From 1921: Chicken Fricassee

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The year was 1921. Progress was both the idea and the goal gripping America. So, it was only natural that progress would ultimately produce America’s favorite pastime, right? Right.

On August 5, 1921, for the first time ever, a major league baseball game was broadcast by Pittsburgh radio station KDKA from Forbes Field. Harold Arlin, a twenty-five year-old foreman for Westinghouse, took a seat behind home plate to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates take on the Philadelphia Phillies. He used a converted telephone as a microphone along with some other homemade, rigged up equipment, and (much to his surprise) it worked!

No one thought it would catch on. Baseball on the radio? Too boring. But, it spread like wildfire. And, it got more people into the games, which elevated the popularity of the sport even more. Soon, people from miles outside of cities far away from the baseball fields were able to feel like they had a team, too. And, this may be just the reason that baseball became America’s sport, America’s game, and America’s favorite pastime. Radio.

So, what are we cooking? Chicken fricassee from Lowney’s Cook Book published in 1921.

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Now, in the 1920s, radios were a little different than the small boxes today that we just plug into the wall (or the feature in our cars we don’t even think about). A commercial radio from a store or magazine had to be bought and assembled in pieces (radio, speakers, antenna, battery, and battery charger). Altogether, it cost about $120, which is nearly $1,500 in today’s money! Obviously, not everyone could afford that, but they did still want in on the radio craze. So, a lot of people build radios themselves. The basic materials needed cost about $6. And, of course these radios didn’t have much quality to them, but can you imagine the utter exhilaration of assembling some pieces in a way you only heard about and picking up a radio signal? Wow.

So, whether bought from a store or built by hand, radios began filling homes across America in the 1920s. So, you know what? Get out a radio, find a radio station on your computer, or turn one on on your phone, and let’s go into the kitchen and make some history!

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Here are our ingredients: Chicken breast, butter, salt, pepper, whole cloves, fresh parsley,  bay leaves, flour, and cream (I used half and half).

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Step 1: Put three cups of water over the heat to boil.

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Step 2: While the water boils, rinse and dry the chicken. Then, cut it into bite-size pieces.

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Step 3: Melt a tablespoon of butter in a skillet with tall sides over medium-high heat, and once it’s hot, add the chicken. Season with a teaspoon of salt and some black pepper. As I always say, that may seem like a lot of salt, but you want the chicken to have great flavor!

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Step 4: Cook the chicken for about two to three minutes per side – just until it’s brown. You don’t want to cook the chicken all the way through just yet!

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Step 5: One the chicken is browned, add enough boiling water to cover it. I used two and a half cups. Then, put in the cloves, bay leaf, and parsley. Let it come to a simmer, and simmer the chicken for eight to ten minutes. You’re just using cubes of chicken breast, so it won’t take too long for the chicken to cook through. Be careful about cooking it too long – it’ll get tough if you overcook it!

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Step 6: Once your chicken is nice and tender, drain off the liquid into a bowl, and set the chicken aside off of the heat.

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Step 7: Now, let’s make the gravy. Melt two tablespoons of butter into a saucepan over medium heat, and once it’s hot, add two tablespoons of flour.

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Step 8: Whisk the butter and flour together, and let them cook for a minute or two. Once they start to get puffy, you’re ready to move on!

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Step 9: Slowly – very slowly – whisk in one and quarter cups of the cooking liquid you reserved. You have to go slowly so that the butter and flour can soak up the liquid. Once it’s all in, let it cook for ten minutes. It’ll turn into a nice, thick gravy!

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Step 10: Then, slowly add in the cream. I only added in 1/4 cup, but you can add in up to a 1/2 cup – go with whatever thickness of gravy you prefer! At this point, too, taste your gravy and adjust the seasonings. If you think it needs more salt, go for it!

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Final step: Pour the gravy over the cooked chicken, and stir everything together. Add a little twist of black pepper to the top for some added flair! This would be perfect served over mashed potatoes or egg noodles – something that can soak up that delicious gravy you made!

Do you still have your radio/computer/phone out? Put on some music while you eat. Better yet, put on a baseball game and listen to it while you’re at the table. Imagine a family of four sitting down to dinner outside of Pittsburgh (I can imagine my family here. I’m from Pittsburgh, so maybe my great grandmother did this with her family; she’d have been nine in 1921).

Imagine dad fiddling with some wired contraption he made out in the garage. Mom brings in the chicken and the potatoes, and everyone it sitting around waiting to be served. All of a sudden, the thing dad’s holding makes a noise. Everyone jumps! And, as you take your first bite of the chicken covered in gravy, you hear Harold Arlin’s deep voice yell into the microphone that Possum Whitted just scored his third run of the game. The Pittsburgh Pirates were winning!

From 1921: Chicken Fricassee

  • Servings: 2
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy to Medium
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 3 cups water, boiling
  • 3 Tbs. butter
  • 1 lb. chicken breast cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • black pepper to taste
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • 1 small spring parsley
  • 2 Tbs. flour
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup cream (like half and half)

Directions

  1. Melt 1 Tbs. butter over medium-high heat in a skillet with high sides (or a saucepan). Once hot, add the chicken breast, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 2-3 minutes per side until chicken is browned but not cooked through.
  2. Add enough boiling water to cover the chicken (2-3 cups), cloves, bay leaf, and parsley. Let simmer for 8-10 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and tender. Do not overcook chicken.
  3. Drain cooking liquid into bowl and set chicken aside off of the heat.
  4. In another saucepan, melt 2 Tbs. butter over medium heat. Once it’s hot, add 2 Tbs. flour and whisk together.
  5. Cook butter and flour for 1-2 minutes until puffy.
  6. Slowly whisk in 1 1/4 cups of the reserved cooking liquid. Simmer for 10 minutes or until thick.
  7. Whisk in 1/4 to 1/2 cup cream until gravy reaches desired thickness. Adjust seasonings.
  8. Pour gravy over chicken and allow chicken to heat through. Serve immediately over mashed potatoes or egg noodles.

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