Chicken Nobody

Chicken Nobody

“What’s in a name? That which we call a Reuben sandwich by any other word would taste as delicious.” I hope Shakespeare pardons the paraphrase. Did you ever wonder about the story behind foods with proper nouns in their names? Who was Reuben and was he really the first guy to slap some thousand island dressing on pumpernickel, pile up the corned beef and Swiss cheese, and then load it with sauerkraut? 

Often the origins of these famous dishes are in dispute. Invention of the Reuben sandwich is claimed by two different Reubens. Some claim that Reuben Kulakofsky, an Omahagrocer came up with the sandwich 1920s as a poker-night snack for himself and his buddies. Descendents of Arnold Reuben, who owned a deli in New York, claim he was the real Reuben behind the sandwich. We may never know the truth.

Not all such dishes are in dispute. The Caesar salad, for instance, has only one story behind it. Caesar Cardini was a chef and restaurateur in Tijuana, Mexico. Legend has it that on July 4, 1924 Cardini’s restaurant got slammed by more diners than they expected. He ran out of menu salads and pulled together what he had and prepared the first Caesar salad. Julia Child is credited for making the salad widely popular. She remembered eating it at Cardini’s restaurant as a child and years later she obtained the recipe from one of his daughters and included it in a cookbook.

A few years ago I ran across a recipe that had someone’s name attached to it. It was called Chicken al a Polly. Weeks later I saw a very similar recipe called Chicken Betty. I figured there had to be a story here but after researching it I came up empty. My imagination started to take off. I’m sure the story was one of intrigue and betrayal. Maybe they were sisters and their feud tore the family apart. Backs were stabbed. Wills were changed. Church pitch-ins erupted into fisticuffs. I don’t know the real story but I bet it’s a doozy.

I was so curious about these two women I decided to make the recipe to see what the fuss was all about. As I got started, I made several changes. That’s what I usually do with recipes - tweak that, substitute this. The result was really delicious. I instantly knew that I would put my version of the recipe in a upcoming column. But what would I call it? If I used Polly’s name, Betty might come after me. If I gave the nod to Betty what would Polly’s response be? I didn’t want to be the target of either wraths. To keep the peace and to save my own skin, I’m going to call it “Chicken Nobody.” With my luck they’ll both come after me, united after all these years. If you see me being chased down Meridian Street by two women, you’ll know they’ve found me.  

Chicken Nobody

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breast
  • Kosher Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium onion, medium diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bottle (12 ounces) Heinz Chili Sauce
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sherry
  • 1/4 cup water 
  • 1/2 of a 20-ounce can of crushed pineapple

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Heat oil in large saute pan over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper and sear in the saute pan until brown. Remove chicken and add the onions. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes, then add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the chili sauce, raisins and sugar. Return the chicken to the skillet and cover the pan with lid or aluminum foil. Bake in oven for 30 minutes. Uncover pan, add sherry, water, and pineapple and bake uncovered for 15 more minutes or until the internal temperature of the chicken is 185 degrees.

Originally published in the Lebanon Reporter on January 11, 2006

Chocolate, Chili, and Civility

Chocolate, Chili, and Civility