One of the paradoxes of seeking out traditional regional foods is that restaurants often don’t serve them. If a dish has been around a long time and it’s prepared often at home, the locals prefer something more trendy when they go out to a restaurant. Such is the case with Cornell chicken, a style of BBQ chicken developed at Cornell University in the 50’s. It’s standard fare at state fairs, little league games, and home barbecues in central New York, but finding a restaurant that serves it would require a lengthy car trip.
So I made it myself along with another dish endemic to these environs—Syracuse salt potatoes.
Cornell chicken was developed by food scientist Dr. Robert Baker, who is also responsible for chicken nuggets and poultry hot dogs. It’s a simple, very effective marinade and basting sauce that gives the chicken a briny flavor with a subtle vinegar essence that penetrates below the meat’s surface. If you’re not a fan of sticky sweet gloopy barbecue sauce, this recipe is for you.
Salt potatoes are another simple, effective recipe that originated in the Finger Lakes. Syracuse has a long history of producing salt the traditional way. Brine from salt springs was placed in large trays and heated. When the water evaporated, the salt residue was harvested and packaged. In the 1800’s salt miners would bring potatoes to work and boil them in the brine for their lunch.
Today 5 lb. bags of small white potatoes with packages of salt included are sold in grocery stores here, and salt potatoes are a staple at cook outs and clambakes. Use a ratio of one cup of salt to six cups of boiling water and stir until salt is dissolved . Boil the potatoes with skins on until a knife slips easily into and out of the potato. Drain and return the potatoes to the pot. Add butter according to preference and gently stir until the potatoes are coated. Then serve. These potatoes have a wonderful creamy texture with a salty crust on the skins.
Bob Baker’s Cornell Chicken Recipe
Makes enough marinade for 2 chickens, halved, or cut up
1 cup cooking oil
2 cups cider vinegar
3 tablespoons salt (I used 2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
½ teaspoon pepper
1. Beat the egg, then add the oil and beat again forming an emulsion similar to mayonnaise.
2. Add vinegar, salt, poultry seasoning and pepper and stir until well mixed
3. Place chicken in a container suitable for a marinade (I use freezer bags) add marinade and marinate for 24 hrs. if you have the time.
4. Grill over indirect heat at 325 degrees turning the meat several times and brushing with the marinade.
5. When the dark meat reaches 155 degrees, grill over direct heat to crisp the skin.
6. Remove from the grill and serve when the dark and white meat reaches 165 degrees.