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Eatymology: Country Captain

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Eatymology: Country Captain
Photography by Jonathan Boncek

[kən-trē kap-tən]

n: A curried chicken dish with ties to Southern port cities

Spiced with curry and aromatics, country captain is a fragrant stewed chicken served with rice and studded with raisins, slivered almonds, and other condiments. Its origin story is murky, but the dish has long been associated with Charleston and Savannah, both historically significant seaports invested in the spice trade. Stories of how it came to be range from Southern sea captains bringing curry powder back from India, to an English skipper who, after falling for the dish while serving in Bengal, introduced it to Savannah. Or maybe it was Charleston.

The curry cropped up in Junior League and community cookbooks in the South throughout the twentieth century, among them Charleston Receipts, first published in 1950; The Geechee Cookbook, published in 1956 by St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Savannah; and River Road Recipes, the Junior League of Baton Rouge’s 1959 cookbook. One of the earliest known recipes, though, was published in Miss Leslie’s New Cookery Book in Philadelphia in 1857. Country captain was notably a favorite of Gen. George S. Patton, and in 2000 the Pentagon gave him a nod when it included the dish in its provisions to soldiers in the field. And it’s one of our favorites, especially the version from Charleston’s neighborhood darling, the Glass Onion.

 

Country Captain Recipe

From the Glass Onion in Charleston, South Carolina