country captain

i know, right? what am i even talking about?

i didn’t know what country captain was until i read about it in an essay by robert moss. i’ll leave the bulk of the explanation and the history of the dish to him, as his research is very thorough, but i’ll offer a bit of a synopsis:

country captain, historically speaking, is a curried chicken dish to be served with rice, made with a tomato-based sauce and studded with currants and slivered almonds. to the modern gourmand it doesn’t sound particularly unique, but to the wives of army officers hosting senior officers at dinner parties it was a no-fuss, elegant dish to serve on a buffet. franklin d. roosevelt enjoyed it at a health resort in columbus, georgia and introduced it to george s. patton, who popularized the dish amongst the military community.

DSCN0314

but still, curries are everywhere these days, so why would the modern gourmand bother making a nearly century-old dish when “authentic” curries are just as easily made, from freshly ground spices, even? i wasn’t quite sure myself, but was intrigued by the dish’s historical background and wanted something to test out a new (to me) method of preparing king oyster mushrooms. chris rubinstein has a method of smoking oyster mushrooms and then pulling them, like pork, as the mushroom can easily be fork-shredded after some slow-cooking. as it happens, they also pull apart not entirely unlike a chicken thigh would when stewed for an hour in a thick tomato sauce. you better believe i’m going to incorporate this into more recipes, as king oysters also approach that elusively juicy, meaty taste without being as heavy as seitan or as fragile as tofu.

but what about the country captain? even though i used the dish as a foundation for my mushroom experiment, it turns out that country captain has a lot of southern comfort to offer. it isn’t flashy or brazenly spiced, (is that irony, considering its origins as a fancy dish?) and is a filling, satisfying dish with some hot rice and roasted brussels sprouts. it also keeps very well in the fridge, so can be made in advance for a dinner party or a weeknight off for the chef.

that country angle

country captain
adapted from the lee brothers’ recipe

 1.5 lb king oyster mushrooms
flour, to coat mushrooms
2 tbl oil, as needed
1 large sweet onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 dried guajillo chili, stem and seeds removed
1 tbl curry powder
1/2 tbl garam masala
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup golden raisins or currants
toasted slivered almonds, to serve

– preheat oven to 375F
– in a dutch oven, or large oven-proof frying pan or soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat
– dust the mushrooms with the flour, knock off the excess and sear in the oil until golden brown, turning to sear each side
– remove the mushrooms and, adding more oil if necessary, add the onion, bell pepper, carrot and garlic to the pot, sautéing until the onions are translucent
– add the spices and stir to coat and until very fragent, about 30 seconds
– push the veg to one side of the pot and toast the dried chili on the cleared bit for about 30 seconds, turning once
– dump in the can of tomatoes and the raisins. fill the tomato can with water and add that, too. stir to incorporate. return the mushrooms to the pot and nestle in the top half of the sauce, leaving some parts peeking out the top
– cover the pot and bake for 45-60 minutes
– take the mushrooms out, shred with a fork, and return to sauce. season with salt and pepper, and serve over rice, garnished with the slivered almonds.

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