Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Country Captain, A Southern Treat

Since last week's Wednesday recipe from Japan went over like a you know what in church, I thought I might stay a little closer to home this week. With it's port of Savannah bringing in a variety of spices, a lot of the early low country dishes included spices like curry, paprika and the like. Country Captain is one of those Georgia and Southern recipes. It is a spicy chicken stew that is typically served over rice(another commodity of the area around Savannah). You'll find Country Captain recipes made with shrimp or chicken but both are in a sauce that's deeply flavored with onions, garlic, bell peppers, and thyme, always a little spicy from curry powder, paprika, and cayenne but also a little sweet from raisins and mango. It also almost always has tomatoes as well that brighten up the flavor.
Like many curries, it is served over rice, usually with a variety of garnishes that allow the diners to customize the dish to their liking. The collection of garnish will include some or all of the following: crumbled crisp bacon, thinly sliced scallions, toasted sliced almonds, chopped peanuts, shredded toasted coconut, crumbled hard cooked egg, finely chopped green pepper, tart apple, chopped banana, mandarin orange, sugared raisins, and of course chutney.


Traditionally, this dish is served with white rice you can, of course, use brown rice. You can pick and choose from the garnishes mentioned above or even come up with your own. This dish will scale easily and is a good choice for a crowd as playing in the garnish is always fun. If you are making the chicken version you can even make it a day or two ahead and just reheat it. If you are doing the shrimp version make everything ahead except adding the shrimp. Reheat and add the shrimp about ten minutes before you want to serve.

1 chicken, about 3 pounds, cut into 8 serving pieces, or 3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs, rinsed, dried, and trimmed
1 teaspoon salt, plus extra to season chicken
Ground black pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons vegetable, corn, or canola oil
2 medium onions, chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped (about 1 cup)
1 stalk celery, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
3 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne(you can add a bit more if you like spice but be careful as it will increase as it cooks)
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup homemade chicken stock or packaged low-sodium chicken broth
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes or 2 cups fresh tomtoes peeled, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup raisins
1 medium mango, peeled and pitted, flesh chopped (about 1 generous cup)(you can use frozen mango here as well)
6 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Sprinkle chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or soup kettle over medium-high heat. Place chicken pieces in the pot skin side down (do not crowd - brown in two batches, if necessary) and cook without moving them until the skin is crisp and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces and cook, again without moving, until the second side is golden brown, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer the chicken to a large plate and, if necessary, repeat with the remaining chicken, adjusting heat if the pot becomes too hot. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin. Pour or spoon all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pot.

Return the pot to the burner, adjust the heat to medium, add the onions, bell pepper, and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, paprika, curry, cayenne, and 1 teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture sticks to the bottom of the pot, about 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, increase heat to high, and, using a wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of the pot until the film of browned flour and spices dissolves into and thickens the liquid, about 2 minutes. If anyone asks, you are making a roux. Add tomatoes, thyme, bay leaves, and raisins, stir to mix, and bring to a boil.

Add the cooked chicken with accumulated juices, push the chicken down into the sauce, return to a boil, reduce the heat to very low, cover the pot, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the mango, re-cover, and continue to simmer until the chicken is very tender and pulling away from the bone, about 20 minutes longer.

Discard the bay leaves, correct the seasoning with additional salt and pepper, if necessary, add the parsley, and stir to mix. Serve with white rice and garnishes.

To make this dish with shrimp you obviously skip the frying chicken part. Peel and de-vein 2 pounds of medium shrimp reserving the shells and tails. Keep the peeled shrimp cold while you simmer the shells and tails in about 2 cups of water for about 15 minutes with a pinch or two of salt. Strain and reserve this shrimp broth you will substitute for the chicken broth. Otherwise follow the recipe but don't add the shrimp until the last 10 minutes or they will overcook.

If you are a pure vegan you might try using firm tofu in this dish and follow the shrimp instructions and using water or vegetable broth to make the roux.


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