Country Captain Chicken
My first introduction to Country Captain Chicken was decades ago in the kitchen of a family friend. I believe it was 1964. I ate the dinner and loved it. No, I was crazy about it!
Several years later at the home of another friend, my now sophisticated palate recognized the dish on the first whiff and that familiar aroma immediately piqued my interest. It wasn’t necessarily an overwhelming Indian curry, certainly wasn’t an Asian curry and yet it looked like an Italian cacciatore. Curiously, the salad was a cucumber and sour cream salad, which I now use frequently as an interesting counter balance to the curry seasoning.
I have never been able to confirm our host’s story on the history of the dish but she claimed that it arrived on America’s shore, in Georgia, in the early 1800s by a sea captain who learned to make the dish from an Indian officer while stationed in Bengali, India. I have seen a similar story related by Irma S. Rombauer although I have not been able to verify either story.
I like a recipe with a romantic background so I’m going to imagine that a hale and hearty sea captain dined with an East Indian officer who served a curried chicken dish. My imagined sea captain enjoyed the dish so much that he begged for the recipe then gently tucked a note bearing the recipe into his breast pocket, where it resided during months on a turbulent sea, until he could hand deliver it to his loving wife.
While the recipe I received years ago calls for one whole frying chicken, my adaptation is to use only breasts and thighs. The dish serves more people this way and no one is disappointed to see a lone wing atop the mound of rice supporting the meal. Other than this adaptation, I seldom see any other changes or enhancements to the dish other than leaving out green bell peppers for red bell peppers and slight spice or herb variations (like the use of thyme) that aren’t quite noteworthy.
The basis of this dish is very similar to the popular Indian korma, a dish served in restaurants and home kitchens as well. Since I’ve prepared several versions of Country Captain Chicken over the years, the following recipe is my original recipe based on several wonderful older recipes. In keeping with the typical korma recipes, my recipe is not baked but is braised on the stovetop (saving some energy too).
While this is a filling one-dish meal, I’ve been known to enhance it with buttered green beans on the side or a dish of creamed spinach highlighted with garam masala as seasoning. It is not necessary but if you need some greens, go for it.
When you make this dish be sure to serve it by candlelight sitting close to your dining partner while sipping a fine wine to accompany dinner. You will be glad you did. Ahoy mates!
Country Captain Chicken Curry
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat, sliced in half diagonally
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced in half diagonally
½ cup flour
1 ½ tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika (a tip from my mentor, Ms. Patel, that I like better than using commonly called for thyme)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 Tablespoons olive oil
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1 white onion, coarsely chopped
3-4 large garlic cloves, crushed or pressed
2 Tablespoons Madras Curry Powder (not Asian curry powder)*
1 cup chicken stock (this is not traditional but I’ve found that it stretches the meal and adds body to the sauce)
4 cups crushed tomatoes (or if you must a 28 oz. can). Some cooks use stewed tomatoes however, I think they are too sweet so please don’t do it.
½ cup currants (I use more than most cooks because it works for my palate)
½ cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted (slivered almonds are a good variation too)
6 scallions, sliced thinly for garnish
½ bunch of cilantro or parsley, washed and chopped for garnish
4 cups water
2 cups brown rice**
2 tablespoons butter
Prepare your mise en place (get all your ingredients prepared and lined up before you begin). Lightly toast the almonds and set aside.
Bring the rice, water and butter to a boil, cover and reduce the heat. Cook for 50 minutes while you prepare the Country Captain Chicken.
Combine the flour and sweet paprika in a shallow bowl.
Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper.
Roll the chicken pieces in the flour mixture to coat them completely.
Heat the oil and butter in a skillet over medium high heat.
Add half of the chicken pieces and brown on both sides about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove them from the pan and keep them warm on a separate plate.
Cook the other half of the chicken pieces in the butter and oil mixture until browned on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side.
When the chicken is browned, remove it to the plate and cover to keep warm.
Add the bell pepper, onions and garlic to the pan, season with salt and pepper, then sauté until softened, about 5-7 minutes.
At this point, add the curry powder and stir until it’s heated and aromatic (about a minute or so). Then add the chicken stock and crushed tomatoes. Mix well.
Add the currants and stir well. Bring the entire mixture just to a boil then reduce the heat.
Add the chicken pieces to the pan and simmer for 10-12 minutes to reheat and finish cooking them.
Serve the chicken and sauce over a mound of the brown rice. Garnish with green onions and toasted almond slivers and cilantro or parsley.
Enjoy your meal!
*some recipes indicate that you can substitute mild curry paste for the curry powder but I adamantly disagree. The flavor is quite different and I do not recommend it.
**this dish also goes well with coconut rice and then a sprinkle of shredded unsweetened coconut over the top too.