City Chicken is pure Midwestern comfort food. This working class favorite has been enjoyed for generations. During the depression, it became a staple dish in urban areas of the rust belt, including Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo to name a few. Crisco published a city chicken recipe in 1940 which introduced this budget meal to the mainstream.
Chicken was expensive during the depression. Families that immigrated to these areas for work usually didn’t have enough land to raise chickens. And it wasn’t sustainable to transport chicken into the city from rural areas. But there was usually a slaughterhouse in town. So they had access to livestock like pork.
So home cooks used scraps of pork and veal to create a convincing mock chicken. The breaded skewers were sometimes shaped to look like chicken drumsticks too. When served with creamy mashed potatoes and savory pan gravy, it must have been a delicious escape from troubling times.
The local polish communities embraced City Chicken. Which makes sense when you consider that breaded schnitzels are common fare of central and eastern Europe. You can still find raw skewered pork, labeled “City Chicken” at grocery stores in historically Polish enclaves, such as Hamtramck, Michigan. And if you’re not in the mood to cook, many Polish restaurants still serve this old school dish.
This easy City Chicken recipe features breaded pork skewers that are pan seared, then baked until tender. Cooking City Chicken will transport you to the Motor City with every bite.
- Pittsburgh, PA – Breaded, baked
- Cleveland, OH – Not breaded, baked
- Binghamton, NY – Marinated, battered, deep-fried
- Ottawa, Ontario, CA – Sometimes use a trio of meats – pork, veal, beef
Easy City Chicken Recipe with Gravy
- 8 wooden skewers
- 1½ pounds boneless pork, cut into 1½-inch cubes
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt / 3/4 teaspoon table salt (or to taste)
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 egg (whisked with 2 Tablespoons water)
- 1 cup plain bread crumbs or saltine crumbs
- 2 Tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1½ cup chicken stock
- 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon onion powder
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 bay leaf (or add a pinch of dried thyme or sage)
- Mashed potatoes (to serve)
- Season the cubes of pork with salt, pepper, and paprika. Thread onto the skewers. (Tip: It’s easier to slice and thread meat when it’s slightly frozen yet still pliable. It’s less slippery to work with and will hold it’s shape when slicing.)
- Prepare three plates: one with a layer of flour; one for the egg wash (egg + water); and finally a plate for the bread crumbs.
- Roll the first skewer in flour. Shake off the excess flour.
- Then roll the skewer in the egg mixture. Let the excess egg drip off as much as possible.
- Finally roll the skewer in bread crumbs. Be sure to coat the skewer well on all sides. Set aside on a plate. Repeat this process with the rest of the skewers.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and set a 9X13-inch baking dish on the counter.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Swirl the pan to coat the surface with oil. Brown each skewer on all sides. Space apart in the 9X13-inch baking dish.
- Whisk together the flour with about ¼ cup of chicken stock until there are no lumps. Whisk in the rest of the chicken stock, onion powder, and a few grinds of black pepper. Toss in the bay leaf.
- Pour the gravy mixture into the baking dish and tilt to evenly coat the bottom.
- Cover tightly with foil and bake for about an hour.
- Remove the baking dish from the oven and carefully remove the foil. Transfer skewers to a clean platter. Discard the bay leaf. Give the gravy at the bottom of the pan a good whisk until it’s smooth. Serve with mashed potatoes and gravy.