The Cornell Chicken and the Egg

My friend and fellow food blogger Deanna Fox wrote a great piece a while back on the origins of Cornell Chicken. This is a serving method and chicken marinade that was created at Cornell University in the 1940s as a way to promote the consumption of locally raised poultry. Deanna was kind enough to share the CornellChickenPamphlet which was distributed at the time; it includes not only home and food-service scale recipes but example seating charts for a church supper or other occasion where the bird might be served.

I first encountered Cornell Chicken at a “Brooks Barbecue” in my wife’s home village of Speculator, NY. It was promoted several weeks in advance, and locals would wait in line at the pavilion on the ball field for their half-chicken dinners. The chicken was tender and tasty, though I bristled at the “barbecue” part since no smoke was involved. Deanna’s article explains that the Brooks family is from the Ithaca area, hence the Cornell connection, as are the proprietors of Giffy’s, a popular local chicken place.

But here’s the thing. The marinade contains a raw egg! Doesn’t that just invite food safety issues since the chicken is likely to hang around for several hours before it is cooked, possibly without refrigeration? And why is the egg in there anyway? Deanna and Tom Gallagher, the Cornell Extension educational coordinator for our area, both felt it was an intuitive addition because if you’re promoting chickens, you might as well promote eggs while you’re at it. And Tom, who’s made the recipe himself many times, agrees that it helps to emulsify the ingredients.

But won’t you run the risk of salmonella poisoning… especially if, as the booklet suggests, you save unused dressing in a jar in a cool place for several weeks? For this I turned to Sandra Varno, a Cornell food safety expert. Don’t worry, she said, the vinegar in the dressing will keep the dressing safe even for that few weeks in a cool place (which she interprets to be a refrigerator). But it has to be virgin dressing that has not been contact with the chicken–otherwise all bets are off. This safe chicken barbecuing article tells more.

Whew. So it’s safe to make and eat Cornell Chicken. See the recipe here, or use the link above to download the PDF of the original  pamphlet from the 1940s.

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