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Grim's Grub: How everything came to taste like chicken

Photo illustration, Metro Creative Graphics, Inc.

It is time to talk about our most famous meat, the item to which every other food is compared and which seems to be the only food some children will eat. Of course I mean chicken.

This summer I would like to tackle the history of "beggar's chicken," but it would be fowl play because I have not tried the recipe on my own just yet. (Sorry, I couldn't resist). Seriously, I won't be doing a beggar's chicken recipe until I've harvested wild clay, so stay tuned.

It is fascinating to look back at the history of the bird itself. The Pennsylvania State Extensions office says the domestication of chickens dates back to at least 2000 B.C. in southeast Asia, likely descended from the red jungle fowl, which is still found wild today. I have to wonder if the wild counterpart looks very different today.

Disturbingly, Penn State says cockfighting may have had more to do with the global distribution of chickens than their delicious taste. I think the versatility of chicken should have been enough, but I'm a man more driven by his adventurous palate than his entertainment interests, and I've never really been entertained by competitive "sports" if you could define animal fighting that way.

Penn State says there are 350 chicken breeds with combinations of different physical features. In the United States, the production of these breeds is overseen by the American Poultry Association, which has determined standards for classifying breeds since 1873.

The National Chicken Council's website has quite the timeline outlining the development of poultry production and its highlights. In the 1800s and early 1900s, most chicken production was still local. Farmers raised backyard flocks of chickens that laid eggs and/or were butchered for meat.

Commercially, chickens were raised more commonly for their eggs than for their meat until the 1920s and 1930s, when the council says "broiler" chickens - chickens raised and bred specifically for their meat - were first produced. The council credits Mrs. Wilmer Steele, of Sussex County, Delaware, as a trailblazer of commercial meat production.

By 1949, the U.S. Department of Agriculture initiated a voluntary grading program; in 1942, an Illinois plant gained government recognition for an assembly line production of ready-to-cook, whole, plucked chicken; and in 1952, broilers surpassed traditional farm chickens as a source of meat.

Many of the technological, nutritional and scientific practices in poultry production today came from the mid 1970s and in 1992, U.S. consumption of chicken surpassed that of beef. I think that is when we can officially say everything started tasting like chicken.

For your tasting pleasure, I am including a recipe that is new to me. Chicken Marbella is a baked, bone-in recipe originating from Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso, of the Silver Palate in New York. The dish is born of Jewish tradition with a splash of Mediterranean inspiration. The broccoli is just something I whipped together to go with it and it turned out great.

Chicken Marbella

Adapted from onceuponachef.com for smaller servings and slightly different ingredients

To increase the yield, remember 8 tablespoons is ½ cup

  • ½ a chicken (I used two thigh-leg combinations)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely pureed
  • ½ tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/4-1/3 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoon pitted prunes
  • 1 tablespoon Spanish green olives
  • 1 tablespoon capers with a bit of juice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons white wine (or dry sherry)
  • ½ tablespoon parsley

In a large bowl, combine garlic, oregano, salt, pepper, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers with juice and bay leaf. Add the chicken and coat completely with the marinade. Cover and allow to marinate, refrigerated, overnight.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a baking dish, arrange the chicken in a single layer. Spoon the marinade over the chicken evenly and then sprinkle the pieces with brown sugar before pouring white wine around them. Bake for 50-60 minutes, basting occasionally until juices run clear when the thickest section of meat is pierced. Garnish with parsley

Broccoli with Parmesan Breadcrumbs

Serves one

  • ½ cup broccoli
  • 1-2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan
  • 1-2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon bacon bits
  • Pinch garlic salt

In a 12-ounce bakeable container, place your broccoli and 1/3 inch of water. Microwave for 1 minute. Drain water and stir in butter and garlic salt while hot.

Combine Parmesan, breadcrumbs and bacon bits. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the broccoli. Bake until the cheese melts slightly and the crumbs toast.