Mama Gene’s Chicken Loaf

I’m on an adventure back home to Houston this week, so today I have a guest post by a very talented cook. He’s the guy who taught me to make Pasquale Manale’s Barbecued Shrimp, Egg Rolls, and Alabama Style Smother-Fried Steak. Not only is he a fantastic cook, he is the author of a book which is sure to entertain. The Sipsey Swamp Stories is about an unconventional childhood set in 1950’s rural Alabama. It’s witty tone and childhood tales make for a great summer read. Of course the author of both the book and today’s post is my dad.

I grew up having chicken loaf every summer. I can’t say it is the most child-friendly recipe when served cold straight from the pan. However, it’s a family hit if you serve it with a bowl of hot rice. The kids can pile a mound of rice on their slice of chicken loaf and watch it magically melt into very good chicken and rice. As an adult I appreciate this recipe not only for it’s place in my gastronomic past, but also as a beautifully simple summer meal. You start this in the morning and it’s in the fridge by lunch. Then your afternoon is free to play with your kids. I’ll be back next week. Enjoy!

By Wendell Wiggins

My mother, Gene Wiggins, didn’t pick up much German culture from her immigrant father. In fact, he never learned much more English than was needed to practice his trade, so she got no long fatherly lectures or even many bits of family history. Otto Marle was a classically trained baker, born and reared near Berlin. In his few moments of reminiscence, he might mention his treasured memory of attending the Berlin Opera and seeing the Kaiser.

Mother did, however, pick up some food preferences from him as she spent her older childhood assisting him in his bakery, first in Tuscaloosa and then in Fayette, Alabama. This bit of my mother’s German heritage was revealed through her cooking. She liked cold spiced meats, pumpernickel, pastries, and one very special oddity – at least odd for rural Alabama — cold chicken loaf.

Here is her cold chicken loaf recipe. It makes a great lunch or picnic dish, served with sweet pickles, tomato slices, deviled eggs, cheese, good bread, mustard, crunchy celery, carrots and cucumbers. Add your own picnic favorites.

Mama Gene’s Chicken Loaf – Click here for a printer friendly version

White pepper is specified in Mother’s recipe because, as she was always reminding us, “Black pepper tastes good, but it makes the chicken look dirty!”

serves 4

3 pounds chicken pieces
water to cover chicken in a cooking pot
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup chopped pimento or fire roasted sweet red peppers
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons, 1/2 ounce, or 2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cold water

Cut the chicken into chunks that will fit in your covered stove-top cooking pot. Add the celery, bay leaves, onion, white pepper, and salt and cover with water. Bring the pot to a boil and simmer until the chicken can easily be pushed off the bones with a fork. Resist the urge to cook this till it falls off the bone because it makes the texture mealy.

When cool enough to pick up the chicken, separate the meat from the bones and skin. Be diligent when removing the skin, fat and gristle from the chicken. The right texture is key to the success of the loaf. Strain the broth and reserve it. Toss the boned meat with the parsley and chopped peppers and pack it into a gelatin mold. If you have a fancy mold, use it. If not, any heat resistant glass or ceramic pan big enough to hold the chicken will do. My mother always used an old Pyrex rectangular refrigerator storage dish.

Mix the powdered gelatin with 1/4 cup cold water and stir until all the lumps dissolve. Add 2 cups of the strained broth and heat it until the gelatin is completely dissolved to make a clear liquid.

Pour the gelatin/broth mixture into the mold pan. Be sure you have enough liquid to cover the chicken. Make a bit more gelatin/broth mixture if necessary. Let it cool and place it in the refrigerator.

When the chicken loaf has gelled solidly, remove it from the mold. To serve, cut 1/2” slices neatly from the loaf and arrange on a plate with your other picnic specialties. The light colored chicken, the red peppers and the green parsley bits makes for a very attractive display.

I like to add some black pepper to my loaf at the table. Another addition that really complements the meat/veggie taste is a bit of lemon juice. Place a few slices of lemon on your serving plate for decoration and for those who know how to use it.


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