Interestingly enough, this recipe called "city chicken" rarely contains any chicken at all. This mock drumstick entree is made up of either cubes of meat or ground meat that is sometimes shaped into a chicken drumstick and placed on a skewer. It consists of meat scraps that today is most often pork but can be veal as well. After being shaped, the city chicken is sometimes breaded and either fried or baked.
City chicken has a long history and has traveled from the kitchens of the Midwest to homes in the South, adapting and changing slightly over the years creating similar recipes but each with their own personal touch. Almost all recipes include pork but vary regionally in their style of preparation. Some are simply formed and then baked, while others are marinated and deep-fried. This version includes ground veal and/or pork and is as coated in cracker meal and baked.
- Preheat oven to 400F; grease a jelly roll pan well.
- Combine ground meat, egg, milk, 1/2 cup cracker crumbs, salt, pepper, and sage in a large bowl; gently mix until well blended. Divide meat mixture into 16 portions. Form each portion into a drumstick shape around a skewer.
- Place melted butter in a bowl wide enough to fit drumstick; put remaining 1 cup cracker crumbs in a pie plate.
- Dip each drumstick into the melted butter then roll in cracker meal.
- Place drumsticks in a single layer in the greased jelly roll pan.
- Drizzle remaining melted butter over tops of drumsticks. Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden brown.
History of City Chicken
This mock chicken recipe with ground meat goes back to a time when chicken was expensive and veal was the budget meat. During the early 1900s, chicken was considered a special meal to be served for "Sunday dinner with the preacher" or holiday gatherings. This was a time before industrial chicken farming, so poultry was mainly used for egg production. By the time the chicken was past egg-laying age, its meat was tough and would only be palatable when cooked in a stew. So whole chickens were rare and considered a delicacy. In turn, cooks created mock chicken drumsticks using the less expensive meats like pork and veal. Whereas today veal is more of a splurge, back then it was cheap and plentiful—cow farmers were trying to thin out their herds and therefore sending calves to slaughter.
City chicken is popular in the eastern parts of Michigan and Ohio as well as in areas of Pennsylvania and Upstate New York. The recipe traveled down South after southerners migrated to the North for jobs in the auto and railroad industries and then returned home with dishes they had grown to love. You will mainly find these mock drumsticks in metropolitan cities as it was originally created to feed the working class.