Even though Georgia’s “official” state food is grits, there was a time when this simple tomato-and-pepper chicken curry was identified in the State of Georgia, as “Georgia’s state dish.” Writing 34 years ago in “Georgia Heritage: Treasured Recipes,” Mrs. Sewell Marion Brumby relayed that her mother (Mary Hart) created what became known as Country Captain from a recipe she widely adapted from Alessandro Fillipini’s 1880 Delmonico’s cookbook, in the early 1900s. “At that time,” writes Mrs Brumby, “you could not even obtain curry powder locally, and the dish my mother made was, as far as I know, the first party dish of its kind to be served in Georgia. Army friends took it all over the world and when mother’s butler-chef went to the White House with Mr. Roosevelt as chef, it received even wider recognition.”
The dish was, in fact, a Franklin Roosevelt favorite at the White House in Washington, and, at “Little White House,” the cottage he built in Warm Springs, Georgia, to be near the town’s naturally-heated mineral springs. On the kitchen wall above the oven at Little White House, cook Daisy Bonner once inscribed: “I cooked the first and last meal in this cottage for President Roosevelt. –April 12, 1945” According to Daisy, “The President had many favorite dishes. But the one he liked best was my special country captain.”
Note: This recipe adheres closely to both Daisy and Mary’s ingredient directives, but hones the method and measurements a bit–i.e. Daisy’s chicken preparation instructions were limited to “boil chicken until done” and Mary’s measurements called for “2 large spoonfuls” of this, and “2 tins” of that.
Makes 6 to 8 ample servings
Country Captain Ingredients Ingredients
- 1/2 cup currants
- 1/4 cup port wine
- four boneless, skinless breasts of chicken
- six boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 tsp fresh ground pepper
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil plus 2 tsp vegetable oil
- 2 medium onions, slivered
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 large bell pepper cored and sliced into strips
- 2, 14-ounce cans of diced tomatoes
- 2 tsp curry powder (Note: This amount really just perfumes the curry–I could have done with a bit more in the dish.)
- 1 tsp dried thyme, or, two tsp fresh thyme leaves
- 3 tsp finely-minced parsley
- six servings prepared white rice
- 1/2 cup slivered blanched almonds, toasted
- Heat currants in port wine. Cover and let steep while you prepare the rest of the dish.
- Mix flour with salt and pepper. Cut chicken breast pieces length-wise into three long lobes or “tenders.” Dredge all chicken pieces in the seasoned flour. Heat 1/4 cup oil in large skillet and saute chicken in batches (don’t crowd too much) until lightly browned. Remove chicken to a dutch oven. Deglaze skillet with 1/4 cup water and scrape drippings over chicken.
- Preheat oven to 325.
- Add additional two tsp of oil to skillet. Gently saute onion, garlic and green pepper until soft. Add tomatoes. Add herbs and curry powder. Taste to adjust for salt and pepper. Pour vegetables and sauce over chicken in dutch oven. Bake, covered, at 325 for 1 1/2 hours or until chicken is very tender and cooked through. Stir wine-plumped currants into pot; serve chicken and sauce over hot white rice. Garnish with toasted, blanched almond slivers and additional currants and chopped green pepper, if you like.