City chicken (also known in some locations as mock drumsticks or mock chicken) is an entrée consisting of cubes of meat (usually pork), which have been placed on a wooden skewer (approximately 4–5 inches long), then fried and/or baked. Depending on the recipe, they may be breaded. Despite the name of the dish, city chicken almost never contains chicken.
A similar dish known as "mock chicken" was described as early as 1908. The first references to city chicken appeared in newspapers and cookbooks just prior to and during the Depression Era in cities such as Pittsburgh. City chicken typically has cooks using meat scraps to fashion a makeshift drumstick from them. It was a working class food item. During the Depression, cooks used pork because it was then cheaper than chicken in many parts of the country, especially in those markets far from rural poultry farms. Sometimes cooks would grind the meat and use a drumstick-shaped mold to form the ground meat around a skewer.
The dish is popular in cities throughout the eastern Great Lakes region of Ohio and Michigan as well as the northeastern Appalachian regions of Pennsylvania and Upstate New York, and at least as far south and west as Louisville, Kentucky. City chicken is commonly found in the metropolitan areas of Binghamton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Erie, Pittsburgh and Scranton, hence, the dish's "urban" title. In Canada, the deli-counter version is popular in the Ottawa Valley and Kitchener area.
Pork is typically the base meat in the common versions of the dish, although recipes vary regionally. For example, Pittsburgh-area preparations are almost always breaded and usually baked, while in Binghamton, the meat is usually marinated, battered and then deep fried. The Cleveland version is generally baked without breading, but the meat is dredged in flour, browned in a pan, then finished in the oven, and served with gravy. Grocery stores in both in the Greater Cleveland area as well as those in the Pittsburgh metro area include wooden skewers with pork cubes specifically packaged as city chicken. In Ottawa, Canada, at least one variation involves skewers of three kinds of meat: pork, veal, and beef. Another Canadian variation, from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, was composed entirely of veal.
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