Scott Peacock, a legend amongst Southern cooking aficionados, serves this dish at The Watershed, his restaurant in Decatur, Georgia. Although the menu changes continuously, Country Captain is always available… and always popular! The name of the dish purports to hail from the days when ships’ captains arrived in port cities like Charleston or Savannah and then would conduct trade in the exotic spices they had accumulated during the voyage.
While Country Captain may appear to be just another braised chicken dish, the wondrous combining and lengthy melding of simple ingredients creates an unbelievably robust, aromatic, and flavorful treat. Sound too good to be true? Once you try this simple recipe, you will be hooked. The lingering, exotic smell in your home the next morning will be enough to make you do it all again (because there for sure won’t be any leftovers).
For drinks, pour a powerful bottle of red, like Zinfandel or a jammy Cabernet that won’t get lost. Or for a treat, try a zesty, very dry Champagne that will bring out the piquancy of the spices. This recipe has conveniently been adapted to serve two generous portions, so if you are making more, double accordingly, but go heavy on the spices. As the old sea captain might say, you will find this dish unfathomably hale and hearty!
4 chicken thighs or legs, skin removed
2 teaspoons dried thyme
freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil
4 to 5 slices of thick bacon
4 to 6 cloves garlic, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup dried currants or raisins
2 bay leaves
2 cups steamed basmati rice
Dry chicken well, then season liberally with thyme, salt, and freshly ground pepper. Pat spices firmly into the chicken so they will stay during cooking. Heat a large Dutch oven until very hot, then add oil. When the oil is barely smoking, add chicken and brown well on both sides, about 12 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside.
Add bacon to Dutch oven, cook until crispy, then remove. Drain bacon on paper towels. Chop bacon into 1/2-inch pieces and set aside.
Remove excess bacon oil from Dutch oven, leaving just enough to saute vegetables. Add garlic, celery, and onion to Dutch oven and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes along with their juice, and stir frequently until the mixture thickens. Stir in curry powder, butter, currants, and bay leaves. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens into a chunky ragu, about 30 minutes.
Heat oven to 325°F. In the Dutch oven, bury the chicken and bacon pieces in the sauce. Cover, and cook in the oven until the chicken is falling off the bone, about 1 hour 15 minutes.
Remove from oven, plate the chicken alongside the rice, and spoon all remaining sauce over the chicken. Weep at the aroma and beauty!