This was good. This was seriously good. The sauce was delicious – so flavorful, and it just cooked the chicken to tender perfection, got soaked up by the beautiful, stewed tomatoes, and stuck to the pasta I served it with perfectly. Mmm! This would be perfect on a cold day. It was nearly perfect on the hot, summer day we had it!
So, anyway, the year was 1921. It was the “Roaring Twenties” – a time of prosperity, technology, and culture. People listened to jazz music; went to movie theaters; drove cars; talked on the telephone; used appliances like stoves, refrigerators, and vacuum cleaners; listened to radios; and watched sports, rooting for their favorite teams. Skyscrapers started going up in America’s biggest cities – New York and Chicago. Women began taking jobs in offices serving as typists and secretaries as the white-collar job market took off. Power plants were constructed as everything switched from coal power to electric.
What’s interesting is that the 1920s is how American ideals changed. With the advent of factories that could mass produce goods, the rapid transfer of communication thanks to telephones and radios, and the rise of white-collar jobs, Americans began to focus on living lives of luxury. You see, for the first time, life was easy. Food and clothing, transportation, utilities, wages, education, etc. were available, regulated, and reliable. And, because living, growing, and surviving everyday happened without struggle or without a second thought, people had time. They could go to movies; they could keep up with the lives of celebrities; they could watch football or baseball or hockey games. They could save up money for vacations or the latest trends. And, they could just sit and think and dream and talk about what it was that they wanted most with the expectation that they could and would go out and get it.
So, what are we cooking? Creole chicken from Lowney’s Cook Book published in 1921.
It doesn’t surprise me that this recipe comes out of the 1920s. It has more ingredients than most earlier recipes, for starters. That’s something I’ve noticed as I’ve been cooking through history – early recipes are very simple. And, that’s because it wasn’t easy to get and keep ingredients. But, here we see vegetables, meat, seasonings, and cooking basics like butter, flour, and stock. Not only is that a longer list of ingredients, but it contains items that would have needed technology to store – butter and chicken, for example, would have at least needed an ice box. It’s fascinating to see how households evolved through time just by looking at what people ate!
So, let’s go – think about the excitement and the prosperity of the Roaring Twenties, and get into the kitchen to make history!
Here are our ingredients: Butter, onion, chicken breast, flour, chicken stock, stewed tomatoes, red pepper, celery, salt, and pepper.
Step 1: Prepare the vegetables. Always do as much of your prep as possible before you start cooking! Chop up 1/4 cup of onion, half of a red pepper, and 1/4 cup of celery.
Step 2: Cut your chicken into bite-size pieces. You can determine what bite-size means to you!
Step 3: Melt your butter in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Let it get nice and hot. You can tell that it’s hot enough when little bubbles start to appear in it!
Step 4: Add your chicken and onion. Season them with a teaspoon of salt (this might seem like a lot, but chicken needs salt to give it flavor!) and pepper. Stir everything together.
Step 5: I cooked my chicken for about two to three minutes per side. Cook it just until it starts to brown. You don’t want to cook it all the way just yet!
Step 6: Remove it from your pan and put it somewhere. I chose a festive paper plate. And, I didn’t worry about the onions. Some went with the chicken; some stayed in the pan. I just let it happen as it wanted to!
Step 7: Add in your flour.
Step 8: I whisked my flour into the butter and let it cook for a few minutes. You don’t want your chicken to have a strong, floury taste. At least I didn’t!
Step 9: I whisked my chicken stock into the flour, and I let it dissolve. Then, I added my stewed tomatoes, red pepper, and celery. Then, I taste tested the sauce. I ended up adding another 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Tomatoes need salt to have flavor, too!
Step 10: Then, I added my chicken back in so it could finish cooking.
Step 11: I let the sauce and the chicken come to a low boil over medium-high heat, then I turned it down and let it simmer for fifteen to twenty minutes. After that, the chicken was perfectly tender and the sauce was amazingly flavorful!
Final step: Ladle a big helping of chicken, vegetables, and sauce over some whole wheat pasta for a perfect meal!
Imagine a cold night in New York City. The electric lamps blaze against a navy sky as snow begins to fall. Through an apartment window, we can see a woman humming along to the radio as she tosses out stewed tomato cans from the dinner preparation, while her husband takes off his wool overcoat revealing a starched, white collar underneath. They talk about seeing a movie over the weekend – Charlie Chaplin’s new picture The Kid is playing down the street, and if it’s too cold, they can take a taxi to get there. Anything is possible – it’s the ’20s! They dig into the hot, flavorful creole chicken, and they dream about the future.
From 1921: Creole Chicken
- 1 lb. chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
- 2 Tbs. butter
- 1/4 cup onion, chopped
- 2 Tbs. flour
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup stewed tomatoes
- 1/2 red pepper, chopped
- 1/4 cup celery, chopped
- salt and pepper
- For serving: 8 oz. whole wheat pasta, cooked
- Melt the butter in a deep skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add the chicken and the onion. Season with 1 tsp. salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 2-3 minutes per side, or until just turning brown. Remove from pan.
- Whisk flour into butter into pan. Cook 1-2 minutes.
- Whisk in chicken stock and allow flour to dissolve.
- Add tomatoes, red pepper, and celery. Adjust seasonings.
- Add chicken back in, let mixture come to low boil, reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes or until chicken is tender. Stir frequently.
- Serve immediately over whole wheat pasta.