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COOKING

The Captain's Table

Slightly spicy and a little sweet, this classic Southern chicken stew teases all the taste buds.


(Photo by Jim Scherer)

Country Captain is a classic Southern chicken stew long associated with Georgia. Thought by some food historians to have made its way to Savannah - once an important port in the spice trade - courtesy of a British sea captain in from India, Country Captain combines tender chicken in a sauce that's deeply flavored with onions, garlic, bell peppers, and thyme, slightly spicy from curry powder, paprika, and cayenne, a little sweet from raisins and mango, and bright from tomatoes. The Captain covers all his bases.

But he doesn't stop there. Like many traditional curries, the Captain is served over rice, usually with a variety of garnishes to which diners help themselves. Offered alone or in combination, the selection may include crumbled bacon, thinly sliced scallions, toasted sliced almonds, chopped peanuts, shredded coconut, finely chopped green pepper, tart apple or banana, and different sorts of chutneys. Speaking of chutney, many recipes call for mango chutney as an ingredient. I was lucky to learn early on that fresh mango gives the dish a brighter flavor than chutney. This is a good place to cheat a little and use frozen mango chunks from Whole Foods or Trader Joe's.

COUNTRY CAPTAIN CHICKEN
SERVES 4

Traditionally, this dish is served with white rice. The cook can pick and choose from the garnishes mentioned above.

1 chicken, about 3 pounds, cut into 8 serving pieces, or 3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs, rinsed, dried, and trimmed
1 teaspoon salt, plus extra to season chicken Ground black pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons vegetable, corn, or canola oil
2 medium onions, chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped (about 1 cup)
1 stalk celery, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
3 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup homemade chicken stock or packaged low-sodium chicken broth
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup raisins
1 medium mango, peeled and pitted, flesh chopped (about 1 generous cup)
6 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Sprinkle chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or soup kettle over medium-high heat. Place chicken pieces in the pot skin side down (do not crowd - brown in two batches, if necessary) and cook without moving them until the skin is crisp and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces and cook, again without moving, until the second side is golden brown, about 5 minutes longer.

Transfer the chicken to a large plate and, if necessary, repeat with the remaining chicken, adjusting heat if the pot becomes too hot.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin. Pour or spoon all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pot.

Return the pot to the burner, adjust the heat to medium, add the onions, bell pepper, and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, paprika, curry, cayenne, and 1 teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture sticks to the bottom of the pot, about 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, increase heat to high, and, using a wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of the pot until the film of browned flour and spices dissolves into and thickens the liquid, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, thyme, bay leaves, and raisins, stir to mix, and bring to a boil.

Add the cooked chicken with accumulated juices, push the chicken down into the sauce, return to a boil, reduce the heat to very low, cover the pot, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the mango, re-cover, and continue to simmer until the chicken is very tender and pulling away from the bone, about 20 minutes longer.

Discard the bay leaves, correct the seasoning with additional salt and pepper, if necessary, add the parsley, and stir to mix. Serve with white rice and garnishes.

ROASTED OKRA WITH ONIONS AND GARLIC
SERVES 4

If you have a choice, select okra pods that are small to medium size (about 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches), because large pods can be tough.

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for baking sheet
1 pound okra, rinsed and drained
1 large onion, peeled, halved, and sliced
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, optional

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and smear the foil with oil to coat lightly.

Trim the caps off the okra pods and halve the trimmed pods lengthwise.

On the baking sheet, toss okra, onion, and 2 tablespoons of oil to coat. Season generously with salt and pepper and toss again, allowing vegetables to settle in a single layer. Roast the vegetables, stirring occasionally to redistribute, until the okra is tender and the onions have begun to brown at the edges, about 20 minutes.

Add the garlic, stir to mix, and continue roasting until the garlic softens and turns golden, about 8 minutes longer.

Transfer vegetables to a serving bowl, add parsley if using, and mix.

Serve warm, passing Tabasco or other hot-pepper vinegar at the table, if desired.

Send comments and suggestions to Adam Ried at cooking@globe.com.

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