Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Grab the Captain and Run for the Roses - Country Captain on Derby Day!

Country Captain is a chicken curry dish which, in its basic form, is a mild stew made with browned chicken pieces, onions, and curry powder. Golden raisins and almonds are usually added. Many versions also call for tomatoes, garlic, and bell peppers. The dish is served over white rice.  Country Captain may have originated in India as a simple poultry or game recipe involving onions and curry and possibly enjoyed by British officers. One theory is that an early 19th-century British sea captain working in the spice trade introduced it to the American South via the port of Savannah.  Wikipedia

The dish was featured on an episode of Throwdown! with Bobby Flay, guest-starring Matt and Ted Lee. The Lee brothers took victory.

Read an interesting New York Times' article, by Sam Sifton, here.

I made Saveur's Country Captain almost a year ago, a version featured on the the menu of Watershed, Atlanta.  The recipe I made last Sunday is from Bon Appetit. We enjoyed it after watching the Kentucky Derby, and a disappointing 2nd place finish for Icebox (I had $10 on him to win).  I chose him because he was caked in mud after winning the Florida Derby, so I figured he would run well on a wet and muddy track, the conditions on Derby Day!  That's my logic, and I'm stickin' to it!  He was in the back of the pack most of the race, but had an amazing, nail biting, final stretch run, powering around the outside and passing the entire field...with the exception of Super Saver, who took home the roses!

Ice Box, #8, with a late run to win the Florida Derby

Sorry for going off on that tangent, but I LOVE watching the horses run our Del Mar track during the summer season, and I always tune in to see The Run for the Roses the first weekend in May!

OK, back to Country Captain...or Country Colonel in honor of the Derby...

Saveur's recipe uses a whole cut up chicken with bacon, green peppers and tomatoes nestled in a thick curry sauce and baked, garnished with currants and peanuts (see my post and photos, here).  Bon Appetit's recipe uses bite size pieces of boneless chicken thighs simmered with cauliflower, tomatoes, dried cherries and peas, seasoned with a mix of freshly toasted and ground spices, garnished with green onion tops and toasted coconut shavings.  Bobby Flay's Throwdown recipe, here, features a little of both, and sounds amazing.  Bobby prepares his Mesa Curry Mix, which incorporates two chili powders, and he also adds half of a fresh Serrano Chile to the stew....hummm, just might have to try Bobby's version next!

Without doing a side by side tasting, it's hard to chose a favorite.  My memory is a bit faded since cooking Saveur's recipe, but I think the spice blend in Bon Appetit's recipe is a little more complex and flavorful, and I liked the addition of cauliflower and peas.  It really comes down to personal preference, and whether you favor white and/or dark meat, chicken on the bone or boneless bite-size pieces, and what vegetables and garnishes float your boat.  This dish is all about the spices!  I do recommend serving any version you concoct over steamed, white rice (or coconut rice), and garnishing with with toasted almonds, peanuts or pistachios.

Country Captain with Cauliflower and Peas
from Bon Appetit, March 2010
Serves 6


1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds (from 3 whole green cardamom pods)
1 1/2-inch piece cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon (scant) cayenne pepper

Place coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, black peppercorns, cloves, cardamom seeds, and cinnamon stick in small dry skillet. Stir over medium heat until fragrant and slightly darker in color, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat; cool. Finely grind spices in spice mill or in mortar with pestle. Transfer to small bowl; add turmeric and cayenne.


5 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil, divided
1 small head of cauliflower, trimmed, cut into 1-inch florets (about 4 cups)
Coarse kosher salt
2 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs, trimmed, cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces
1 bunch green onions, dark green and white parts chopped separately
1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth
1 2/3 cups crushed tomatoes with added puree (from 28-ounce can)
1/3 cup dried cherries, finely chopped
1 tablespoon smooth peanut butter
1 1/2 cups frozen petite peas (9 to 10 ounces; do not thaw)
1/3 cup coconut shavings, lightly toasted

Toasted almonds, optional, for garnish
Steamed, white rice (John made coconut rice, substituting a small can of coconut milk for some of the water)

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in heavy large deep pot over medium-high heat. Add cauliflower florets; sprinkle with coarse kosher salt and sauté until beginning to soften and brown in spots, 6 to 7 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil and half of chicken to same pot; sprinkle with coarse kosher salt and sauté until chicken is light brown on all sides, about 6 minutes. Transfer chicken to large bowl. Repeat with remaining chicken.

Add white parts of green onions, finely grated ginger, and minced garlic to same pot; reduce heat to medium and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add ground spice mixture; stir 15 seconds. Stir in 1 1/2 cups chicken broth and bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits.

Add crushed tomatoes; reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 15 minutes.

Stir in dried cherries and peanut butter; return chicken and any accumulated juices to pot. Cover and simmer 10 minutes.

Add sautéed cauliflower to pot; cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through and cauliflower is tender, adding more chicken broth by 1/4 cupfuls if mixture is dry, about 10 minutes longer. Season with coarse salt and pepper.

DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated. Rewarm over medium heat before continuing.

Add frozen peas to stew and simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes. Ladle stew over white rice. Sprinkle each serving with green onion tops, toasted coconut shavings, and almonds, and serve.  Recommended wine:  Riesling

Ok Bobby, I'm ready for your Throwdown recipe next!

1 comment:

Mom said...

Beautiful presentation of the ultimate Country Captain. The depth of flavors from the toasted spices, sweet coconut, and tender chicken in the tangy sauce all meld together in an unforgettable and delectable fashion. And it looked so easy the way you prepared this wonderful dish! Thanks for sharing.