Country Captain

Have you ever heard of Country Captain? I first heard of it on Throwdown. Yes, I heart a good food competition as much as the next person (I’m a lemming and lovin’ it) and my affinity for Bobby Flay goes way back before the Food Network ever became a national obsession. Anyways, I had never heard of Country Captain before but was intrigued by a southern dish that was clearly Indian in origin. Plus, foods with goofy names are fun.

According to Wikipedia, Country Captain is thought to have originate in India and may have been brought to the American south by British sea captains who were participating in the spice trade. Wiki claims that the dish came from Savannah, apparently an important port during the spice trade, but then goes on to say that the recipe was developed in Philadelphia in the mid-1800’s. I would love to point out to Wiki that there’s a rather large geographical gap there, but since Wiki knows all, is written by experts and is never ever wrong, I’ll just go with it. India, Savannah, Philadelphia, done. 😉

So what exactly is Country Captain? Well, it’s just a mild chicken curry, usually with raisins and almonds, served over rice, with coconut. I looked at several recipes before I decided on one. Some of them were extremely simple, involving little more than chicken, curry powder and raisins. The recipe I had pulled from Bon Appétit, however, took it a few steps further, using a melange of spices rather than a premixed curry powder, adding cauliflower and peas, and substituting dried cherries for raisins. As someone who worships cruciferous veggies, has an absurd spice cabinet, and had just purchased some dried cranberries which could be easily subbed for the cherries, this was the obvious choice.

This dish is a winner. Curry is one of those strange dishes that seems appropriate throughout the year. In the warmer months it alludes to tropical climates and humidity, in the colder months it’s warming and cozy. This is essentially a braise or chicken stew and nothing is more appropriate in early February. The fresh spices in this dish go a long way to give it depth and brightness and the cranberries add sweetness, as does the crunchy, toasted coconut. I’m skeptical of peas, usually so mushy and disappointing…but even they play their part. I have to just accept that frozen peas really are good; not sure why I have such a hard time with that! Despite the long list of ingredients, this recipe is very very simple. It does take a while, but each step is easy, so it’s a good project for a lazy afternoon. You can serve this over rice or do what I did and just eat it straight while watching reruns of Throwdown.

Country Captain

Adapted from Bon Appétit. Serves 6 .

I subbed dried cranberries for the cherries, but cherries would be FAB. I used my coffee grinder, rather than a martal and pestle to grind the spices. I imagine my coffee will be a little off for a while…mmmm curried coffee 🙂 I substituted ground spices for a few of the whole ones (cardamom, cloves), which works perfectly well; just be sure to cut back on the amount a little bit. Or, I suppose you could always use your favorite curry powder…nothing wrong with a shortcut now and then.

1 1/2 t coriander seeds
1 t fennel seeds
1 t cumin seeds
1/2 t whole black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
1/4 t cardamom seeds (from 3 whole green cardamom pods)
1 1/2″ piece cinnamon stick
1/2 t turmeric
1/4 t cayenne pepper
5 T vegetable oil, divided
1 small head of cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets (about 4 cups)
2 lbs skinless boneless chicken thighs, trimmed, cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces (I used breast, because that’s how I roll)
1 bunch scallions, dark green and white parts chopped separately
1 T finely grated fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 c (or more) low-salt chicken broth
1 2/3 c crushed tomatoes with added puree (from 28-ounce can)
1/3 c dried cherries, finely chopped
1 T smooth peanut butter
1 1/2 c frozen petite peas (do not thaw)
1/3 c shredded coconut, lightly toasted

  • In a small, dry skillet over medium heat, toast all spices, EXCEPT turmeric and cayenne, until fragrant and slightly darker in color
  • Grind all spices in a mortar and pestle, spice mill or coffee grinder. Add the turmeric and cayenne and reserve
  • In a large, heavy pot, heat 3 T oil over medium heat
  • Add cauliflower, season with salt and saute until softened and slightly browned (~6 minutes). Transfer to a plate
  • Add the rest of the oil to the pot. Saute the chicken in batches, until browned on all sides. Transfer to a plate
  • Turn the heat down to medium and add the white parts on the scallions, ginger, and garlic, sauteing for 1 minute, or until fragrant
  • Add the spices to the pot  and toast for 15 seconds
  • Add the chicken broth, scraping up any delicious browned bits
  • Add the tomatoes, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 15 min
  • Add the peanut butter, stirring until distributed, the cherries and the chicken + juices. Cover and simmer 10 min
  • Add the cauliflower, cover and simmer until the chicken and cauliflower are done
  • Season with salt and pepper
  • Add the frozen peas and simmer until warmed through
  • Serve in bowls, topped with the coconut and the green parts of the scallions


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2 thoughts on “Country Captain

  1. Thanks for the detailed explanation. I love learning where we think it came from and I agree 100% that goofy named foods are more fun and appealing. This stew type dish sounds amazing. The dried cranberries sound like the perfect substitiution for the cherries! Have a great Monday.

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