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It Never Hurts to Curry Flavor

It feels like it did nothing but rain for my last six days off. The upside of this is that it gave me the time (too wet to work in the garden), to try some dishes that I have always wanted to try but never got around to.

One of these is “Country Captain” – a chicken dish that was said to have been introduced to the South by a sea captain in the spice trade. It is popular in the lowlands in South Carolina and Georgia.

The research that I have done on the dish indicates that it is very old. It is in cookbooks from the 1840s and ’50s – both in America and England.

It also appears in a cookbook titled “East Indian Cooking” from the 20th century, which probably indicates the country of origin, because a “country captain” in India was a British officer of native troops.

It is basically a chicken curry that’s easy to make, beautiful to look at and even better to eat.

Country Captain

6 skinless chicken breasts
2 ½ cups medium chop onion
1 cup small chop celery
2 cups small chop green pepper
1 tablespoon diced garlic
2 cups canned chopped tomatoes (reserve the juice)
2 tablespoons curry
½ cup raisins
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
3 slices good quality bacon

Cut the chicken into medium pieces, sprinkle with thyme and pepper, then brown in a large frying pan with ¼ cup oil.

After the chicken is browned, put aside and drain the oil.

Add the bacon to the pan and cook until crisp. Remove the bacon and save the fat.

Cook the onions in the fat until translucent.

Next add the celery and the green pepper. Cook until it starts to get soft. Add the garlic and cook three minutes more.

Add the two cups of tomatoes and ¾ of a cup of the tomato juice that was reserved from the can.  Cook for 10 minutes at a simmer.

Add the raisins and curry powder and the bay leaves. Simmer for a half hour in a tightly covered pot. Add salt and pepper to taste.

When done, place half the sauce in a covered casserole, add a layer of chicken, more sauce, then another layer of sauce. Place a layer of tinfoil over the pot, then put on the lid and bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for 1½ hours or until the chicken is tender. Remove from the oven and adjust the seasoning, if needed.

This dish is really superb and I wish that I had tried it long ago. One thing for sure, I will keep it in my cooking repertoire. Yummers!

Lee Riggs is a Zen priest living in Shasta County who cooked and baked for many years at San Francisco Zen Center.  He is a devoted gardener. His simple credo is that butter is better and that you should be able to taste the hops in beer.