Country Captain a Dish of Two Continents

I find it interesting how dishes make their way round the world starting off in one country only to be taken up as ‘a local dish’ in other. Take Kedgeree for instance, an dish originating in India, that became a quintessentially English dish and the iconic American Hot Dog, an import from Germany.

Whilst looking for recipes my book, Recipes for an Unknown Kitchen, I found a recipe for Chicken Country Captain  in a hand written recipe book written by a G. Watson, a fabulous find, crammed with recipes and marked through with smudges and grease marks, a book that had been used well, covering a period from 1940s to 1960s.

What an unusual name I thought, looked it up and found that the dish comes from the southern states of America where there are hundreds of different versions and states vie as to where it originated. However it didn’t stop there, it seems that the dish did originate in India finding its way to America where it has been adopted as a classic southern dish.

I found a recipe Country Captain Vegetables in the Indian 1947 edition of Indian Cookery by E. P.  Veerasawmy (also spelt Veeraswamy). Veeraswamy, in Regent Street, is the oldest surviving Indian restaurant in the UK, opened in 1926.

So here are both recipes in honour of National Curry Week, but which Nation?

Chicken Country Captain

This version is very simple, Anglicised and very tasty. The chilli powder gives it a kick so reduce it to your taste.

4 x chicken portions

100g ghee or vegetable oil

A large sliced onion

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground chilli

½ teaspoon salt


Fry the onion in the ghee or oil depending on your preference until it is crispy and caramelised but not too dark. Remove it from the pan and place on a plate with some kitchen roll to drain. Add a little more oil to the pan if necessary then add the turmeric and chilli, fry briefly then add the chicken. Cook on a medium heat to ensure it is cooked through thoroughly, turning it regularly. The cooking time will depend on the size of the chicken portions but cook for about 30 minutes then test. Cook for the first 15 minutes with a lid or cover on the pan then remove it to reduce any liquid. I have also tried this using a tablespoon of the Curry Powder from Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen and it works really well. Serve with rice cooked your favourite way and with the onions on top.

Country Captain Vegetables

This is a good way of using up those left over vegetables or the odd collection of vegetables that seem to live in the veg box at the end of the week, any mixture will do.




2lb (1 kg) cooked cold vegetables chopped in chunks of around 2cm.

I large onion, finely sliced (or the equivalent in sliced spring onions)

2 cloves garlic thinly sliced lengthwise.

4 fresh or pickled chillies ( or less depending on the heat you want)

1 dessertspoon of curry powder

1 tablespoon of cooking oil or ghee

I tablespoon vinegar or tamarind water

Salt to taste


Lightly fry the onions and  garlic. Toss the vegetables in a bowl with the curry powder, add the chillies and sprinkle the vinegar over and mix. Add the vegetables to the pan with the onions and garlic and sautee. Salt to taste. Serve with rice and fresh scraped or desicated coconut (optional). Again I have used my own curry powder but use whichever is your favourite.

National Curry Week

As it is National Curry Week I thought it only right to share a few of my favourite curry recipes with you so over the next few days I’ll post them. A bit of a cheat with this first one as I have posted it before but it does deserve to be repeated.

One of the recipes that stood out for me while I was choosing recipes for my book, Recipes from an Unknown Kitchen, was a recipe for a curry powder mix. This came from a hand written notebook from William Sayer started in 1821 and the reason it caught my eye was the inclusion of a spice called Grains of Paradise which I had never heard of before.

So I had to look this up. Grains of paradise are peppery seeds from the Aframomum melegueta plant. They have been used in their native West Africa for centuries, and in Europe since at least the 800s. Today, they are commonly in use in Northern Africa as well, and less abundant in Europe. This spice is also known as alligator pepper, Guinea grains, or melegueta pepper. You can use Fresh ground pepper, sansho powder (prickly ash powder) or cardamom as a substitute. Grains of Paradise come from West Africa, where they grow on a leafy plant and are easily harvested. The name comes from Medieval spice traders looking for a way to inflate the price – it was claimed that these peppery seeds grew only in Eden, and had to be collected as they floated down the rivers out of paradise. Although Grains of Paradise are now fairly rare and expensive, they used to be used as a cheaper substitute for black pepper. They have a zesty flavor reminiscent of pepper, with hints of flowers, coriander and cardamom.

I have recently also come across a book called The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart, a marvellous book subtitled ‘The Plants That Create The World’s Great Drinks’ and lo and behold Grains of Paradise are included:

Amy goes into some detail about the plant but the bit that interested me was how the spice has hopefully solved a problem posed in zoos. Apparently captive western lowland gorillas often suffer from heart disease; in fact it is the cause of death for 40% of them. In the wild, grains of paradise make up 80-90% of their diet. A gorilla health project is now underway to improve the well-being of captive gorillas with grains of paradise.

How fascinating is that?

Meanwhile here is the recipes for the Currie Powder from Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen. The Grains of Paradise are the little balls on the right in the picture.

As the original quantities are large I have provided the quantities here to produce just over 400g.


260g Turmeric


6g Cloves

12g Cinnamon

10g Grains of Paradise

95g Coriander Seeds

6g Ground Ginger

10g Cummin Seed

6g Fennel Seed


You can either use pre-ground or whole spices. Grind the whole seeds and spices then add the ready ground spices. Give them a short pulse on the electric grinder or pound carefully in a pestle. Can’t you just smell it now?

Store in air tight containers. As William comments ‘This is the best currie powder I ever used’ It is a medium heat and is used just like any other curry powder. As a marinade and paste for chicken I used 2 tablespoons mixed with 2 crushed cloves of garlic and lemon juice and for a vegetable curry used 1 tablespoon.