I’ve been making Country Captain since I was a kid, and more than likely got the original recipe from one of the three daily newspapers we took (yes, it was THAT long ago) – one morning and two afternoon. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on the recipe coming from the Daily Hampshire Gazette – established in 1786 and full of most of our really local comings and goings back in the day. There was no curry, nor did it call for raisins or almonds – just chicken, ‘shrooms, onions, peppers, garlic and tomatoes – and my was it tasty.
Now, you need to understand that my dad hated chicken, so it was just not something we had. Of course, he also thought that a dash of salt, a sprinkling of pepper and the addition of one, lone bay leaf was more than enough seasoning for ANY dish, thank you very much. My mom was really good about accommodating his tastes (and somehow, she always managed to sneak in a lot of flavor) – but, while she was recovering from a severe stroke, we were reduced to eating my father’s cooking. My grandfather decided that he and I should collaborate and perhaps serve a meal with the odd bit of onion or (REVOLUTIONARY!) garlic. Pepé (my grandfather) and I also thought it’d be nice to have a roast beast that could be carved without leaving ‘dust’ on the platter (my dad was also not much for any meat less than VERY WELL and TRULY done).
So, it was decided that I would learn to cook…
Pepé and I started out slowly with side dishes and the like, but it soon came to the point where I was the main cook (well, if you were looking for a bit of flavor and meat not cooked to a crispy dust), and I started checking out the food pages in the papers and our vast repertoire of ‘Joy of Cooking’ on the shelf for something tasty and different for dinner.
It really wasn’t that stressful – I could easily singe a roast for my dad; and if things got really out of hand – well, the Orchard Grove was a short walk down the street – pepé was quite happy with their perfectly shaken martinis and the lovely oysters Rockefeller; I was more than pleased with the veal, pounded paper-thin and then breaded and lightly fried, served alla parmigiana – we got by.
Still, I was liking this whole cooking thing, and I had a sneaking hunch there was more to it than an eye of the round roast with a bit of salt and pepper (and a bay leaf) – so, when I came across this recipe for Country Captain – CHICKEN! ONION! PEPPERS! TOMATOES! I HAD to try this! And I am quite happy I did…
I long ago lost the ‘recipe’ for this – it is now simply a toss together one-pot (not counting the rice) meal that I think is pretty wonderful. There IS a bit of work involved – dipping chicken in seasoned flour, then seasoned egg and milk, and then bread crumbs (well – Panko these days – can’t stick to the 1970’s, can we?) – but most of the fussy stuff is done at the beginning – leaving you with hours of time to yourself while dinner is finishing in the oven. You could even find time (as I used to) to make – and roast the heck out of – a roast beast and some potatoes for dad while dinner for the rest of us was cooking. OH – and man do I wish I had a rice cooker back in the day.
•Chicken – use whichever cut(s) you prefer – a whole chicken cut-up works as well as the bone-in thighs I used for this batch. I also left the skin on, you do as you like
•Onion – one or two, coarsely chopped
•Peppers – green, yellow, red, orange – I used a bit of each maybe totaling 2 peppers – cut into thin strips
•Mushrooms – about 8 oz., sliced
•Garlic – as much as you wish – I used three cloves – smashed
•2 eggs, lightly beaten and combined with some milk – (I also added a drop or six of Cajun Power Spicy Garlic Sauce, but then you knew that)
•Panko (or bread crumbs)
•Oil – this isn’t a deep frying thing, you’ll need enough for maybe an inch on the bottom of the pot, and more to add as needed
•Tomatoes – sauce, paste or canned – your choice
First, the messy part:
Rinse your chicken and dredge the pieces in seasoned flour (I whisked mine with paprika, black pepper and garlic powder), then dip them in the egg and milk mixture and roll in the panko or bread crumbs.
Heat some oil (I used canola) in the bottom of an oven-proof Dutch oven and fry the chicken pieces just until they are browned – don’t worry about cooking them through. I would do just one or two pieces at a time so as not to crowd the pan. As they are browned, remove the pieces to a platter lined with paper towels to drain.
Chicken browned and crispy and draining – we’re ready for the veggies. Add your onion, peppers, garlic and ‘shrooms to the pot – don’t worry about the little bits o’ breading still in the bottom of the pan, it’ll all be fine. You may have needed to add a bit more oil to the pot at some point – when you do, give it time to heat up before adding more chicken or the veggies. Sauté your veggies, adding a pinch of salt and some fresh ground pepper, scraping up any of those brown bits that may be stuck to the bottom of the pan (I have also been known to add a splash of sweet vermouth at this point) and cook down any veggie liquid/oil/vermouth in the pot.
Now’s the time to add your tomatoes – this time, I used some of that leftover tomato basil soup I had stashed in the freezer and a can of diced tomatoes – but in the past I’ve used a can or two of tomato paste and a few cans of sauce.
Stir into the veggies and add whichever additional spices you like – I added a couple of bay leaves, some of Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute and a dash of sugar to counteract the acidity of the canned tomatoes. Add your browned chicken to the pot and give a little stir to combine.
Put the lid on and pop the whole thing into a preheated 350º oven for 90 minutes.
Remove from the oven and serve over rice (my preferred way) or noodles.
Now THAT’S some Country Captain!