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dedicated to the
discussion & revival
of British foodways.

NO.53
SUMMER2017

Country Captain

As noted in the lyrical, there are countless rich and complicated recipes for this dish from the American south. The original incarnations found in British and Indian sources are lighter and fresher, including a good variation from The Raj at Table by David Burton (London 1993). This version from the Editor is lighter and fresher still.


  • Chicken 2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken, cut into ¾” wide strips
  • 4 oz unsalted butter
  • 2 big onions cut into thin crescents
  • 5 garlic cloves, smashed and diced
  • 2 Tablespoons grated ginger
  • 1 ½ teaspoons turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • 4-5 cloves
  • 2 jalapenos or other green chilis, seeded, trimmed and sliced fine
  • fresh cilantro to taste (we use lots), stems and leaves chopped separately
  • about one cup chicken stock
  • juice of a lemon
  • salt

  1. Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat and brown the chicken, then remove it.
  2. Reduce heat to medium and cook the onions until they soften: Do not brown them.
  3. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for another few minutes.
  4. Add the turmeric, pepper, cayenne, cloves and stir for 2 minutes.
  5. Return the chicken to the pot, add the coriander stems and about half the stock, then cover and simmer for about 20 minutes. Check the skillet from time to time and add stock if necessary: You do not want the dish to be too watery.
  6. Add the chilis, check for salt, stir in the lemon juice, heat it through, then add the coriander leaves.
  7. Serve with rice.

Notes:

- This dish is alchemical in its transformation of ingredients. It will impress guests.

- The recipe is good doubled.

- We like thighs best in it; others prefer breast. The breast, however, is more susceptible to excessive dryness.

- Among other differences, Burton omits the fresh cilantro that we consider essential.

- One version that Burton records in The Raj at Table was published in Calcutta during 1904. It differs from the britishfoodinamerica recipe in using chicken pieces on the bone, differing proportions of spice, half as much citrus and in omitting the cayenne and fresh cilantro. For heat, it relies on two full teaspoons of black pepper--twice our proportion--which we found a little one-dimensional. Still, the 1904 edition of the captain (from ‘What’ and ‘How’ or What shall we have and How shall we have it? by E.S. Poynter) is excellent.