Southern Dinner Recipe: Country Captain Chicken

Spring seems to have finally settled in down South, and my cooking has already started to reflect the change in the seasons. But just because the weather has warmed up doesn't mean my cravings for hearty food have completely disappeared.
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We had a series of torrential April showers blow across the Southeast this weekend that made me want to stay home and pull a blanket over my head. I needed to cook something warm and soothing to calm my nerves. I scanned my very (VERY) long list of "to make" recipes and for some reason Country Captain just jumped out at me. Nothing like a little kitchen project to pass away a rainy day.

So what is Country Captain exactly? Well, basically it's just a braised chicken dish, made spicy with a curry-spiced tomato sauce and rounded out with the sweetness of currants or raisins. The exact origination remains fuzzy, but most say it began in the Georgia city of Savannah, once an important port to the spice trade.(Although Charleston, South Carolina folks may disagree.) Whatever its beginnings, Country Captain has become a cherished recipe throughout the southern states.

This recipe isn't difficult by any means, but it does require a bit of chopping, plus the browning and long-braising of the meat. Make it on a lazy Sunday and enjoy while watching a movie, then heat up the leftovers on Monday when you don't feel like cooking anything at all. And while it may not be much to look at, I assure you there is more to Country Captain than meets the eye.

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Country Captain
serves 6 to 8

1 (4 to 5 pound) stewing chicken, cut into 10 pieces (4 to 5 pounds of thighs would work well too)
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 large stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28 ounce) can crushed or chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon curry powder (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon ground thyme
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup currants or raisins, for garnish
1/4 cup sliced almonds, for garnish
Chopped flat leaf parsley, for garnish
Cooked white rice, for serving

Preheat the oven to 325°.

Season the chicken pieces generously with salt and pepper. Heat canola or safflower oil in a large braiser pan or dutch oven over high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the chicken (in batches if necessary) and brown well on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the peppers, celery, and onion and saute until softened, about 6 -7 minutes. Add garlic and cook for one more minute. Pour in the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the thyme, curry powder, salt, and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

Nestle the chicken pieces into the tomato sauce. Cover the pan and bake until chicken is tender and the sauce is thickened, about 2 hours. Spoon sauce and chicken over white rice. Garnish with currants, sliced almonds, and parsley.

Related: Light Eating: Braised Chicken

(Images: Nealey Dozier)

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Nealey Dozier is a former wedding planner turned chef, culinary instructor, recipe developer, and food writer. She is based in Atlanta. You can find more of her Southern adventures in eating and entertaining at www.dixiecaviar.com.

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