Country Captain – An Almost Lost Random Recipe

This month Dom of Belleau Kitchen is celebrating the start of the third year of his Random Recipe challenge and has graciously allowed us to select a recipe from our books in any way we choose. As an old hand at this particular challenge I thought that this would be a good opportunity to try some of the books that don’t make the usual selection list.

I decided that the biggest challenge would be to select from the ‘lost’ books. ‘Lost’ in the sense that I did own these books once upon a time but now I have only a few recipes left. A couple of books suffered regrettable kitchen accidents while others haven’t survived house moves or have been loaned out and never returned. I missed these books enough to get photocopies or make notes of some of my favourite recipes from borrowed copies. So with a quick random grab from the pile of scraps I came up with a recipe for Country Captain.

I copied this recipe from a book of British cookery that I had around 1980. (It was last seen somewhere in Tooting at about the time Ultravox released ‘Vienna’). I think it's a fairly accurate transcript of the recipe, although I suspect that I may have lowered the fat content and I have used a convenient can of coconut milk rather than the coconut cream block specified in the original. It's a deeply old-fashioned dish that I think is pretty typical of the sort of recipe that turned up frequently in the 1970s.

I seem to remember the book saying that this dish had its origins during the Raj when British army captains stationed in the Indian countryside would have their cooks prepare mildly curried dishes suitable for Western tastes. This is almost certainly nonsense. Country Captain in one form or another turns up much more frequently in the US than the UK and was probably bought back from India to the US by the captains of trading vessels known as ‘country ships’. Whatever the truth of it, I haven’t made this simple dish for years and I must admit that I enjoyed cooking and eating it a lot. This will serve 4 people, although it’s remarkably easy to eat more  than your fair share.

At this point, I should tell you what the book was called. Sadly, I don’t seem to have written that down anywhere and with the passing of more than 30 years and the consumption of a fair amount of red wine I really can’t remember. If anyone has any idea, I'd love to know.
Country Captain
1 large onion, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
500 g chicken thighs, boned and skinned
400 ml tin coconut milk (reduced fat will work, if you’re being careful)
3 or 4 carrots
2 tbsp smooth mango chutney
1 tbsp sultanas
1 tbsp lime juice

For the spice mix:
     1 tsp ground coriander
     1 tsp ground cumin
     1 tsp ground turmeric
     ½ tsp chilli flakes
     ¼ tsp black pepper
     A generous pinch of ground ginger

Start the onion frying gently in a little oil. After about five minutes add the garlic and the spice mix. Fry briefly then add 300 ml of water. Bring to a simmer, stirring, and let the mixture bubble away gently until most, but not quite all, of the water has evaporated.

Cut each of the chicken thighs in two. Add the chicken pieces to the onion and spice mix and stir them around for a minute or two. Pour in the coconut milk, bring to a simmer, stirring, and allow the mixture to blip away gently for 20 – 30 minutes until the chicken is tender. If the mixture starts to dry out, then cover the pan.

Meanwhile, peel the carrots and cut into smallish chunks. Steam or boil the carrots until just tender. Stir in the cooked carrots, the mango chutney, the sultanas and the lime juice. Season with a little salt. (Although, it’s not in the original recipe, I added a few sliced and cooked mushrooms as well, just because I happened to have some). Return the mixture to a simmer briefly, sprinkle on some fresh coriander if you have any and serve with rice and a selection of chutneys.


  1. Think I will certainly give this a try it sounds delicious. Sorry I can't help you with the name of the book! Diane

  2. Wikipedia says: - In 1991, New York Times columnist Molly O’Neill researched the origin of the dish known as country captain, which had been a steady feature in southern cookbooks since the 1950s. Working with Cecily Brownstone, they discovered that the dish originally appeared in the United States in the pages of Miss Leslie’s New Cookery Book published in Philadelphia in 1857.[7] The recipe required a "fine full-grown fowl".[8] It also appeared in the kitchens of Alessandro Filippini, who was a chef with a restaurant on Wall Street in the 18th century.[7]
    Fans of the dish have included Franklin D. Roosevelt, who introduced it to George S. Patton. It was Patton's love for the dish which subsequently resulted in it being added in his honor to the U.S. Army's Meal, Ready-to-Eat field rations in 2000.[7] A variety of Southern chefs have recipes for the dish, including Paul Prudhomme,[9] Paula Deen and Emeril Lagasse.[2][10] The dish was featured on an episode of Throwdown! with Bobby Flay in season 6 guest-starring Matt and Ted Lee.[11] It also appeared on the BBC One cooking show, Saturday Kitchen, with chef Atul Kochhar cooking the regular chicken and rice version of the dish.[1]

    1. I've always felt that this was an American dish that was somehow imported from India and that it didn't really have British roots. On the other hand, I've now read that Bridget White-Kumar seems to think that the British army captain theory might be correct and she knows a lot more about Anglo-Indian cookery than I ever will. It's also interesting to note that the recipe first appeared in print in Miss Leslie's New Cookery Book, because Eliza Leslie actually spent time in England prior to writing the book. So, not for the first time, I could be wrong. I have eaten an American version of Country Captain, by the way, and it was different to this recipe - it was cooked in a light tomato sauce.

  3. such a great post... (sorry it's taken me so long to come round to reading it but i'm getting older and my mind wonders...) I love that you've 'rescued' this recipe from the depths of possible obscurity and gives me a great idea for another random recipes challenge... as you know I do love chicken and mango so this dish, with its glorious yellow hue is simply a 'must make'. Thanks so much for taking part this month Phil x

  4. of course now all I have withering around my mind is ....'oh... Vienna...' how long this will last is anyone's guess!

  5. This looks scrumptious Phil. I can't resist anything with coconut milk in it and the colours look amazing. Thanks for sharing.

  6. This sounds delicious. So sad that you lost the book but you clearly loved it enough to remember this recipe. Love the colours and I bet it's easy to eat too much of it!

  7. Those beloved recipes that only exist on scraps of paper are such a part of our culinary heritage. No matter how many glossy books we buy there is always the trusty pile of favourites to dig into. It hardly matters what decade they are from but I had to smile at the mango chutney and sultanas - it reminds me of the huge vat of coronation chicken I once made for a house-moving party in the 80's, thinking it was the height of sophistication, and it was in a way. We all enjoyed it and I have lost count of the number of people who afterwards asked me for the recipe and even now still occasionally refer to it. I think avocado salad and chocolate mousse also featured on the menu......happy days !!
    Your recipe looks wonderful and I will definitely try it....on a Friday, our traditional curry night.

  8. Well done for remembering this recipe, I have a lot of them needing to be brought to the front of my mind. One day. In the meantime what is occupying my mind is midge Ure and Vienna. Can't get it out of my mind. I have a delicious smelling mexican beef chilli cooking away in the slow cooker and it has just started to waft through to me. Off to search the back of my mind.

  9. In his Far Eastern Odyssey book, Rick Stein gives a recipe for a 'Captain's' curry which he says is a traditional Malay dish. It contains chicken and coconut too. So another possible origin for your recipe! Wherever it hails from, I love these sort of mild, aromatic curries and your one looks delicious.

  10. Hi Phil! : ) This is a really nice dish. I would love to have some now. I'm happy that you were able to recreate this dish. I love dishes with coconut cream milk it makes it even taste better. Which reminds me I need to use the tin I have in my pantry : )

  11. Ooh, I haven't made Country Captain for many, many years, I must dig out my recipe which oddly enough I tore out of an American magazine in the 1970s. I'd thought the name came from the Malaysian dish Ayam Kapitan, which is a very hot curry although my Country Captain recipe is extremely mild, yours looks much tastier.

  12. I have never heard of Country Captain but I'm totally intrigued now! I wonder if it would be easy to convert to vegetarian :-)

  13. Mmmm - anything cooked with mango chutney in the sauce is generally fantastic! This looks like it goes into that category :o) I've never tried Country Captain, or indeed heard of it - I'll have to give it a go.

  14. What a delicious looking curry!

  15. The colours in this are fantastic! I'm another one who immediately thought of Ayam Kapitan from Malaysia, although from memory the origins of that are quite hazy too.

  16. This looks terrific, Phil. I'll have to print this one out. Thank you for your lovely comment on my blog. Have a great day :)


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