Tuesday, March 9, 2010
A little over a year ago, I came across this interesting article about a classic southern dish called Country Captain. I've long been intrigued by both southern food and its charming naming conventions for recipes, and Country Captain was no exception. The name alone reminded me of pirates, romance novels, and Junior League housewives all at once.
Although I had yet to make it, I quickly became obsessed with Country Captain and would talk about it to anyone who would listen. I happen to have a friend from Charleston, South Carolina, one of the several rumored origins of this dish, and I bugged her about it for awhile, but dropped the subject when I sensed the friendship might be hinging on whether or not I mentioned it one more damn time.
The husband bore the brunt of my yammering, although whether he was a willing listener is debatable.
"I don't understand what it is," he kept saying.
"It's a 19th century, sort of Americanized, southernized chicken curry. With currants. And almonds. You eat it with rice," I added, as if that detail might help.
The more I tried to explain what this dish that I'd never eaten tasted like, the more muddled the conversation became. The odd name only added to the confusion. Finally, it simply morphed from Country Captain to Captain Chicken, which was both easier to remember and good for a laugh.
Eventually Captain Chicken got lost in the endless shuffle that is my ever-growing list of "to-make" recipes. But a few weeks ago, I spied this recipe in Bon Appetit, and within a few days I came across another recipe for it in the book I'm reading, Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns, and Other Southern Specialites, by Julia Reed.
The time had come to take Captain Chicken from myth to reality. So on Sunday, I did what I should have done 13 months ago and gave the dish a try, using the first recipe I had spotted, from The New York Times. All three recipes were quite similar but this one seemed the most modern and likely to suit me best.
It was exactly the kind of dish I like to make. There was some chopping and sauteeing, chicken browning in a pan, and then everything went into the oven to simmer slowly. When it was ready, I served it over steamed rice and garnished it with currants, toasted slivered almonds, crumbled bacon, and some mango chutney.
To my surprise, Captain Chicken exceeded my wildest hopes. It was complex and savory, with sweetness from the currants, a hint of heat from the curry, and a welcome crunch from the almonds. It reminded me of the chicken cacciatore my dad used to make, with an Indian flair.
The husband also gave it a thumbs up.
"Good Captain Chicken," he said, pushing aside his cleaned plate, as though he'd eaten hundreds of versions of it over a lifetime and this one ranked among the best.
But, I'll take compliments where I can get them. And if you like compliments, too, you should give this one a go. It's quite delicious. Do make sure you season the sauce well before it goes into the oven, and don't skip the condiments--they are critical to the dish. But most of all, see if you can help me change the name from Country Captain to Captain Chicken. It's catchy, and seems primed for a ridiculous logo. I mean, do I even have to describe it to you? A jaunty chicken in a captain's hat, sailing a sea of curry. Tell me you don't love it!