Sunday, May 20, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: Pennsylvania I - (Chow Down at) Pig-Fil-A

I cross the Mason-Dixon for the next few weeks, heading into the Keystone State, the land of Philly cream cheese and Philly cheese steaks, of city chicken and all manner of Eastern European foods that sound kind of like halupki or halušky, of shoo fly pies and massive Amish buffets offering the kind of excess that Amish culture is absolutely not about!  And don't forget the Herr's, Hanover and local favorite Utz's potato chips.  All come from our neighbor to the immediate north.

Official Name: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
State Nicknames: The Keystone State, The Quaker State
Admission to the US: December 12, 1787 (#2 - Delaware beat 'em to the punch)
Capital: Harrisburg (9th largest)
Other Important Cities: Philadelphia (largest), Pittsburgh (2nd largest), Allentown (3rd largest), Erie (4th largest)
Region: Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest; Middle Atlantic (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Maple Syrup; Clambake; Crabcake; Chestnut; Wild Rice
Bordered by: Maryland & the Mason-Dixon Line (south), West Virginia (southwest), Ohio (west), Lake Erie (northwest), New York (north & northeast), New Jersey & the Delaware River (east), Delaware (southeast)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: white-tailed deer (animal), milk (beverage), ruffed grouse (bird), chocolate chip cookie (cookie), brook trout (fish)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: German & Amish foods; Polish & Eastern European foods; pretzels, water ice, hoagies & Philly cheese steaks (particular to Philadelphia); city chicken, halupki & halušky, chipped ham, kielbasa (particular to Pittsburgh); scrapple; Hershey's chocolates; birch beer; Herr's Potato Chips, Hanover Pretzels & (yes) Utz Potato Chips; people (if you're an extra in a George Romero movie, that is - the big ones were all filmed near Pittsburgh)

Like many Marylanders, I do not find Pennsylvania particularly exotic.  My parents drove us to Amish country all the time when my sisters and I were kids.  Later on when I could drive myself, Philadelphia was a not infrequent destination for travel.  And though I've never been out towards Pittsburgh - not even to see our Ravens play the hated Steelers (How could I?  NFL tickets are too damn expensive these days) - I have watched rural southwestern PA, Monroeville and an underground storage facility somewhere in that area over and over again on my DVD player, as part of the George Romero Living Dead oeuvre.

It is the food of this last city, Pennsylvania's second largest, that I explore in this post.  Pittsburgh is home to some Midwestern classics (yes, Pitt is Midwestern, not Northeastern in its character) such as anything Polish, German, Slavic or Italian.  In particular, the pan-Eastern European halupki, or cabbage rolls, are a fairly common snack in the heavily Polish and Slovak Steel City.  Another Slavic classic is halušky, potato dumplings often served with cabbage.  Again, there are lots of recipes for this in Pittsburgher cookbooks and on the web.  I'm not making the cabbage rolls, but I am making the halušky with this family recipe from Luboš Brieda, proprietor and author of  He gives photo directions just like I am going to do below, and a good description of just how important this food is in his home country..
Halušky are what really defines Slovak cuisine. The name is typically translated to English as potato dumplings, but this is not quite right. Halušky are just that, halušky (pronounced halushky). Potato dumplings, in Slovak, are zemiakové knedľe. Halušky are somewhat similar to German spätzle. You can top them with just about anything. Few years back, my dad had a restaurant near Banská Bystrica’s town square where he served mostly halušky. I don’t remember exactly how many varieties were on the menu, but it must have been at least 20! [Brieda 2009]
The variety I make below is the cabbage variety.  Brieda doesn't include cabbage in his, but I found one on Pittsburgh's page.  This one has a recipe for egg noodles, but I just ignored that part of it and stir fried the cabbage with some of Brieda's halušky.

The Recipe: Halušky

For Brieda's Slovak halušky and the more Polish recipe that adds cabbage from the page (recipes on their respective page) you will need:

For the Slovak part of the recipe:
* potatoes (two Russets cost me about $1.40)
* flour (had it.  Yes I'm using a Southern flour instead of something more Northern like they might have in Pittsburgh.)
* salt (had it)

And for the Polish part:
* cabbage (had it)
* yellow onion (that too)
* butter (same)

This first part is the Slovak half of this recipe, from Brieda.  First grate raw peeled potatoes as finely as possible.

 (I should've used a finer grater, but in the end it worked out fine).

Put a large pot of water on the stove, salt it, and start boiling .

Back to the potatoes.  Mix a few cups of flour and some salt with it and knead it with your hands.

You will get something like this.  Let it sit for about half an hour.

Here's the most difficult part.  You need to cut little chunks of the potato mixture on a wooden board and drop them into the boiling water.  Brieda has a short film of his grandmother doing this very fast on his page for this recipe.  It took her about two minutes to get through this dough.  It took him about ten.  Not factoring in stoppage time (I did this in batches) it took me maybe about five to eight minutes once I got the hang of it.

At first the dumplings didn't look quite right.  I figured out that I had to press down the potato dough pieces a little bit, enough to smoosh them together so they stayed in one piece.  I boiled them for about five minutes.

These were the biggest  halušky by far, with most being about a couple of inches long and less than an inch wide.  They puff up when you boil 'em.

Now for the Polish half of this recipe, from Pittsburgh's food page.  Shred a head of cabbage (even a small one was too much for me, so I just shredded half of one).

Chop a yellow onion and fry it in butter until soft.

Add the cabbage to the pan and fry for a few minutes.

Next add noodles or in this case some of the potato halušky I just took out of the pot.  Fry this for about half an hour as well.

The halušky itself is a hearty main or side dish.  I wouldn't recommend eating the slippery potato halušky without frying them, kind of like a pierogi.  Boiled they are kind of like okra - slimy and slippery and not terribly appetizing.  Fried in cabbage they feel and taste much better.

Halušky is often a side dish to the Midwest's favorite poverty food, city chicken.  This is something that my friend Eric, from Columbus, Ohio, told me about.  His mother made it often when he was a boy.  But as common as it is, or used to be, in Ohio, Pittsburgh lays claim to it.

City chicken is not chicken.  It is pork, beef or sometimes even veal, but not chicken.  According to Wikipedia, it comes from a time when chicken, not pork or beef, was too expensive to obtain or even illegal to have in the city limits.  And so people who wanted chicken instead of pork or beef cut up those meats, skewered them and then either fried or baked them.  Pittsburgh's version is breaded (okay, floured) and baked, and this recipe - the second listed in the linked article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, follows that outline.  That article, from Bob Batz, Jr. [2012], cites the recipe from the I Grew Up in Southwestern Pennsylvania Cookbook: From Rolling Hills to Steel Mills by Douglas Robinson [2011].  Halupki and halušky are apparently both side dishes eaten with city chicken in the Pittsburgh area.  But meat and meat in the same dish?  This is why I made the halušky  instead of the halupki - I didn't feel like having two meat dishes in the same sitting.

The Recipe: City Chicken 

For city chicken, Pittsburgh-style, you will need:

* pork, veal, beef - anything but chicken (I had some left over in the freezer from an earlier post.  Now seemed like a good time to be thrifty)
* chicken (or beef) broth (note to self: stock up on chicken bouillon cubes)
* flour (had it)
* salt and pepper (here)
* fresh thyme (had none; dried will have to do)
* olive oil (had it)
* garlic (used up my last few cloves)
* wooden skewers (had these - you are doing a sort of shish kebab here)

Soak the skewers for about half an hour at the minimum, to ward off scorching in the oven.

Next, put the flour, salt, pepper and thyme into a large gallon bag.  You're doing the Shake and Bake style City Chicken here.

Cut up your meat into bite sized chunks.

Next, shake the meat in your bag until completely coated with the flour mixture.

It's Shake & Bake, and I didn't get nobody to help!

This next part I have never seen before: cut the clove of garlic in half and rub it all over the bottom of your pan.

Pour olive oil over the garlicky pan.

Meanwhile, skewer the pork.

Fry the pork on top of the stove in the pan for a few minutes on each side, just to sear it.

And next, add your broth to the pan and simmer for a few more minutes on each side.  From here I deviated from the recipe - okay, I must have looked at the next recipe on that page, which said to put it in the oven for an hour at 350°F, turning once.

It still turned out moist and juicy.

And there you have it: a classic (or so I'm guessing) Pittsburgher dinner of city chicken and halušky.

If you do try this, I would not recommend eating those halušky without frying them up first, like pierogi.  The cabbage was an excellent accompaniment, though it did need a little bit of salt.  Make sure you scrape up some of the tangy meat drippings to serve over the city chicken.  I could just scrape this stuff off the bottom of the pan and eat that.  But I'll settle for the whole meal.


Amish America.  "What do Amish eat?"  Copyright 2010 Amish America, All rights reserved.

Amish Homestead Cookbook.  Tourist cookbook, date of publication unknown.  "American Civil War Recipes: Union Hardtack and Confederate Johnnie Cakes".  Date unknown.  Copyright 1997-2012, maintained by Central Design Lab. All articles are public domain and clearly credit and link to the author when possible.

Batz, Bob, Jr. "Pittsburgh sticks with loving 'City Chicken'".  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, published March 30, 2012.  Copyright ©1997-2012 PG Publishing Co., Inc. All rights reserved.

Brieda, Luboš.  "Potato Dumplings (Halušky)".  Slovak Cooking, posted November 3, 2009.  Updated March 24, 2010.  Copyright 2009-2011 Slovak Cooking.  "Slicing Ribeye roast for philly cheese steak".  Discussion on "Home Cooking" board, Thread started September 6, 2008.

Pat's King of Steaks. "Pat's King of Steaks Philadelphia Cheese Steak".  Featured on the episode "Best Sandwiches" of the show The Best Of.  Food Network, 1999.

Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau.  "Pennsylvania Amish history & beliefs".  Copyright 2012 Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau, site maintained by Cimbrian.

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.  Pennsylvania Cookbook Trail of History.  From the Editors of Stackpole Books and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, foreword by William Woys Weaver.  Stackpole Books: Mechanicsburg, PA, 2004. ( "How to Make Haluski (Cabbage and Noodles)"  Date unknown.  Copyright 2012  All rights reserved.

Robinson, Douglas.  "City Chicken".  Recipe in I Grew Up in Southwestern Pennsylvania: A Nostalgic Look at Growing Up in the Pittsburgh Region.  Recipe featured in the article "Pittsburgh sticks with loving 'City Chicken'" by Bob Batz, Jr. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, published March 30, 2012)

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


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