Country Captain sounds like such an unusual name for a chicken dish, but once I learned the origins it made sense. A “country captain” was a captain of native troops paid by England in the colonial days, and it’s very likely that this dish or something very similar was introduced to England by a native officer. The dish spread to the American south which has claimed country captain chicken as its own.
It’s a curry at heart, with plenty of spices and vegetables in a tomato sauce with pork of some kind, often bacon, and dried currants. I researched quite a few recipes and found many similarities, even right down to the measurements, but one thing that varied was the preparation of the chicken. It can be poached for stock, then deboned and chopped and added to the sauce, or it can be fried then nestled in the top of the curry to finish cooking on the stove or in the oven. You can even make another version of this in a slow cooker. No matter which method you choose, this makes a delicious autumn meal.
Traditionally the dish is served with white rice in the south, but in keeping with the Indian flavors, I serve it with savory yellow rice spiced with turmeric, cinnamon, cloves, and bay leaves.
COUNTRY CAPTAIN CHICKEN
Adapted from The Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook, by Matt Lee and Ted Lee, and Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking.
2 small bowls
5 to 6 quart enameled cast-iron pot or Dutch oven
1 cup (120 ml) chicken broth, divided (homemade or purchased low-sodium, gluten-free if possible)
1/2 cup (80 g) dried currants
1 tablespoon curry powder (We recommend S&B for best flavor.)
1 tablespoon garam masala
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces (113 g) slab bacon or thick-cut bacon, diced
parts of 1 whole chicken or 8 thighs, skin on, trimmed
1 pound (454 g) carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds
2 medium yellow bell peppers, diced
2 medium yellow onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, peeled
28-ounce (822 g) can crushed tomatoes with juice
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
rice, spiced or white
slivered toasted almonds
bacon pieces (See ingredients list.)
chopped flat-leaf parsley
1. Place rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350° F/175° C.
2. In the small saucepan, bring 1/2 cup of the chicken broth to a boil, then remove from heat. Add the dried currants and let them to soak for about 15 minutes.
3. In the small bowl, whisk together the curry powder, garam masala, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
4. Sauté the diced bacon in the pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, just until golden brown. Transfer the bacon plus all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings to a bowl. Brown the chicken pieces in the remaining bacon drippings over medium-high heat until they are golden brown, about 5 minutes per side. Add another teaspoon or so of bacon drippings if the pot becomes dry. Transfer chicken to a bowl or platter.
5. Add the carrots, bell peppers, onions, and garlic to the hot pot and sauté until slightly softened, about 5 or 6 minutes. Add the tomatoes, spices, ginger, currants with their broth, plus the remaining chicken broth. Stir and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until the sauce cooks down to a puree and coats the vegetables, not too dry, about 8 to 10 minutes.
6. Turn off the heat. Arrange the browned chicken pieces on top of the vegetables and sauce, skin side up above the surface of the sauce. Tent the pot loosely with foil and place in the oven.Bake until the sauce has a rolling boil going around the chicken, about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and continue cooking until the chicken skin begins to crisp, about 15 minutes.
7. Remove from the oven and skim excess fat from the surface. Serve a piece of chicken along with the rice and vegetables with each plate or bowl and top with garnishes.