As a general comment, let me say that by inclination and training I try to be maximally precise in my claims and to present them only if, after a reasonable review of the available evidence, the claims seem to be borne out by facts. In the context of an internet chat site, I think this sort of approach leads to posts of a volume which some readers have neither the time nor the desire to read fully and carefully. That’s part of the medium and that’s fine; I accept the blame for being too long-winded, on occasion absurdly so. But at times quick readings of my long posts seem to give rise to misinterpretations of what my actual claim is. In the current thread, it seems possible some are taking my claim to be far broader than it really is. I’ll try again to state the claim precisely and then explicitly state what I am not claiming.
It has been claimed that the various preparations served in Chicagoland which are known as “chicken Vesuvio” constitute a unique dish that was “invented” in Chicago and further that this manner of preparing chicken is not known in Italy. The short passage from Mr. Vettel’s review of the Grotto cited by Cathy2 expresses this view very succinctly: “People who dismiss chicken Vesuvio for its lack of Italian pedigree (the dish was invented in Chicago)
forget how good it tastes when you do it right” [emphasis added]. This naïve view is supported by one of the posters above, who seems to think the combination of chicken with garlic and potatoes constitutes something uniquely Chicagoan and is an invention beyond the intellectual capacity of native Italians. Now, my response to this view is the following:
The above assertion regarding the dish commonly known as “chicken Vesuvio” is as a piece of (pseudo-)food history unequivocally wrong for the following reasons:
1) the alleged uniquely local (to Chicago) innovations, of which the most usually cited elements are the presence of potatoes and to a lesser degree peas, are commonly used in virtually identical chicken preparations in (Southern) Italian communities outside of Chicago; these other Italian communities cannot be reasonably considered to have imported the dish from Chicago.
2) the dish in Chicago still allows for a relatively wide range of variation with regard to almost all aspects of the preparation of the dish. Given that, what is known as “chicken Vesuvio” fits neatly under an overarching category of Southern Italian chicken preparations which involve the roasting of chicken pieces, dressed with olive oil, garlic, white wine and/or lemon juice and herbs which are often cooked together with vegetables, most especially potatoes.
That’s the claim; it is an historical argument and the Chicago theory can only be maintained by those who resolutely refuse to accept the reality of the fact that the Chicago dish is a non-unique subset of a range of Southern Italian chicken dishes eaten by people who have no knowledge direct or indirect of the existence of “chicken Vesuvio.”
Now, let me also state clearly what I am not claiming:
1) I am not claiming that “chicken Vesuvio” is not an established part of the culinary repertoire and cultural identity of Chicago.
2) I am not claiming the dish is bad.
3) I am not claiming Chicagoans are bad-cooks, dishonest people, or people incapable of developing new and tasty dishes (well, there are of course exceptions).
4) I am not claiming that it is not the case that there is a tendency for dishes bearing this name to conform to an increasingly fixed recipe and this likely especially in restaurant kitchens. In this manner the Vesuvio preparations are perhaps on the way
to being established as a dish more or less distinct from its Southern Italian forebears (especially given the development of ‘Vesuvio’ style which no longer necessarily involves chicken – see below). But this secondary development in no way alters the indisputable fact that the dish is in all ways a direct outgrowth and in essence a continuation of the Southern Italian tradition of roasting chicken pieces.
Let me further state that I believe there is a related development that can be called a Chicago innovation and that is something that GWiv called attention to in his post above: namely, that in restaurants of the area, “Vesuvio” has developed as a basic style of preparation for virtually any manner of meat. For me then, a properly precise formulation would be the following:
“Chicken Vesuvio” is the name applied in Chicago to a dish comprised of chicken and potatoes (and commonly also peas) which itself is one of a number of closely related traditional Southern Italian dishes which involve similarly seasoned pieces of chicken which are roasted and often accompanied by vegetables, most commonly potatoes, in the roasting pan. Noteworthy is the fact that the name appears to be an innovation in Chicago and that in that city, the general Southern Italian method of cooking chicken in question here has been extended in its application to the preparation of other meats.”
Some notes in response to specific posts in the thread [written a couple of days ago, before a link to ReneG’s CH post was provided]:
The interesting deduction I make from Antonius' claims is, if it was so well known in Jersey as well as in the Italian Navy, how did such a dish come to be uncommon enough in Chicago that someone could get away with naming it themselves and passing it off as a new dish?
Mike, you make an eminently reasonable point but I think a reasonable (if not detailed and specific) answer can be proffered in response to the question raised.
I wish I could find ReneG’s post on the name of the dish but I believe he had evidence that tied the name to a restaurant in the Loop and, not surprisingly, a Neapolitan run restaurant, if I remember well. In any event, it seems hardly difficult to imagine that a restaurateur might have given this dish a nice, poetic sort of a name for his menu and that the name stuck. Especially if the restaurant were in an area where lots of non-Italians would come across it (such as the Loop), the name could quite naturally have become productive and taken up by competitors of the original restaurant, as well as finding its way into the vocabulary of the original restaurant’s patrons and ultimately those of the restaurants who borrowed the name. Let’s face it, it’s a great name. And I don’t think the naming was a conscious attempt to pass off the dish as an new invention; it was probably just the owner or cook having a little poetic fun, though one must wonder if the heat element of red pepper in the original was not the impetus to give it a special name, as suggested by jbw above. (In this last regard, one does occasionally see the term “alla Vesuviana” in connexion with various dishes, some with a spicy element but some not.)
With regard to why the dish doesn’t have a special name in places like New Jersey or Italy, the reason is, as I alluded to above, because it is just a variant of the basic, overarching treatment of roasted pieces of chicken. We call it just that: “roast chicken”. In Italy, it’s “pollo arrosto” or “pollo al forno.” Often it’s made with potatoes, sometimes not; sometimes there are peas as well, sometimes not, etc. etc..
Here’s an imaginary dialogue which closely resembles many I’ve actually heard over the years:“What would you like for dinner Sunday?”
- “How ‘bout some roast chicken?”
“Fine. How should I make it? Do you want me to roast a whole chicken?”
- “No, you know, cut up, Italian style. ”
“Alright, you want it with the potatoes? And peas?”
- “Yeah, yeah, or maybe with cipolline, if you got them.”
- “Okay, with potatoes and peas, and some maccheroni with a simple sauce for the primo.”
I concur that both garlic and potatoes are essential to Vesuvio. And I'd go so far as to say that the potatoes must be cut in wedges. While there's some room for interpretation in technique and seasoning, the dish is instantly recognizable as such to anyone who has eaten it.
A fine illustration of the religious approach to this issue, with the invocation of the elle ne sait quoi.
As I said: “Of course, as a myth the tale of the Chicago invention of “chicken Vesuvio” is taken on faith by some and no amount of reasoning and evidence that show that myth to be false will avail.”
The Italians can content themselves with Guglielmo Marconi, who received the 1909 Nobel Prize for wireless telegraphy and is generally remembered as the inventor of radio. It matters not that Nikola Tesla had documented and registered the invention years before and was ultimately declared the device's official inventor by the U.S. Supreme Court. Not to mention Mahlon Loomis, whose successful telegraphy experiments date back to before Marconi was even born.
This sort of comment that addresses an ethnic group as a whole but contains no content about food is a little troubling. Perhaps you should say explicitly what you mean to add to the discussion with this seemingly condescending remark, lest we misunderstand your intention – as it is, the only reasonable way to interpret it is that you think that with regard to inventiveness, Italians have nought to be proud of but something for which an Italian wrongly received credit. Or was the writing just sloppy?
On second thought though, perhaps you should save any further comment and simply refrain from such ethnically oriented remarks altogether. Surely, you have enough to say just sticking to the food-related issues.
By the way, yesterday was Leonardo Da Vinci’s birthday.
Food Nut wrote:
I like to believe that folklore is behind the "Vesuvio" issue. All societies have it, and it has little negative consequence. Folklore plays a variety of roles in societies, and humor certainly is a huge part in it.
Smile, Antonius, that's entertainment.
You know why they call this the "Windy City" right?
Thank you for your support with regard to my claim about the mythical side of all this, but as you likely know from my posts, I have no sense of humour whatsoever! (:D)
G Wiv wrote:
Not that it needs to be pointed out, but Vesuvio, at least in Chicago, is a style.
As mentioned briefly above, this does warrant being pointed out and is
a point of innovation here. Perhaps the existence of the name allows for or encourages that sort of development. But let me also say that as noteworthy as I think this point is, it is in a real sense a separate issue from the focussed historical argument I have presented here.
Again, there is a precedent in the Southern Italian tradition out of which the Chicagoan eruption of Vesuvian majesty grows: In Southern Italy, from Lazio and Campania on to furthermost Puglia, there is a long-standing tradition of treating roasted lamb and chicken in precisely the same ways, i.e., with the same flavourings and same vegetable accompaniments (esp. potatoes). There is furthermore an awareness of this similarity of treatment which finds expression in the use of the same name in some places for both lamb and chicken dishes (e.g., the Pugliese assutte-assutte
). In the tradition of Campania (and thus my own family), agnello al forno (con patate etc. etc.)
is virtually identical in seasoning and method of preparation to the previously discussed chicken dishes.
But it remains, as you say, that Chicago has developed the old loosely defined chicken(/lamb) approach to an increasingly narrowly defined and very broadly applicable “Vesuvio-style”; this does, I believe, constitute a genuine local innovation.
I prefer to think of Giada De Laurentiis as a cyborg rather than a fool, though she may well be both. Be that as it may, artichoke hearts, as noted in a couple of places above, are a traditional option for addition to “pollo arrosto (con le patate)”, filling a place analogous to that of peas (though I could see one using both alongside the potatoes, if there were an abundance of the two on hand).
I think the lima beans in this dish might be an expression of the cyborgian tastes of “Little Big Head.”
In another book from 1955, Francois Pope’s Gourmet Dining Guide: Chicagoland’s Top Restaurants, there are also numerous listings but the dish is explained in the review of The Quadrille at the Belden Stratford Hotel: “A tasty Italian creation of disjointed spring chicken and French cut potatoes. Sauteed in finest olive oil properly seasoned with garlic, chopped parsley and oregano.”* No mention of the peas. Perhaps that was Nick Giannotti’s innovation?
* This is clearly not an actual recipe for the dish but just a brief and surely incomplete description.
[a response to ReneG’s post on CH, linked above in LAZ’ second post]
Anyway, the Carlucci recipe contains no peas and no wine; it is comprised of chicken pieces and quartered red potatoes, seasoned with only EV olive oil, fresh rosemary, chopped garlic, and fresh lemon juice (and S&FGP, of course). Mix all those good ingredients together, marinate in the fridge for at least half an hour, then bake at 425 til the chicken is done (45 minutes or so). Heaven. Simple as a mud pie, too.
The appearance of these two descriptions of restaurant versions of “chicken Vesuvio” side by side in the thread on Leff’s board really illustrates my point as well as can be done. Variation with regard to cooking method, with regard to herb, with regard to the use of wine or lemon juice. Both recipes fall squarely within the range of recipes for “pollo arrosto (con le patate)” known to Southern Italians all over the world.
As I said above: What is called “chicken Vesuvio” is a family of recipes for roasted chicken pieces with potatoes, often with peas as well, cooked with olive oil, garlic, wine and/or lemon juice and herbs. And who with any direct or deep knowledge of Italian cuisine would possibly want to claim that that is a distinctively Chicago invention?