Regular readers of this blog may know that I make braised chicken as often as I can. Fortunately most cuisines around the world — including some of my favorites like Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino — have at least one or two braised chicken dishes that have starring roles.
Today we'll look at Country Captain, a southern braised chicken dish that may or may not have had Indian origins.
As one story goes, this dish of chicken slow-cooked in tomato sauce and curry came from Savannah, Georgia, a major shipping port for the spice trade. It was rumored that a British sea captain who arrived from Bengal, India, introduced it around Savannah. The spiced tender chicken, with some almonds for crunch and currants for sweetness, became a dish synonymous with the Lowcountry cooking of Georgia.
Then there are others who vehemently argue that it actually originated in Charleston, South Carolina, another spice trade port.
However, according to the New York Times, long-time food columnist Molly O'Neill had actually traced the dish back to the mid-1800s Philadelphia. How it migrated south and stayed there is anyone's guess.
Whatever the origin, it sounded like too good of a dish to pass up, or to waste valuable cooking time sifting through who-created-it-first arguments. Three of my cookbooks — James Beard's American Cookery, Joy of Cooking, and The Essential New York Times Cookbook — have recipes for Country Captain. And all of those recipes were attributed to Cecily Brownstone, the legendary AP food editor who held the job for 39 years. According to the Times Cookbook, it was apparently Brownstone who had convinced James Beard to start teaching the recipe at his cooking schools and Irma Rombauer to add it to the Joy of Cooking. All the recipes are slightly different, a natural result of time and tinkering from editors, so I ended up adapting the most straight-foward one, from American Cookery.
Basically, you brown the chicken in butter, then simmer it for half an hour in tomato sauce flavored with garlic, curry, and thyme. I found that I did have to add a fair amount of salt and pepper to the sauce at the end to get it flavorful enough, but that's not surprising given that this recipe had gained popularity in the 1950s. In any case, it's a festive-looking and hearty dish for this kind of weather, one that I certainly wouldn't mind breaking out for a future dinner party.
Serves 4 to 5
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 1/2 pounds bone-in chicken pieces, such as thighs, drumsticks, breasts, and wings
- 4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick)
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 green bell pepper, diced
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed thyme
- 1 pound stewed tomatoes
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 tablespoons dried currents
- 3 tablespoons toasted almond slices or slivers
- In a large shallow bowl or pan, mix together the flour with the salt and pepper. Coat the chicken pieces all over with the seasoned flour.
- Heat the butter in a Dutch oven or large deep skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Sear the chicken on all sides. (Work in batches if needed to not overcrowd the pan.) Transfer the chicken to plate.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the onion, green pepper, garlic, curry powder, and thyme to the same Dutch oven or skillet. Cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. Add the stewed tomatoes and any liquid. Return the chicken to the pot, skin-side up. Cover and cook for about 25 to 30 minutes, until tender. Stir in the currants. Adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper if needed.
- Transfer to a deep dish and sprinkle the almonds on top before serving.
Adapted from James Beard's American Cookery
More braised chicken dishes: