Great Moments in Chicken Culinary History

Where did these six poultry-based dishes (with one imposter) get their start?

Buffalo Wings
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Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken Pot Pie
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Chicken pot pie used to be a much more lively dish. In the days of the Roman Empire, these pastries sometimes had living birds under the crust that would burst out of the shell when served. Meat pies became trendy again in 16th century England, where one author, perhaps inspired by the Romans, wrote a recipe “to make pies that the birds may be alive and fly out when it is cut up…" But most pies were simpler affairs, involving a pastry crust, meat and gravy. Fondness for meat pies later crossed the Atlantic into the New World. The cookbook American Cookery, published in 1796, included recipes for chicken pot pie, beef pot pie, and something called “Sea Pie,” which called for pigeons, turkey, veal and mutton. True to its name, the recipe was originally developed aboard ships, which used whatever preserved meats were available.

Coq au vin

Coq au vin
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We can thank Julia Child for bringing the traditional French comfort food coq a vin to America. It’s not clear who thought up the idea to braise poultry in wine, but the dish was a rustic favorite in Burgundy for centuries. Coq is the French word for rooster, and supposedly cooking them in wine was a good way to make use of older birds that could no longer breed. Because the old birds were so tough, they needed to be slow-cooked in liquid before they could be eaten. Now, there are countless different versions of the dish using different kinds of wine and accompanying veggies. It’s so popular that it even has its own day, on March 22. Clear your schedule before trying it out: traditional recipes take three hours or more to prepare.

Chicken Nuggets

Chicken Nuggets
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Love ’em or hate ’em, chicken nuggets are the quintessential fast food. Though McDonald’s is usually given credit for popularizing them in 1979, Cornell agricultural scientist Robert Baker, whom the New York Times dubbed “something of a chicken Edison”, published the first chicken nugget recipe in the 1950s as an unpatented academic paper. Baker helped develop a deboning machine that would help process the entire chicken carcass (waste not, want not) and allow the meat to be formed into different shapes—dinosaurs, for instance. It took a couple decades to catch on, but now the little deep-fried clumps of chicken meat are beloved by kids everywhere. Even when British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver tried to shock a group of American kids by demonstrating how chicken nuggets are made (by blending the connective tissue, bones and skin into a “meat slurry” and deep frying the goop), the kids devoured the nuggets without batting an eye.

Chicken Cordon Bleu

Cordon Bleu
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Though it shares its name with a prestigious French cooking school, chicken Cordon Bleu is an American invention. It’s hard to get more American than a flattened chicken breast wrapped around slices of ham and cheese, breaded and fried. Inspired by chicken Kiev and schnitzel dishes from Eastern Europe, the chicken Cordon Bleu became popular in the 1960s. The earliest mention of the dish in the New York Times was as airline tray food. A United Airlines ad from June 5, 1967 boasted that its “Blue Carpet” service was “the best reason for flying Coach on your vacation to Los Angeles or San Francisco. What's in it for you? Top Sirloin Steak—or Chicken Cordon Bleu, if you wish—prepared by our own European-trained chefs."

Chicken Fried Steak

Chicken Fried Steak
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As playwright Larry McMurty once said, “Only a rank degenerate would drive 1,500 miles across Texas without eating a chicken fried steak.” The beloved Southern staple doesn’t actually have anything to do with chicken; it’s a tenderized beefsteak deep-fried in the style of fried chicken. Lamesa, Texas claims to be the birthplace of the chicken-fried steak. The dish was probably inspired by wienerschnitzel brought by German and Austrian immigrants to Texas in the 19th century. Since ranch-heavy Texas had more readily available beef than the usual veal cutlets, the immigrants adapted. The tough beef had to be pulverized and drenched in grease to render it palatable. According to the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, although recipes for the dish date back to 1839, the official name of “chicken fried steak” didn’t appear until 1932, when the Dallas Morning News published a reader-submitted menu.

Chicken Kiev

Chicken Kiev
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The elder cousin to chicken Cordon Bleu, chicken Kiev has been claimed by both the Russians and Ukrainians as a national dish. However, the dish—which is made from a chicken cutlet pounded flat, shaped around a center of garlic butter and herbs, then fried or baked—probably comes from France. The Russian court in the 18th century was so fascinated with French food that the Empress sent chefs to train in Paris. One of them, according to food historians, returned with a recipe for chicken Kiev, which became a cornerstone of Russian cuisine. England also picked up a taste for it; chicken Kiev became the country’s first ready-made meal in 1979, sold by Marks & Spencer in an effort to replicate American TV dinners. From the pinnacle of sophistication to the convenience of the supermarket aisle, chicken Kiev has always had a following.

Buffalo Wings

Buffalo Wings
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Though buffalo wings were invented just over four decades ago, there is some contention over their origins. We know one fact for certain: the spicy chicken wings are named for their hometown, Buffalo, NY. Established wisdom says the first plate of wings was served in 1964 at a family-owned restaurant in Buffalo called the Anchor Bar. According to Anchor Bar’s website, the owner’s wife, Teressa Bellissimo, invented the dish to feed her son Dominic’s friends, deep frying the wings usually used for chicken stock and smothering them with a secret tangy hot sauce. But another Buffalo man, John Young, claimed credit to the New Yorker’s Calvin Trillin in 1980. Young pointed out that the African American community had long eaten chicken wings, and that he had concocted a spicy sauce called “mambo sauce” to spread over them. Regardless of who the true creator was, the City of Buffalo proudly claimed the dish, declaring July 29, 1977, to be Chicken Wing Day and spreading the buffalo wing gospel to the rest of the country.