Posted by: Erica Retrochef | August 6, 2012

Western Ranch Dinner

The National Broiler Council (known as the National Chicken Council since 1999) was created to represent the interests of the chicken industry. As part of its goal to increase demand for chicken, it ran nationwide marketing campaigns to promote chicken recipes, beginning with the Western Ranch Dinner. (They were later responsible for such things as the “Chick-N-Que,” developing a habit of partnering with other )

It actually isn’t hard to find a lot of different versions of it — some called for Bisquick instead of biscuits-in-a-can, some used Carnation rather than Pet Evaporated Milk. It apparently depended on what collaborator was running the ad — Ballard’s advertising featured Ballard Biscuits more prominently, and grocery stores would list ingredient prices next to the recipe.

Interestingly, they all used an identical picture, regardless of the publication — right down to the parsley garnish and two black olives.

It’s a little creepy.

Anyway, I’m trying various ways of making chicken, and this looked pretty interesting. The peaches, particularly, struck me as an unusual (although not terrible) ingredient to include.

1 cut-up frying chicken (about 2-1/2 lbs.)
1 No. 2-1/2 can cling peach halves
1-1/2 cups Pet Evaporated Milk
1 package Ballard OvenReady Biscuits
1 cup flour
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup water

Dip cut-up frying chicken in one-half cup Pet Milk, roll (or shake in a bag) in mixture of flour and seasonings. (Set aside remaining flour mixture for gravy). Melt shortening in 13 x 9-inch pan. Add chicken, skin side down. Bake uncovered in moderately hot oven (375°F.) until tender, basting occasionally (average cooking time 40 to 50 minutes). Remove from oven and increase oven temperature to 425°F. Turn chicken and move to end of pan. Arrange drained cling peach halves on chicken. Open can of Ballard Ovenready Biscuits. Separate and put in other end of pan. Bake 15 minutes, until biscuits are brown. Remove peaches, chicken and biscuits to hot plates. For gravy: Blend three tablespoons of set aside flour mixture with pan drippings. Gradually stir in water. Boil and stir two minutes. Stir in one cup of Pet Milk. Heat but do not boil. Add salt, pepper to taste. Serves four.

A whole broiler chicken, correctly jointed, gives you eight pieces, meaning that this recipe could realistically serve six to eight people, unless everybody absolutely must eat two pieces. (Since we’re talking about a relatively small chicken, though, maybe that’s not all that inaccurate.) I hate having to cut up a whole chicken, though, so I’m using one that’s been jointed for me.

The thing about chickens that are already cut up is that it’s pretty hard to get one that’s only about three pounds — this one was pushing four and a half. In order to even fit into the baking dish, we had to leave out one of its seriously oversize breasts. (I think it will still be plenty to eat.)

Start off by dipping the chicken into milk…

… then dredging in flour. (Lightly spiced flour, at least.)

It looks like an awful lot of shortening, but I guess it does need to cook an entire chicken.

Seven pieces does fit exactly in the 9×13 casserole dish.

After baking and basting, the chicken really looks pretty. With peaches piled on top, it looks even prettier.

The biscuits, though, look a little silly. Eight biscuits are rather cramped, and they’re also pretty deep in grease.

But they did end up baking OK.

After emptying the dish of “real food,” the scrapings and some extra dipping flour are mixed up into a roux, to serve as the base of the gravy. A very lumpy roux.

To finish off the gravy, pour in the water and then the evaporated milk. Pretend it’s brand-name.

For my family, this is way, way too much gravy. Two whole cups!

Here’s my attempt to stage the same image as was used in (every) advertisement for the Western Ranch Dinner. I had to use a thigh instead of a breast, since modern chickens are very, um, top-heavy. Also, we didn’t have parsley… so that’s a lettuce leaf.

Modern food photography presents things a bit more picturesquely, I think — from an angle, getting a little bit of everything in the shot.

This was pretty darn good. Not too fancy, but the baked peaches (and gravy, which I almost never make) help make things more interesting. In fact, the peaches were probably the tastiest thing on the plate. Disappointingly, the peaches didn’t add much flavor to the chicken since it was fully cooked by the time they were added, and the coating could have used a little more spice or something to add some zing. (I’m spoiled by living in The South where everybody prides themselves on having the Best Fried Chicken, though, so maybe it’d be enough for some people.) And even though this was “all baked in only one pan,” that didn’t necessarily simplify things — the peaches and biscuits could have baked while the chicken was cooking. Besides, you end up dirtying bowls to coat the chicken, and a pot to make the gravy… the “one pan” claim is a bit of a stretch!

In short: I might make this again, but with a number of tweaks to punch it up and streamline the cooking. It was fun to try, though.

Advertisements for the National Broiler Council from Shelf Life Taste Test, Flickr; Nu-Way Supermarket, Fredonia NY, 1956 (via Fulton Historical Newspaper Scans); Ballard Biscuits ad, Life Magazine, October 29, 1956.

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Responses

  1. Good old-fashioned home cookin’, with peaches thrown in. Looks really good!

  2. So the chicken people hooked up with the canners association and this is what they came up with???

    I must say, Erica, I have a few of those combined duplicate “retro” recipes hanging out around here but, again, I’ve never actually experienced any of them. This one doesn’t sound half bad now that I see it, with a couple of tweaks, perhaps fresh peaches, I’m sure it will be even better!!!

    Thanks for sharing…

  3. My grandparents made this recipe in 1950’s Cuba where they learned of it from the popular magazines of the time. It became a favorite of my mother’s (now in her mid 70’s) who still craves it from time-to-time. As children growing up my siblings and I enjoyed it often. There is definitely something homey and comforting about the dish as it is, although I think some updating by a skilled chef would be a fine thing too.

  4. My mother made this quite often, it was a family favorite. I have been making it for 47 yrs. My kids request it as their birthday dinner to this day.


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