Though Country Captain Chicken’s exact origins are difficult to untangle, most food scholars seem to agree that the dish likely draws its name from the captains of East India Company ships who were in charge of delivering spices and other goods from overseas to Southern port cities such as Charleston and Savannah in the 1800s.
What isn’t up for debate is that the combo of curried chicken and white Carolina rice somehow found its way onto the dinner table of George S. Patton, and the General quickly fell in love with the Captain to the point that the U.S. Army honored Old Blood and Guts by serving the dish to soldiers in the field via packaged Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) in 2000. (It was not a big hit and is no longer being served to the troops.)
Chef Thomas Boemer, who moved from his native Minnesota at the age of five and first had Country Captain as a school lunch in the Carolinas, has a different recipe for the one-pot dish than the one the Pentagon created to honor Patton, and it’s on the menu alongside a number of other Southern-style specials at his restaurant Revival in the Twin Cities. Getting the Captain aboard at Revival, however, was not exactly smooth sailing because his business partner and chef had never heard of the dish.
“In the Carolinas, people eat rice a lot. In Minnesota, nobody eats rice, they eat potatoes. They just thought I was absolutely crazy,” Boemer tells InsideHook. “We were talking about the menu and they were like ‘I’ve never heard of this. This is not a real thing. I don’t think that’s Southern food.’ I was like, ‘Well, I’m telling you, it’s Southern food. It’s what we ate.’”
Made with golden raisins, almonds, jalapeno peppers and rice that’s been simmered with coconut milk, Boemer’s take on Country Captain calls for the chicken prepared to be bone-in with the skin intact.
“You just lose so much without cooking a chicken on the bone. The raisins, almonds and peppers in there add a lot of texture to the dish. There are hints of sweetness and a complexity of spice,” he says. “You have all these great textures and flavors from the vegetables and the curry. It creates a dish that I think has a very contemporary feel and is really quite complex but can be put together very easily.”
Boemer’s Country Captain, which also can be made vegetarian by swapping in cauliflower instead of chicken, is emblematic of his desire to put things on the menu at Revival that challenge people’s preconceived notions of what Southern food is all about.
“Especially in places that are not the South, people have this idea of what Southern food is. But the complexity of Southern food and its history really goes in a lot of different directions,” Boemer says. “Even though we’re a fried chicken restaurant for all intents and purposes, I want to expand people’s ideas and notions of what Southern food is and what it can be. Country Captain is one of the go-to dishes for me to do that because it comes from a period of time when the South and these coastal cities were a Mecca for people around the world. That’s why it keeps finding its way on my menu.”
And now it can sail onto yours.
Chef Thomas Boemer’s Country Captain Chicken
- Whole chicken (cut into 10pc)
- Large red onion (small dice 1/4 in)
- Red bell pepper (small dice 1/4in)
- Jalapeno pepper (small dice 1/4in)
- 2 Large tomatoes (medium dice 1/2in)
- 3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
- 2 tbl sweet curry powder
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp allspice
- 3 large bay leaves
- 1 tbl brown sugar
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup golden raisins
- 1 cup toasted slivered almonds
- 3 bunches of scallions, chopped (1/8in rings)
- 2 cup basmati rice
- 2 cup chicken stock
- 1 can of coconut milk
- Cut chicken into 10pc (leg, thigh, wing, breast bone-in with rib meat attached cut in half). This cut will leave all the pieces of chicken the same size so they cook at the same rate.
- Season with salt and pepper, and place skin side down in a braising pan or dutch oven.
- Brown all pieces well and set aside.
- Add the onion, bell pepper and jalapeno to the pot with a pinch of salt and sweat at low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon to release and brown bits left from the chicken.
- When onions start to become translucent, add the chopped garlic. Sweat garlic just until aromatic (30 seconds) and add all the dry spices.
- Increase the heat to medium-high and bloom the spices in a hot pan being careful not to burn.
- Stir in the tomatoes and add the chicken stock.
- Bring to a simmer and add back your chicken and bay leaves.
- Place in a preheated 350-degree oven and cook until chicken is cooked completely through (approximately 30 minutes).
- For rice, place the rice in a medium pot with chicken stock and coconut milk on the stove and gently bring to a simmer. Top with a lid and place in a 350-degree oven for approximately 25 minutes or until rice is fully cooked.
- To serve, spoon the cooked coconut rice into a large bowl and top with a piece or two of chicken. Ladle the curry sauce and vegetables on top and garnish with scallion, golden raisins and slivered almonds.
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