Aye, Aye, Country Captain

Friday, March 12, 2010


Have you ever watched the Food Network show, Throwdown with Bobby Flay?  I love that show!  It’s fun to see regular old people duking it out with Iron Chef Bobby over their tried and true special dishes.  I always root for the underdog too.  Not that I don’t like Bobby Flay, because I do like him a lot. I’ll bet he’d be blast to throw back a few with at Happy Hour!  I just figure he’s already got his share of fame and fortune.  It’s nice to see someone else have their day in the sun.

A few months ago I watched a Throwdown episode featuring popular Southern cookbook authors, Matt and Ted Lee, aka The Lee Brothers.  The dish they were competing with was called Country Captain.  I’d never heard of it before, but it didn’t take me long to become intrigued by it.


Country Captain is a chicken dish which is stewed in a sauce of tomatoes, onion, garlic, and curry powder. At the end, dried currants or raisins are added. The dish is served over rice and topped with toasted almonds.  Nobody is quite sure exactly where the name or recipe for Country Captain came from, but many believe that the dish originated in Savannah, Georgia, a major shipping port for the spice trade in the 19th century.   It is thought that the dish was brought to Georgia by a British sea captain who had been stationed in India who shared the recipe with friends in Savannah. It is also thought that the dish was named for the officers in India called “Country Captains.”  Wherever the dish came from, once I saw the Lee brothers make it, I knew I had to try it too.

However, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, and the busier I got, the quicker I forgot about Country Captain.  Then last week, the episode aired again…and again…and again.  I think it was the cosmic culinary universe trying to tell me something.  So, I printed out the recipe and finally made the the dish.


There are several steps to making Matt and Ted Lee’s version of Country Captain, but none are particularly difficult.  It just takes a little time.  But, the result is well worth it.  The chicken is moist and succulent, and the curry-infused sauce is zesty and robust.  It is hearty, southern comfort food. My family and I loved this dish!  And, I think you will too.


Country Captain
adapted from The Lee Brothers


1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup dried currants or raisins
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
1/4 pound slab bacon or fatty country ham, chopped
12 chicken thighs, skin on, trimmed of excess skin and fat
1 large flavorful dried chile, such as guajillo or pasilla, split, seeds removed
2 1/3 cups peeled and sliced carrots (1/4-inch thick rounds), about 1 1/4 pound bunch weighed with tops
2 cups diced yellow bell peppers, about 2 peppers
2 cups diced yellow onions, about 2 medium onions
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, with juice
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
4 cups cooked white rice
2/3 cup slivered toasted almonds, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Pour the broth into a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Put the currants in a small bowl and pour enough broth over them to cover. Set aside. In another small bowl, combine the curry powder, garam masala, salt, and black pepper and reserve.

3. Scatter the bacon in a 4 to 6 quart enameled cast-iron pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Stir the pieces around occasionally until the bacon is firm and just golden brown, about 5 minutes. With the slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a small bowl and reserve.

4. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pot, reserving the excess fat in a small bowl. Brown the chicken thighs in batches over medium-high heat, taking care not to crowd them in the pot, until they are golden brown, about 5 minutes per side. Add the reserved bacon fat, 1 teaspoon at a time, if the pot becomes too dry. Remove the chicken and reserve in a medium bowl.

5. Add 2 teaspoons reserved bacon fat to the pot (if there is none left, use 2 teaspoons canola or vegetable oil). Add the chile and toast the chile in the fat, about 30 seconds per side, until very fragrant.

6. Add the carrots, bell peppers, onions, and garlic and cook until slightly softened, about 6 minutes. Add the tomatoes, spice mixture, ginger, and the currants and their broth. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the tomatoes have cooked down to a puree and the sauce has thickened around the vegetables, about 8 minutes.

7. Nest the chicken thighs gently in the vegetable sauce so that the skin side faces up and is above the surface of the gravy. Tent the pot loosely with foil and transfer to the middle rack of the oven. Bake until the country captain resembles a roiling stew around the chicken thighs, about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the sauce has thickened further and the chicken skin is just beginning to crisp, about 15 minutes more.

8. Remove from the oven, skim any excess fat from the surface, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Discard the chile. With tongs, transfer 3 thighs to each of 4 wide, deep bowls filled with 1 cup hot white rice. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and the rice and garnish with the reserved bacon, almonds, and parsley.


26 responses to Aye, Aye, Country Captain

  1. On March 12, 2010 at 3:01pm, the wicked noodle said...

    This looks heavenly! I do believe I’ll be making this over the weekend! :-)

  2. On March 12, 2010 at 3:03pm, Eliana said...

    This looks so delishly hearty. I wish I had a big ol’pot of this to get me through the next few rainy days.

  3. On March 12, 2010 at 3:59pm, bellini valli said...

    Now this is the comfort food we keep talking about. I happened to take in that episode so thanks for sharing the recipe Susan.

  4. On March 12, 2010 at 4:34pm, shelly (cookies and cups) said...

    That looks soo good! We love stuff like this in my house, so rustic and cozy!

  5. On March 12, 2010 at 5:13pm, Rosa said...

    That dish looks wonderfully spicy and flavorful! Very comforting!



  6. On March 12, 2010 at 6:01pm, Peter said...

    I always thought of Bobby Flay as the underdog on the show. Yes, he’s a famous celebrity chef, but he’s making dishes that are often very regional, so he probably doesn’t have much experience with them, whereas the people he’s competing with have won awards for there recipes and might as well be pros when it comes to the dish. The fact that he can pick up a new recipe, spend just a little bit of time testing it, and then compete neck-and-neck with the best just shows how talented he is!

    • On March 12, 2010 at 6:57pm, Susan said...

      I see your point. The reason I don’t consider Bobby the underdog in most of these challenges is precisely because he is such a gifted chef. He is able to take any recipe given and transform it to another level. I actually prefer Bobby’s take on many of the challenges. However, I still usually root for the challengers because their recipes are their big claim to fame and I hate to see them lose that. :)

  7. On March 12, 2010 at 6:08pm, Joie de vivre said...

    I’m so glad to hear that this was a success! I want to try it!

  8. On March 12, 2010 at 8:41pm, SMITH BITES said...

    OMG – just left Charleston this morning having spent the last week there; I MET THE LEE BROS at one of the local bookstores and bought their cookbook, had them sign it AND got a pic all before I had any idea of who they are!!! i’m such an ass sometimes . . . anyhoo – will be making this and many more recipes from their terrific book!

  9. On March 12, 2010 at 11:11pm, nina said...

    I don’t know much about Bobby Flay to have an opinion, but I do have an opinion about good hearty food and this looks mighty fine to me!!!!

  10. On March 12, 2010 at 11:20pm, Allison from "a for aubergine" said...

    I like that show too! I too haven’t heard of Country Captain and the images posted have me intrigued! Which means I must try! Thanks.

  11. On March 13, 2010 at 12:02am, Sook @ My Fabulous Recipes said...

    Beautiful photos! Yum!

  12. On March 13, 2010 at 2:49am, Joanne said...

    I’ve never heard of this dish before but I love curries of all shapes and sizes! Great idea to throw some almonds into the mix.

  13. On March 13, 2010 at 6:30am, grace said...

    so did bobby lose that throwdown? i often think that when he wins, it’s due to the two ladies who help him. :) this is an interesting dish, susan, and i can’t believe i’ve never heard of it. sans curry, i’d really love it!

  14. On March 13, 2010 at 11:11am, The Duo Dishes said...

    OK, this is one very non-traditional Southern dish, but it’s awesome! Those are not spice combinations seen in any Southern food our families members would eat. :) Of course, we’d both tear it up!

  15. On March 13, 2010 at 3:11pm, pity said...

    ys, i watch that show as well, and this recipe looks so delicious, well done, chers from london

  16. On March 13, 2010 at 4:34pm, junecutie said...

    I’m not a fan of Bobby Flay, but it’s not really his fault. Something about him reminds me of a smart-aleck football player in high school. I’m sure he’s not like Mr. BMOC at all; and I have to admit he seems like a really good guy. Isn’t it funny how high school experiences seem to color the way we look at things one way or the other? On the other hand, I love, love, love the Lee Bros cookbooks. I have the first one, have cooked out of it, and it is beyond fabulous! I grew up in the South, and the cookbook is lots of fun to read, too. I’m looking forward to getting the new one. I am also really looking forward to making this dish. My husband’s not a big fan of curry dishes. It looks like it’s time to broaden his horizon a bit. Thanks for posting this recipe. I really love reading your blog, by the way. I look forward to it every week. Your writing style is really enjoyable. Thanks again.

  17. On March 13, 2010 at 5:56pm, tasteofbeirut said...

    I don’t watch TV chefs shows but on the rare occasions that i have, I have like Bobby Flay’s the best; he is down to earth, his recipes are good and easy. This dish is wonderful; I can tell with the slab of bacon and the chicken and spices, it must be totally satisfying! Yum.

  18. On March 13, 2010 at 7:39pm, Michelle said...

    OMYGOSH YES!!!! I saw that episode and was like – damn that sounds SO good, i wanna make it. Actually, my boyfriend said it…:P literally. I just showed him your amazing recipe and he’s making it for dinner for me tomorow night!!! woohoo!! thank you!!!

  19. On March 14, 2010 at 12:08pm, Manggy said...

    Oh gosh, this looks so lovely – imagine my excitement when I saw the spices in it. I can almost smell it from here.
    I like the idea of the Throwdown show but I don’t like Bobby Flay all that much. He usually bites off more than he can chew (I recall the wedding cake episode. As if he had a chance). I’d rather it was between two chefs who are at least on equal footing so it can be more exciting. Having BF there just makes it seem so disingenuous (after a while I’ve stopped believing that the challengers weren’t “in on it”).

  20. On March 14, 2010 at 1:24pm, Cara said...

    I always love hearing about a new dish and this is definitely new to me. Sounds yummy too! Thanks for sharing.

  21. On March 16, 2010 at 11:34am, The Food Hunter said...

    I’ve never heard of this dish either but now I can’t wait to try it. It looks delicious.

  22. On March 16, 2010 at 2:15pm, kelleyn said...

    I have also never heard of this dish, but it looks very yummy! I think I am going to have to try this one.

  23. On March 21, 2010 at 1:02pm, Jackie said...

    I’m so glad you tried this recipe. I’ve been curious about it since seeing the Throwdown rerun recently. Looks like I’ll have to give it a try now.

  24. On December 04, 2011 at 1:42pm, eva said...

    very jummie recipe (and quite easy to make!). it was perfect for this rainy December evening in Belgium thanks!

  25. On May 21, 2015 at 3:53am, ashwini ailawadi said...

    Chanced upon this page and am so delighted to find a recipe of Chicken Country Captain here. Very few people know about it. Yes, you’re right it originated in India during the British Raj with the Anglo Indian community giving it their own unique flavour by adding Indian spices to it. There are many recipe’s going around and as it ever so happens every household will claim there’s is the best. Unfortunately in India it is not too well known anymore and with the gradual migration of the Anglo Indian community may perhaps be lost forever. I have a completely different recipe. Am definitely going to try this one out. Thanks.

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kiss the cook!

Hello and welcome to SGCC! I’m Susan, a professional writer, food columnist, recipe developer, wife, mother, daughter and sister, who used to be a lawyer in a previous life. My love of food comes from a long line of wonderful and creative Italian home cooks who didn’t always have a lot, but knew how to make a lot out of what they had. I hope that you enjoy yourself while you’re here, and visit often! read more >>

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