As you may or may not know, Jen at Sprite’s Keeper is the proprietress (for want of a better word) of a wonderful weekly forum (because it’s NOT, she will tell you, a meme) called the Spin Cycle. Every Friday, Jen hands out a subject and those of us who participate write a blog post giving our own, unique “spin” on it. You can’t imagine my delight when I woke up this morning and checked out her blog for my next assignment.
Recipes. Fall recipes, to be exact. I am so completely tickled that I am going to do an entire week of Spins, starting today (mostly because I had this post already planned). Some of the recipes I’ll post will be reruns of some I’ve already published (i.e. my Texas-style chili, which in my opinion is the fall food), and some will be new (I’m going to try out a new German Chocolate Cake recipe this weekend at Beloved’s request; if it’s good, I’ll post it next week).
So here we go.
I come from a part of the country with solid food traditions – chili, chicken fried steak, barbecue, cornbread, fried okra, grits, fried chicken, cream gravy…Fletcher’s corny dogs. Hey, I said nothing about those food traditions being haute cuisine, but let’s be honest – all of those things makes you think “the South” and some of them make you think “Texas.” When I moved to northeast Ohio four years ago, my first impression was that every one who lived here MUST be Italian, because Italian restaurants are as ubiquitous here as Mexican restaurants are in Dallas, and good gawd, there’s a pizza joint on practically every corner.
I was beginning to wonder if there was any regional food unique to the area at all when I ran across something in the meat department of the grocery store that I’d never seen before. It was cubes of lean pork loin threaded on a bamboo skewer and labeled “City Chicken.” There were no instructions on the packaging for cooking it, but the very name intrigued me so I put it in my cart, paid for it and brought it home.
This action was the beginning of a journey that not only consisted of figuring out how to cook it – there are several different methods, and everyone seems to have their favorite – but just why it is named what it is. According to Wikipedia, “The origins of the entrée and its name are not entirely known, but its first references in cookbooks are during the Depression Era in midwestern cities such as Pittsburgh, when people took meat scraps and fashioned a makeshift drumstick out of them. It was a working class food item. 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, or veal) are used. In spite of the name, the dish almost never contains chicken.”
It then goes on to tell us that “The dish (and hence the term) are regionalized in cities in the northeastern Appalachia region of Pennsylvania and Upstate New York and Eastern\Central Ohio.” Aha! Food unique to the region!
City chicken is often breaded, pan fried and then baked – in some areas it is breaded and then deep-fried – but in northeast Ohio it is often dredged in seasoned flour, browned, then baked and served with gravy. This is the route I took, and eventually it evolved into a one-pan procedure where I dredged it in seasoned flour, browned it, then covered it with chicken or beef broth and some milk, and left it to simmer until the pork was tender and the flour thickened the liquid into a pan gravy. It was quite tasty.
Those skewers, though, irritated the bejebus out of me. They made it hard to dredge the meat in the flour, made it hard to fit the pork into the skillet to brown it, and it was a complete pain in the ass to get the pork off of them to eat because the way it was cooked you simply were NOT going to pick it up and eat it like a drumstick. So, one day, when faced with a package of pre-skewered city chicken, I just said “$@%# it”, took the cubes of pork off the skewers and invented what Beloved calls “Boneless City Chicken.” It was easier to cook and easier to eat. Then I decided I could make it more economical, too, buy buying lean pork loin and cubing it myself, rather than buying it already cubed and skewered.
Recently, though, after having made Julia Child’s version of boeuf bourguignon and learning a brand-new way (for me) to brown and flour meat for a stew that made an absolutely scrumptious gravy, I revised my recipe for City Chicken yet again. A little more work, yes, but oh. my. gawd. This stuff is good, folks – warming, comforting and the perfect cold weather food. If you don’t care for or don’t eat pork, for whatever reason, I’m sure it would be just as good with some good, lean stewing beef or veal.
Note: if you partially freeze the meat, it will be much easier to cut into cubes.
Boneless City Chicken
2 pounds lean pork loin, trimmed of visible fat and cut into 2″ cubes
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 – 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 can low sodium chicken or beef broth or 2 cups homemade stock
2 cups milk (skim, 2% or whole)
Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 450° F. Dry all of the cubed pork well with a paper towel – it will brown better.
Using a heavy bottomed Dutch oven or deep casserole dish – I used my Lodge 6-quart enameled cast iron Dutch oven – heat a tablespoon or two of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat on the stove. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add about a quarter of the cubed pork to the pan and, stirring occasionally, brown it well on all sides – about 3 minutes. Remove the pork with a slotted spoon to a plate or platter and repeat 3 more times with the remaining pork, adding a little more oil if and when necessary.
When all of the pork cubes have been browned, lower the heat to medium and add the onion to the pan and quickly sauté until soft and translucent, but not browned, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds and remove from the heat.
Return all of the pork to the Dutch oven/casserole, along with any of the accumulated juices; add the salt and pepper to the pork and stir well. Then, a couple of tablespoons at a time, sprinkle the flour over the pork/onion mixture, stirring well after each addition. Once all of the flour has been incorporated into the pork, place the Dutch oven/casserole in the oven, uncovered, for 4 minutes. Carefully remove the pan from the oven, stir well, and return to the oven for another 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, and lower the heat to 350° F.
Carefully place the Dutch oven/casserole on the stove and slowly stir in the broth/stock, followed by the milk, combining it well. Cover with a lid and return to the oven. Bake for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender and the gravy is thickened (whisk in a little water or milk if the gravy thickens too much before the meat is done, but this really shouldn’t be a problem).
Serve over hot buttered noodles, steamed rice or mashed potatoes.