From 1939: Ranchero Chicken and Peanut Sauce

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Unique and delicious. Those two words describe this chicken, which kind of combines Mexican and Indian flavors. Tomatoes, peanut butter, white wine, cinnamon, and cloves? I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was beyond good. If you’re looking for something super flavorful and unique, look no further! So, let’s talk about where this recipe came from.

The year was 1939, and, as of April 30, the New York World’s Fair was open for business. Thirty-three countries participated in the fair, forty-four million people attended, and the theme was the future. The fair’s slogan was “Dawn of a New Day.” People were encouraged to visualize “the world of tomorrow,” and the exhibits set up helped them do that. Chrysler, for example, set up a theater where viewers could watch a 3D film of a Plymouth being assembled, and to keep guests comfortable, they pumped in a brand new technology: air conditioning. IBM had a pavilion that showed off electric typewriters and calculators. And, the Amusements Area included a rollercoaster, a parachute jump, and a train ride.

So, what are we cooking? Ranchero chicken and peanut sauce from New York World’s Fair Cook Book published in 1939.

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So, what does this recipe have to do with the World’s Fair? The Worlds Fairs were all about bringing countries, governments, and cultures together to learn about one another and to experience a bit of what one another had to offer. So, it’s only fitting that one of the souvenirs a guest at the World’s Fair could buy was a cook book – what better way to experience someone else’s culture than through food?!

This cook book focuses on America and it’s many cultures, and it is divided into sections: New England, the South, the Middle West, the Southwest and the West, etc. And, this recipe, in particular, is from the “Southwest and the West” section. I love that America is made up of so many regions and cultures, and that’s exactly what the authors of this cookbook wanted to display to fairgoers in 1939!

So, let’s go into the kitchen and make some history!

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Here are our ingredients: Chicken breast, strained tomatoes, salt, pepper, white vinegar, natural peanut butter, white wine, cinnamon, and ground cloves.

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Step 1: Rinse, dry, and cut your chicken breast into bite-size pieces. As always, determine what bite-size means to you!

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Step 2: Add the chicken to a high-sided skillet. You could also use a saucepan. Whatever you have! Then, pour in the strained tomatoes (if you can’t find strained tomatoes, I’d recommend using tomato sauce – not pasta sauce, but plain old tomato sauce), and season the mixture with a teaspoon of salt and a few twists of black pepper. Stir everything together, and turn the heat onto medium-high.

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Step 3: Once the mixture begins to simmer, cook it for about six to seven minutes making sure to flip the chicken pieces so they can brown on both sides. Don’t cook the chicken all the way through, but cook it enough that you don’t see any rawness. That’s a technical term, by the way – rawness.

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Step 4: Once your chicken is nearly cooked, add the following ingredients: the peanut butter, vinegar, cinnamon, and cloves. Now, quick note. The recipe calls for “ground peanuts.” Ground peanuts are peanut butter, right? That’s what I thought. But, you want peanut butter that doesn’t have added sugar or flavor. So, luckily, my grocery store has one of those machines that you can get fresh-ground peanut butter without anything added to it. That’s what I used. If you can’t find anything like that, I’d recommend just using natural, creamy peanut butter. Something with as few ingredients as possible!

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Step 5: Once you have all that stirred together (it’ll take a minute to break down the peanut butter), add in the white wine. The recipe also calls for water, but I tasted my sauce at this point, and it was delicious. I didn’t want to thin it out or water it down. So, I didn’t! Let the sauce simmer with the chicken for a few minutes more until the chicken is cooked through and tender.

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Final step: Spoon some of the tender, flavorful chicken over some rice, drizzle some sauce over or around it, and add a dollop of sour cream on top. The sour cream is a nice, cool, creamy garnish to cut through the rich, flavorful wine, tomato, and peanut sauce. It’s perfect!

What part of the United States are you from? What’s your culture? This dish that combines southwestern and (seemingly) Indian flavors is so much different than what I grew up eating! And, don’t get me wrong – I grew up eating a lot of different types of food: Mexican, Chinese, Italian, etc. But, we all have traditional dishes or tastes that we sort of gravitate toward that must come out of our ethnicities or cultures or roots.

I’m from the Midwest – Pittsburgh, PA – where there is a lot of German, Polish, and Irish influence. So, I grew up eating a lot of meat and potato dishes, pierogies, haluski, pork and sauerkraut, etc. And, when I have the chance, I gravitate toward those types of dishes and flavors today. So, when I ate this and I imagined the recipe’s place in the cookbook along with the other Southwestern and Western dishes, and I thought about people in the same country I live in eating things like this traditionally. Does that make sense? This was really a good chance for me to experience another culture, and I’d bet that the authors of the 1939 World’s Fair cookbook would appreciate that!

From 1939: Ranchero Chicken and Peanut Sauce

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. chicken breast cut into bite-size pieces
  • 3/4 cup strained tomatoes
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbs. natural peanut butter
  • 3/4 tsp. white vinegar
  • 1/16 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/16 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • For serving: rice and sour cream (optional)

Directions

  1. Stir together the chicken, tomatoes, salt, and pepper in a high-sided skillet or a saucepan. Turn on heat to medium-high.
  2. Simmer chicken in tomatoes and seasonings for 6-7 minutes or until browned on both sides and nearly cooked through.
  3. Add the peanut butter, vinegar, cinnamon, and cloves. Stir until combined.
  4. Stir in the white wine. Simmer for 5-10 minutes more or until chicken is tender and completely cooked through. Adjust seasonings.
  5. Serve immediately over rice.

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