Country captain Southern cousin to chicken curry

When a reader asked for chicken curry recipes, I immediately thought of an old Southern favorite, country captain. This flavorful dish is a chicken stew with curry powder as the dominant seasoning.

It generally includes tomatoes, onions and green peppers, currants and toasted almonds for garnish, and is served over rice. Yummy!

The dish dates to Colonial times. Most often, the name is attributed to a British army officer who brought the recipe back from his tour in India. Others say it was a sea captain whose spice trade took him to India.

There are many variations, but I like the addition of the mushrooms and extra seasonings in this recipe. It's adapted from "Charleston Hospitality," a 1992 cookbook with recipes from Johnson & Wales University when it had a campus here.

Country Captain

1 chicken, cut in serving pieces

Salt, pepper and paprika to taste

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, diced

1 green pepper, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced

1 can (14 1/2-ounce) tomatoes

1 cup parsley, finely minced

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons curry powder, or to taste

1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh

Salt to taste

Pinch of cayenne or to taste

1/3 cup currants

Hot cooked rice

1/2 cup toasted almonds

Season chicken pieces well with salt, pepper and paprika. In a large, heavy pan or skillet, brown chicken in butter and oil; remove from pan.

Saute the onion, green pepper, garlic and mushrooms in the oil until tender and starting to turn golden. Add tomatoes, parsley, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, curry powder, thyme, salt to taste and the cayenne. Simmer 5 minutes. Return chicken to pan, spoon sauce over, cover and cook 25 to 30 minutes on medium heat, or until chicken is very tender. Add currants and simmer 5 more minutes. Serve over hot cooked rice and garnish with toasted almonds.

Marie-Louise Ramsdale of Sullivan's Island highly recommends this chicken curry recipe, which is adapted from a Williams-Sonoma cookbook series. "A lot of ingredients but not really a complicated recipe," she says.

Chicken Curry

Serves 4-6

2 teaspoons each coriander seeds and cumin seeds

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground tumeric

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs (or breasts, or combination)

1/4 cup unsalted cashews

1 large yellow onion

2 small tomatoes

2 tablespoons clarified butter or canola oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger

1 teaspoon seeded and minced jalapeno chile

2 each bay leaves and star anise

1/2 cup coconut milk

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Toast and grind together the coriander and cumin seeds (in a dry pan over medium-high heat until they begin to pop; shake pan for even toasting).

In a bowl, stir together the toasted seeds, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and the tumeric, black pepper, cayenne pepper and canola oil until well-mixed. Cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes. Add to the bowl and stir to coat; cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to overnight.

Toast the cashews; chop coarsely and set aside.

Thinly slice the onion. Seed tomatoes, then chop flesh. In a saute pan, heat clarified butter or canola oil. Add onion and saute until it begins to soften. Add garlic, ginger, chile, bay leaves and star anise and continue to saute until the onion is light golden brown. Add the chicken and saute until the meat turns opaque, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until they soften, about 2 minutes.

Stir in the coconut milk and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until chicken is tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and simmer for 5 more minutes.

Garnish with cashews and cilantro and serve, preferably over basmati rice.

Note: "I offer plain yogurt and chutney and chopped bananas and raisins as condiments," says Marie-Louise.

Cecil Wilson of Charleston writes, "Although this is not a true 'curried chicken,' I have been serving this for 20 years. It is dee-lish. Leftovers are fantastic."

The recipe is in "Charleston Receipts Repeats" by the Junior League of Charleston. It should be prepared ahead and chilled overnight.

Overnight Chicken

Serves 4

1/2 cup honey

1/3 cup Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon curry powder

2 tablespoons soy sauce

4 chicken breasts (see cook's note)

Cook's note: Cecil says this recipe does not work with boneless, skinless breasts because they get too dry, and the skin should be left on the breasts. Also, he suggests serving this with white rice and putting the sauce in a gravy boat.

Mix honey, mustard, curry and soy sauce.

Place chicken breasts skin side down in baking dish. Pour marinade over breasts. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

Turn chicken breasts over when ready to cook. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour; after 1 hour, remove foil, baste breasts and cooks 15 minutes more, uncovered.

Spoon sauce over chicken when serving.

Tangy cake

Kathleen Duncan of Charleston had asked for an old recipe for orange cake with cooked frosting that included orange zest. The recipe, made by her husband's grandmother, was called "Orange Delight."

Connie Mulleady of Edisto Beach writes, "I don't know if this is the same orange cake ... but this is one from my mother's 'Readers' Service Bureau Edition of the American Woman's Cookbook.' Mom relied heavily on this book, and it has to be at least 50 years old (I need to have it rebound). The date-printed pages have been lost."

Orange Cake

3/4 cup shortening

1 1/2 cups sugar

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3 eggs

Grated rind (zest) of 1 orange

3 cups sifted cake flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup orange juice

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup water

Cream shortening, add sugar gradually, creaming until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add orange rind. Sift dry ingredients together 3 times and add alternately with liquids to creamed mixture. Pour into two (9-inch) cake pans lined with waxed paper. Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees) 25 to 30 minutes. When cold, spread Orange Filling (recipe follows) between layers and Seven Minute Frosting (recipe follows) on top and sides.

Orange Filling

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup orange juice

1 tablespoon grated orange rind (zest)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Combine all ingredients and mix well. In a double boiler, cook over hot water, stirring constantly, until well thickened, about 10 minutes. Chill well before spreading on cake.

Seven-Minute Frosting

1 unbeaten egg white

7/8 cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons cold water

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place all ingredients except vanilla in the top of a double boiler. Place over boiling water and beat with beater for 7 minutes.

Add vanilla, beat, and spread on cake.

Kathee Herring of Summerville also submitted a recipe for orange cake, adapted from the "Southern Living Annual Recipes Cookbook, 20th Anniversary Edition," published in 1998.

"I don't know if this is what she is looking for, but it is VERY GOOD," Kathee writes.

Orange Cake

Yield: 1 (10-inch) cake

1/2 cup butter, softened

2 cups sugar

7 large eggs, separated

3 cups sifted cake flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup fresh orange juice

1/2 cup water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Orange Glaze (recipe follows)

Candied Orange Zest (recipe follows)

Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer about 2 minutes or until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating 5 to 7 minutes.

Beat egg yolks lightly; add to butter mixture, beating until well blended.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to butter mixture alternately with orange juice and water, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed with an electric mixer until blended, after each addition. Stir in vanilla.

Beat egg whites at high speed with an electric mixer until foamy; reduce speed to medium, and beat until stiff peaks form. Fold egg white into batter; spoon batter into a greased and floured 12-cup Bundt pan or 10-inch tube pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Immediately place pan on a double layer of damp cloth towels; press towels around sides of pan, and let stand 10 to 15 minutes. Remove cake from pan, and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Spoon Orange Glaze over cake; top with Candied Orange Zest.

Orange Glaze

Yield: 3 1/2 cups

2 large oranges

2 cups sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/3 cup lemon juice

8 egg yolks, lightly beaten

1/2 cup butter, softened

Squeeze juice from oranges, and pour through a wire-mesh strainer into a 1-cup liquid measuring cup, straining out any seeds. Measure 1 cup orange juice; reserve remaining orange juice for another use.

Combine sugar and cornstarch in a small saucepan; add lemon juice and 1 cup orange juice, stirring well with a wire whisk. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves (about 10 minutes).

Stir about one-fourth of hot mixture into yolks; add to remaining hot mixture, stirring constantly.

Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, 10 minutes or until mixture is thickened. Remove from heat; add softened butter, stirring until well blended. Cool; cover and chill.

Candied Orange Zest

Yield: 1 cup

2 large oranges

1 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

Sugar (optional)

Remove zest (orange part only) from oranges, using a zester, being careful not to remove white pith. Cut zest into 2-inch strips.

Combine water and 1/2 cup sugar in a small saucepan; bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low; stir in rind, and cook 15 to 20 minutes or until candy thermometer registers 220 degrees.

Remove zest strips from syrup with a slotted spoon, and spread in a single layer on waxed paper to cool.

Sprinkle with additional sugar if desired.

Also thanks to Jan Pickens of Mount Pleasant and Mary Anderson of Independence, Mo., whose brother lives in Charleston.

Who's got the recipe?

--Betty Chittum of West Ashley called after having lunch with a friend recently at Fish restaurant on King Street. They loved the watermelon sorbet — "delightful is the understatement of the year," Betty told me. So she's looking for the recipe.

--Malia Reynoldson of Summerville also called about a recipe for raisin-filled cookies. Her husband's grandmother used to make them, and Malia thinks the recipe was from the 1940s. They have a filling of cooked, ground raisins. Malia has made them, but her cookies are coming out too cakey and soft. She's looking for a better recipe.

--Elizabeth Brown of Charleston is seeking a recipe for a tomato casserole that included onion and yellow squash as well. She also would welcome recipes for tomato pie with cheese, but not too heavy on the mayonnaise.

--S. Wilkins of St. Stephen inquires about the tuna salad once made by a local deli called Basil's. She believes it was mixed with a homemade Thousand Island dressing, and included eggs, onions, pickles, celery and pimientos.

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