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Aye, Aye, Country Captain

Have you ever watched the Food Network show, Throwdown with Bobby Flay [1]?  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 [2].  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.