Alex Hitz's Chicken Country Captain Recipe
A Low Country classic gets a spicy, colorful update. It's the perfect thing to serve when you've got lots of company.
Georgia on my mind. Atlanta, actually. My mother's kitchen, circa 1975, and guests are coming over for lunch. It's a Saturday in March, and it's going to be a buffet for 50. That was the first time I'd ever heard the words "Chicken Country Captain," and I will never forget it. That name!
This dish, even though it has a zillion ingredients, is super-easy and can feed an army. And it's truly beautiful, special, and impressive. You'll see how satisfying it is to make it, watching all these gorgeous things come together. Prepare it at least one full day before you serve it, to make sure all the fantastic ingredients have a chance to get to know each other. But take note: Chicken Country Captain freezes wonderfully, so you can easily prepare it way in advance, to make sure you have it on hand for that whatever, whenever. Sealed up right, it'll keep for who-knows-however long, but trust me, it's a long time — and it just gets better the longer the flavors steep together.
A small bit of history: This dish, or at least its ancestor, is a by-product of the 18th-century spice trade routes and was likely a Colonial favorite that made its way from Charleston up through the country — just as quick as the curry from India landed ashore. Though mine is inspired by its classic predecessor, it is revolutionary in flavor and taken to the limit — revved up, I say modestly, for today's foodie palates. I have served it numerous times to rave reviews.
When you make it, do yourself a favor and follow the recipe to a T. Sweat the small details — they're there for a reason. Measure correctly. You don't need to get fancy with the sausage — Jimmy Dean regular bulk is just right. Make sure all of your spices are fresh and new; it'll make a huge difference. And be careful to just sear the chicken at first and then set it aside, only partially cooked. The liquid the chicken releases as it finishes cooking in the stew is an integral part of the dish's flavor and consistency. Fear not — it's all explained in the steps of the recipe.
Please let me know how it goes.
I'd love to hear what your family and guests say.
CHICKEN COUNTRY CAPTAIN
Yields 12 to 16 servings
1 pound bulk pork sausage, mild
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon salt, divided
2 teaspoons ground black pepper, divided
1½ sticks (12 tablespoons) salted butter, divided
3 cups medium-diced white or yellow onions
1 cup medium-diced red bell pepper
1 cup medium-diced celery
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1½ tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon curry powder
1½ teaspoons dried thyme
¾ teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
¾ cup flour
2½ cups tomatoes, peeled (I use good-quality canned ones)
5½ cups chicken stock
2½ cups white wine
½ cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 cups golden raisins
4 cups cooked rice
¾ cup snipped chives
1½ cups toasted slivered almonds
½ cup chopped parsley
1. In a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, brown the sausage, fully breaking it up, and then drain off the excess fat. Reserve.
2. Wash the chicken breasts and thighs and pat them dry. Place them in a mixing bowl and toss with 2 teaspoons of the salt and 1 teaspoon of the black pepper.
3. In another large, heavy skillet over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter. When the foaming has subsided, add the chicken and sear it in batches on both sides until it is brown on the surface but still raw inside, about three minutes per side. Remove chicken from the heat, let it rest for at least five minutes, and then cut it into approximately 1½-inch chunks and reserve it in a bowl. Do not worry that the chicken is still raw on the inside, as it will finish cooking later.
4. In a large, heavy stockpot over medium heat, melt the remaining 8 tablespoons butter. When the foaming has subsided, add the onions and sauté for three minutes, until they start to get soft. Then add the peppers and celery, and sauté for another three minutes. Add the garlic, the remaining tablespoon of salt, the remaining teaspoon of pepper, the dark brown sugar, and the curry, thyme, cumin, and ginger and continue to sauté these ingredients until the onions are translucent, approximately four to eight more minutes. Add the cooked sausage, then the flour, and stir the mixture thoroughly. It will become very thick.
5. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, wine, lemon juice, vinegar, and raisins and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and continue to simmer for five more minutes.
6. Add the chicken and simmer the mixture for five more minutes, until the chicken is completely cooked through, and then turn off the heat. Stir in the cooked rice, chives, almonds, and parsley and serve it with buttered crusty French bread.
Correction: An earlier version of this recipe called for a tablespoon of pepper in step 4. The correct amount is a teaspoon.
Photos by John Kernick