So what’s this colorless Central Pennsylvanian meal doing on my parents’ wedding china? It’s the meal of my 27th birthday, of course, of brown buttered egg noodles, “sauce” chicken, and freezer corn.
I had requested this same meal for my birthday when I turned eight (or was it nine?), a fact that I only remember because that year I had taken to writing an entire account of my birthday week on a typewriter — epic. Even though I currently can’t find this diary, I still am fairly certain — just because the very act of just writing it down solidified memories — that my birthday in 1992 (or was it 1993?) was on a Tuesday because on Monday my mom had made pork chops, which look just like “sauce” chicken in the oven. This fact had distressed me greatly because I thought she had screwed up and was making my birthday meal a day early.
From the moment I heard it frying in the kitchen, “sauce” chicken was one of those dishes that made me exceedingly happy as a child, even happier than Pizza Hut Pizza or homemade hamburgers. According to my mother, the recipe for “sauce” chicken came from my health-conscious Grandma Charles under the strange misnomer of “BBQ Chicken.” It consists of chicken thighs rolled in wheat germ, fried, and doused in a homemade sauce of ketchup, mustard, sugar, and Worcestershire sauce. The dish gained its current name because the crispy wheat germ and ketchup and mustard congeal into this wonderfully clumpy sauce, although now I admit that clearly someone should have given me lessons in writing recipe titles. (To give you a perspective, “egg stuff” is another family favorite.)
If food displays the cook behind it, my birthday meal indicates humble roots: cornfields, butter browned in a cast-iron skillet, and my formerly-Mennonite grandmother. But I love it nonetheless, especially when rimmed by fine dishware, a silver platter of a childhood.
“SAUCE” CHICKEN (original email from my mother, dated June 14, 2011)
6 chicken thighs (plus or minus) — skin off, wash and roll in wheat hearts or germ and fry a little in canola oil, both sides. Place in baking pan and mix together sauce to pour over:
1/4 cup ketchup
1/2 cup water
1 tsp salt
1 tsp mustard
1 tablespoon sugar
a little Worcestershire sauce
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.