The memsahib was visibly nervous and perplexed.
Less than three months in an alien city that was agonizingly hot and unbearably humid, her pantry supplies, meticulously planned and ceremoniously packed from Crosse & Blackwell in Soho Square, London, were already fast depleting, the Europe Provisions stores mushrooming in Chowringhee charged exorbitant rates (Daylight robbery, she cursed), her husband, a Junior Secretary to the Government of India, could not yet afford such fanciful luxuries and fresh shipments from England, the very thought of the painstakingly arduous process to order a replenishment of groceries made her shudder, were still weeks away. The monsoons in the tropics were tricky, sea-storms unpredictably delaying ships and consignments.
The memsahib was neutral to India. Barring the heat of course.
But she did miss her ham and bacon. She yearned for her cheese and pickles. And breakfast was not quite the same without the delectable Moirs jams and the Keiller orange marmalade that she had grown up on.
The man grumbled about not having his Guinness stout and Blood Wolfe & Co ale.
And recuperation from cold took so much longer without a swig of Exshaw No 1 brandy.
No point lamenting, she took a deep breath. I need to devise a way out of this misery. Necessity, she consoled herself, was the mother of invention.
She had, on a couple of occasions, overcome her fears and attempted Indian food prepared by the bawarchi.
She was no foreigner to spices – the Portuguese and the Dutch had long introduced Europe to oriental spices, the perfume of cinnamon in her mothers apple pie was alluring and the pleasant heat of pepper in the sauce that accompanied her steak was sublime on a cold evening.
Yet, the spices in the bawarchi’s curries overwhelmed her and the chillies, to put it mildly, ravaged her stomach.
But the memsahib was not one to surrender and retire to her homeland.
She was willing to learn and adapt and experiment with Indian food.
Cook with local country fowl.
Use spices that she was no stranger to, the fragrance of cinnamon and the mild fire of peppercorn.
Allow tomatoes and vinegar to moderate the heat.
And many more.
Thus was born the Chicken Country Captain in an Anglo-Indian kitchen, out of a memsahib’s dire crisis and her bawarchi’s novel ingeniousness. A as-basic-as-it-gets chicken curry. An onion-ginger gravy. Perfumed with cinnamon and cloves. Spiked with peppercorn. Pacified by tomatoes.
This is the story of Chicken Country Captain.
And if the tales regarding its origins were not exciting enough for you to delve into the depths of food history, this is guaranteed to take your breath away.
The humble Chicken Country Captain travels the globe. All the way to distant America. And ends up as a Southern classic.
And if legend is to be believed, the ultimate comfort food of Franklin D Roosevelt and George Patton.
How that transpired is a story for another day.
For now, enjoy my version of Chicken Country Captain. Shall leave you touched for sure !!!
Chicken Country Captain, the Anglo Indian Way
- 500 g chicken curry cut pieces
- 2 onions finely sliced
- 1 onion ground to a paste
- 1 tomato pureed
- 1/2 green bell pepper cut into strips
- 1/2 red bell pepper cut into strips
- 1 tsp turemeric powder
- 1 tsp red chili powder
- 1 tsp ginger paste
- 1/2 tsp garlic paste
- 2 one inch cinnamon sticks
- 2 cloves
- 1/2 tbsp black pepper corns
- 1 tbsp black pepper powder freshly ground
- 2 dry red chillies broken into pieces
- 3 tbsp mustard oil
- salt to taste
- Heat 1/2 tbsp oil in pan, fry the sliced onions till golden brown. Keep aside.
- Add the remaining oil, throw in the cinnamon sticks, crushed cloves, dry red chilies, black peppercorns and saute for 2-3 odd mins till the spices release their aroma.
- Stir in the onion paste, ginger-garlic paste and tomato puree. Sprinkle a little salt and cook till the onions and tomatoes are cooked and the raw smell of onion paste or tomato puree is no longer there.
- Now add the chicken, turmeric powder, red chili powder and fried onions. Add the black pepper powder, stir fry for 5 odd minutes.
- Add the bell peppers, give it a hearty mix. Cook for a minute or two.
- Add 1/2 a cup of warm water, adjust seasonings and cook covered till the chicken is tender and the gravy has thickened.
- Serve hot with rice.