What is Country Captain?

Cassie L. Damewood

Country Captain is a curried chicken dish typically served warm for lunch or dinner. Besides chicken, the recipe normally calls for onion, garlic, tomato, bell pepper, curry powder and either currants or golden raisins. Some recipes recommend garnishing the dish with slivered, toasted almonds. As is common with many curry dishes, shredded coconut is often recommended as another ingredient as it can accentuate the curry flavor.

Golden raisins are typically included in recipes for country captain.
Golden raisins are typically included in recipes for country captain.

Although it may be consumed alone as a stew, Country Captain is traditionally served over rice. A few recipes suggest a side dish of noodles or potatoes as a starch to complement the spiciness of the curry in the dish. Another common variation is the substitution of boneless chicken breasts for the more traditional whole, cut-up chicken.

Tomato is a common ingredient in Country Captain.
Tomato is a common ingredient in Country Captain.

The standard recipe for Country Captain lists the first step as browning the chicken on all sides in butter, oil or lard. Most recipes then recommend removing the chicken from the pan and setting it aside while the sauce is made in the original pan. Garlic, onion and bell pepper are gently cooked in the oil in the pan, taking care not to burn the garlic. The tomatoes are generally added to the pan next to deglaze it and incorporate the bits of chicken and vegetables from the pan’s bottom into the sauce.

After the spices are added, the chicken is returned to the pan. The pan is then covered and placed over low heat. If whole chicken parts are used, the dish typically requires one to two hours of cooking. The cooking time is considerably less if boneless chicken is used.

In either case, the currants or raisins should be stirred into the mixture during the last ten to 15 minutes to allow them to heat through and plump. If coconut is being used in the dish, it should be added at this time as well. Right before serving, slivered and toasted almonds are typically added on top as a garnish.

Stories of the origins of Country Captain are numerous and diverse. The accounts date back to the early 1800s. Most historical documents claim the dish was first served in the United States in Savannah, Georgia.

The most prevalent tales claim the dish was named after the officers of Indian ships who, at the time, were commonly referred to as country captains. They reportedly served the dish on their ships and shared the meal with traders on other ships. The American sailors purportedly passed the recipe on to the people of Savannah, a port city renowned for international spice trade during the 19th century.

A few stories attribute the recipe’s creation and moniker to cooks in the Southern region of the United States. However, the same recipe with the same name can be found in British history as well. This indicates the recipe was probably shared by the original country captains with a variety of international associates.

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