Sunday, February 27, 2011

Snacking State-by-State: Delaware I - A Game of Chicken

This next post takes me about as close to home as I've gotten. From the concrete jungles of Wilmington, gateway to Philadelphia, to the shores of Rehoboth Beach and Fenwick Island, friendly both to families and to "Family". It's the only state east of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Snacking State-by-State: Delaware

Official Name: State of Delaware
State Nicknames: The First State, The Blue Hen State, The Small Wonder
Admission to the US: December 7, 1787 (#1, baby, and don't you forget it)
Capital: Dover (2nd largest city)
Other Important Cities: Wilmington (largest), Newark (3rd largest)
Region: Mid-Atlantic, South, Northeast; South Atlantic (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Clambake
Bordered by: Pennsylvania (north); New Jersey, Delaware Bay & the Atlantic Ocean (east); Maryland (south); Maryland & the Mason-Dixon Line (west)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: Blue hen (bird); Weakfish (fish); strawberry (fruit), milk (beverage); peach pie (dessert)
Eastern oyster (shellfish)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: oysters, clams, blue crabs, fish (bluefish, weakfish), lobster, chicken, peaches, Dogfish Head beer, strawberries

Much of Delaware's culinary landscape looks like that of Maryland and Virginia, specifically their Eastern Shores. One thing to note about Delaware is the importance of chicken: it's poultry country, as evidenced by the blue hen's status as the official state bird. An important staple in colonial times, it's even more so today, and has been since the 1920's [Delaware Guide, date unknown].

Also of note in this coastal state is, of course, seafood. The Delaware Department of Fish and Wildlife points out all the many varieties of seafood that are found in and off the waters of the First State: oysters, crabs, clams (available locally year-round), lobster (also found locally year-round, which I did not know).

One more thing I did not know is that Delaware is a major producer of peaches, or at least it used to be. Delaware was at one time the country's biggest producer of peaches. Today, the industry is much more small-scale [Delaware Guide, date unknown]

And of course, Milton and Rehoboth Beach are together the home of Dogfish Head, one of my favorite producers of beer. Their recipes are fascinating, and some of them go together with Delaware's major foods in fascinating ways. Take their Saison du BUFF, for example - a brew of thyme, rosemary, parsley and sage. This is a selection that goes well with any chicken dish. And so it goes that one of the dishes I try out from Delaware is just that: a chicken dish.

Since there are so many chicken dishes, and none are really specific to Delaware, I had to really root around for one. I finally found one from the Delmarva Poultry Industry, which apparently dates all the way back to 1948, and the very first Chicken of Tomorrow competition. Poster "Melly" from the Taste of Home forum posted back in 2004 that "the event featured the world's largest frying pan (ten feet in diameter), made in Selbyville [just above the Delaware-Maryland border - my note] and capable of cooking eight hundred chicken quarters at once" [Taste of Home, 2004]. Though I cannot confirm this, it makes for one fascinating chicken story, if ever there could be such a thing. Surely, at least as compelling as MST3K's disturbing glimpse into the Chicken of Tomorrow (here's Part 2 - note, this short was made in Texas, not Delaware)

The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup of Italian dressing. In a nod to Delaware's peach-infused past, I swapped the Italian out for a homemade peach vinaigrette.

The recipe: Easy Baked Chicken with Peach Dressing

Of course, first I had to make the peach vinaigrette (recipe posted by Vanessa Higgins at This was especially easy: just throw the following ingredients into the blender, and put into a cruet:

* one peach (preferably a fresh one but I could only find a small can at the time)
* olive oil, red wine vinegar, cayenne pepper and salt (had all of them on hand).

The recipe says it will yield 1/2 cup of vinaigrette, but I almost filled my cruet with about a cup to a cup and a half. If you don't have a cruet, your best bet is to go into the salad dressings section of the supermarket and buy a make-it-yourself kit, complete with a cruet. The one I found was $2.50.

Next you add the chicken to the vinaigrette. For this part of the recipe, you will need the following:

* the peach vinaigrette you just made (the original calls for 1/2 cup of Italian vinaigrette)
* one chicken (I cheated and bought one already cut up, about 4 pounds of chicken. I bought this one at Whole Foods for $9, a splurge since I don't buy much meat anymore)
* Italian bread crumbs (or else, toast four slices of bread and throw them in your food processor with about a tablespoon of Italian seasoning)
* salt and paprika (I used smoked paprika)
* I didn't have margarine, which the recipe called for. I was going to drizzle olive oil over the chicken instead, but yes, I did forget this step.

To make this, I had to skin the chicken. This is important - you want to bread the chicken, not the chicken skin.

Once done, put the chicken in a large gallon zip top bag with the vinaigrette, and let sit for at least half an hour. In retrospect, I wish I had made slits in the chicken flesh, and let it sit for a whole lot longer.

But I'll talk about that later.

While the chicken is marinating, mix the bread crumbs with the salt and paprika. You will coat each piece of vinaigrette-y chicken with this.

Place all pieces of chicken on a baking sheet (better coated than mine - the instructions call for aluminum foil, which I ran out of. Waah waaaaah.), and bake for 50 minutes at 375°F.

At the end, you will have lots of caramel-y peachy goo around each piece of chicken. The smaller pieces had a more intense and identifiable peach flavor, while the breasts and thighs will have far less of one. Please don't overcook, because you will dry it out. Thankfully, I did not do that.

There is the Saison du BUFF in the background. It's a nice, herbaceous beer that goes well with many chicken dishes, such as this one. Also notice the blob in the background. This is Delaware Spoon Bread, for which there are a hundred versions. The one I used came from a small, plastic spiral-bound cookbook by Jennie Robillard, A Collection of DelMarVa Recipes.

As the DPI suggests, this really is a simple recipe. Next time I may try the Italian dressing, because I was hoping for something much more peachy tasting than this. You live and learn. Unexpectedly, if anything tasted more peachy it was the breading. One of my favorite ways to eat chicken is with a lot of breading (Can you say "It's Shake and Bake, and we helped"?). I loved how fluffy, goopy and peachy the breading got. And the chicken, a local chicken that wasn't the typical Freakchicken you might buy at the supermarket, actually tasted more like a chicken! And it was juicy and delicious.


Delaware Guide. "Delaware Food." Delaware Guide, date unknown. Copyright 2004-2011, IIWINC (Interactive Internet Websites, Inc).

Delmarva Poultry Industry. "Easy Baked Chicken." Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., 2011.

Epstein, Becky Sue, and Ed Jackson. The American Lighthouse Cookbook: The Best Recipes and Stories from America's Shorelines. Cumberland House: Naperville, IL, 2009. Portions also available on Google Books.

Hense, Zina. Delaware Fresh Seafood (guide). Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife in cooperation with the Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistical Program (ACCSP), 2008.

Higgins, Vanessa. "Peach Vinaigrette Salad Dressing." Local Foods, date unknown. Copyright 2011,

Jennie Robillard. A Collection of DelMarVa Recipes. Eastern Shore Arts & Crafts Center: Princess Anne, Maryland, date unknown.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Delaware" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods webpage link to "Delaware”.