Anatomy of a Classic: Country Captain
East meets South in the enduring Country Captain
A little bit exotic, a little bit famil
iar, Country Captain is perfumed with history. An aromatic one-pot stew of chicken and spices, it’s most often associated with Georgia, specifically the port city of Savannah. But it’s found a life of its own in the South. “Although Country Captain was off my radar growing up in suburban Savannah, it was on the menu at the Georgia restaurant where I started my cooking career, and I fell in love with the dish,” says Steven Satterfield, chef/owner of Miller Union in Atlanta.
As a historically significant seaport, Savannah was a cross-cultural capital of import-export, and the distinctive tomato curry base speaks to the influence of the British spice trade. “It is the complex range of India-influenced spices that distinguishes this dish,” Satterfield says. “So I stay true to that and make my own curry mix.” When it comes to the finishing touches, Satterfield leaves plenty of leeway for individual tastes, serving the dish surrounded by bowls of colorful condiments. So the final flavor depends upon who adds what—the very essence of regional Southern cooking.
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. bacon fat
1 whole chicken (cut into 10 pieces: wings, legs, thighs, and quarter breasts), patted dry with paper towels and seasoned with coarse salt and ground black pepper
2 cups diced yellow onion
2 cups diced celery
2 cups diced green bell pepper
1 fresh hot chile pepper, seeded and minced
1 tsp. chopped garlic
Homemade curry powder: 1 tbsp. ground ginger, 2 tsp.ground cumin, 2 tsp. ground cardamom, ½ tsp. ground turmeric, 2 tsp. Hungarian paprika, 2 tsp. freshly ground coriander, 2 tsp. freshly ground cinnamon, ¼ tsp. freshly ground clove, 1 pinch cayenne pepper, 1 pinch Colman’s mustard powder; 1 pinch dried thyme
2 cups good-quality canned tomatoes, chopped 1 cup tomato juice (reserved from can)
1 cup chicken stock
2 bay leaves
½ cup seedless raisins
Place large ovenproof braiser or oval Dutch oven (in which the chicken fits in a single layer) over moderate heat, and melt butter and bacon fat until slightly foaming, about 3 to 5 minutes. Raise heat, add chicken, and brown well on all sides. Remove crisped pieces to platter, continuing until all pieces are golden brown.
Lower heat to moderate and add the onion, celery, peppers, and garlic, using a wooden spoon to stir well. Slowly add curry powder, stirring well to evenly coat all the vegetables, and cook until they are tender, stirring frequently, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, tomato juice, stock, and bay leaves, and stir well, scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen any browned bits. Bring liquid to simmer, return chicken to pot, and cover tightly.
Cook on top of the stove over low flame until chicken is cooked through, about 35 to 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve: Transfer chicken to beds of rice in shallow bowls, sprinkle with raisins and serve surrounded by condiments like grated toasted fresh coconut, thinly sliced scallions, crushed roasted peanuts or almonds, green tomato or apple chutney, pickled hot peppers, or pickled okra.
Meet the Chef: Steven Satterfield
Hometown: Savannah, Georgia
Current restaurant: Miller Union, Atlanta
On the menu: Creamed Carolina Gold rice with country ham, turnips, and clams; braised rabbit; Meyer lemon cake with rosemary ice cream Kitchen philosophy: “I love the idea of a yesteryear when there were no industrial/factory foods.”
Hidden talent: “I have played music all my life and have had two bands, Seely and Silver Lakes.”