“City Chicken” — a bit of a misnomer because this dish with “chicken” in its name — has no chicken in it. Here in the Coal Region, this much loved comfort food is cubes of pork and veal alternately threaded on a wooden skewer, breaded, fried to brown, and finished in the oven.
There is also a version that uses an equal mix of ground pork and veal which I loved as a kid, but my Dad insisted that REAL city chicken had to be made from the chunks of meat.
Top of the comfort food list
In the Coal Region of Northeastern PA, city chicken is so popular, it is often offered by caterers as a protein choice when choosing your menu for an event. In many meat departments in grocery stores or butcher shops here, you can find the chunks of meat or the mixed ground version already packaged for you including the skewers!
City chicken is also found in areas of the mid-west, western Pennsylvania and areas with large Polish-American populations. But here in the Coal Region, we hold good city chicken in high esteem!
Getting his fill
In Minersville, (Schuylkill County in PA) there was an event venue, Hillcrest Hall, that was often the site of weddings and banquets my family found themselves attending in the 60s and 70s.
My Dad would be so excited to go to an event there, yet seemed lukewarm to other similar social activities. One day he finally sheepishly admitted he liked to go to anything at Hillcrest because they might be serving their version of city chicken as part of the meal. My Pop was a real city chicken connoisseur.
And they called it “city chicken”
A little history on the dish and the name: During the depression, chicken was more expensive than pork. So pork and veal were substituted for and “passed off” as chicken. The pork and veal are threaded alternately onto a wooden skewer and, once breaded and browned, the servings resemble chicken drumsticks.
It’s all about how you like it
Depending on the area you are from you might find some cooks use all pork; some even use beef cubes. Some bake the skewers of meat topped with a can of cream of mushroom soup, but I still do mine the way Mom did; browned in a frying pan then placed on a rack with some liquid beneath to help tenderize the meats while they bake. For your convenience, both methods are included in my recipe for you.
I still love city chicken and nothing screams “home” to me like this Coalcracker comfort food.
City ChickenCourse: Entree, SnacksCuisine: Coal RegionDifficulty: Easy
A Coal Region comfort food consisting of cubes of pork and veal, threaded on a skewer, fried then finished in the oven; the skewers resemble chicken drumsticks. Made popular during the years when chicken was harder to obtain and more expensive than pork.
1/2 pound pork
1/2 pound veal
1 egg, beaten with 1 Tablespoon water
Flour (for dredging)
Dried bread crumbs (seasoned if you want with salt, pepper, seasoning salt) OR add salt/pepper to taste when finishing.
1 cup water or milk – if NOT using the “Sauce” baking method below)
- OPTIONAL: Sauce
1 (10 1/2 ounce) can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup milk
1 cup water
- Heat oven to 350F degrees.
- Cut pork and veal into 1″ cubes if necessary. Thread on bamboo or wooden skewers, alternating chunks of pork and veal. (about 4 per skewer).
- Dip the skewered meat in flour shaking off excess then in the egg wash, then roll in the bread crumbs to coat. Set aside for 5 minutes for “crust” to set up.
- Saute until browned in a frying pan with 1/4 inch oil. Just brown nicely all around, you will finish cooking in the oven.
- To bake WITHOUT sauce
- Place a baking rack in a shallow pan. Place browned skewers on the baking rack inside the pan and add the 1 cup water or milk to pan.
- Cover tightly with foil, and bake about 50 minutes to 1 hour or until nicely tender.
- To bake WITH SAUCE
- Place browned meat skewers directly on the baking pan (without the rack). Mix together the mushroom soup, milk and water and pour over the meat.
- Cover pan with foil and bake for approximately 1 hour. Remove foil for last 10 minutes.