I mean, if you advertise that, it implies that something at some point was not EPA approved. That worries me.

So here's the question that was burning in my mind: is a city chicken a pigeon? A rat? So many meats are said to "taste like chicken" that it's a sure bet that "city chicken" isn't chicken at all--but what do they substitute? And why must the EPA approve it? Well, when I looked the recipe up on google, I discovered some good news, and some bad news: city chicken is veal. Or pork. Or stew beef. Or whatever other meat you can use that has lots of fat and can be cubed. It's fried up in a batter I recognized from a recipe for chicken-fried steak.

Various sources listed it as Polish, Russian, and German in origin, but also called it a coal miner recipe. The coal towns of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and more were almost exclusively populated by immigrants from those ethnic groups. Another source claimed the name came from when chicken was very expensive to ship (before refrigerated rail cars), and so city restaurants would make "faux chicken" or pass off their mystery meat as "city chicken." Given the fact that Marblehead was packed with Byzantine Catholic and Orthodox churches, and the names on almost every business were Slavic or Teutonic in origin, I figure the real story is somewhere in the middle. The recipe calls for the meat to be globbed onto a skewer so that it resembles a drumstick, further adding to the confusion--it is clearly meant to pass for chicken... but why? Enjoy this recipe while pondering the questions of its origin.

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 c. milk or cream
  • bread crumbs or crushed saltines
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 pound meat - veal, cubed beef, pork, etc. - most recipes suggest mixing 1/2 pound of veal with 1/2 pound pork.
  • large-diameter skewers or cleaned 1/2" dowel rod (false drumsticks)

Heat 1" of cooking oil over a medium-high flame in a frying pan or skillet. Heat oven to 350o F. Thread meat onto skewers to imitate a chicken drumstick, then dip skewers in egg and then bread crumbs & spices. Saute until golden brown in oil, then place in a baking pan with milk or cream. Cover in foil and bake about 1 hour.

Other versions of this recipe call for using corn flakes, corn starch, and all manner of other spices; take your favorite frying batter recipe and try it out here.

... and I still don't know why it needed to be EPA approved...

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