If we can cook it, you can cook it!

Country Captain Chicken

        It’s not often that I share with you a recipe with such an interesting background as Country Captain, a dish steeped in the lore of the Low Country of South Carolina and Georgia.   It’s found in every Southeastern Junior League cookbook but its origins go back considerably further than the League.  Its earliest known version is found in a cookbook published in Philadelphia in 1857.  But it owes a sizeable debt to two American cooking pioneers and an American Southern Cooking legend herself, Edna Lewis.
The first was a woman named Cecily Brownstone who was a food writer of great renown for the Associated Press and waged a one-woman preservation society for the dish until her death at 96 in 2005.   The second was the legendary James Beard who taught a generation of Americans the original recipe at his Cooking School in New York.  And then there was Edna Lewis.  It’s her recipe that I am sharing with you. 
        Edna Lewis was a great Southern cook who made her way north from Virginia at age 16 and through sheer hard work rose to become one of the most exalted chefs of Southern cooking of all time.  In 1948, when women chefs were few and far between, let alone women of color, she and a partner named John Nicholson, launched  and presided over Café Nicholson, an East 57th St. restaurant in New York.  The place was an immediate and long-lived success.  With its emphasis on delicious Southern food, it soon became home to all manner of displaced Southerners from Truman Capote to Tennessee Williams. There Edna served Country Captain, a humble and immensely rewarding chicken stew that’s a perfect supper dish served over long grain rice and topped with salted peanuts. 
        “Country Captain” was a perfect cynosure of the cities where it is most famous: Charleston, SC and Savannah GA, both ports where spices arrived aboard ships that also brought a more unsavory cargo to our shores – human slaves.  The dish itself is simple:  Chicken fried in oil or butter or bacon fat, stewed in the oven with tomatoes and the holy trinity of green pepper, onions and celery, some garlic, curry power and pepper.  It is then topped with peanuts and served on rice.
     This is not particularly seasonal.  I enjoy it as much in warm weather as in cold.  It is great dish for a family because there’s lots of it and it is excellent when heated as leftovers.  Here is the recipe:

2 thoughts on “Country Captain Chicken”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.