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The history of Country Captain chicken curry

9 February 2012
The history of Country Captain chicken curry
The history of Country Captain chicken curry

As so often happens with Anglo-Indian dishes, nobody quite knows how and when the chicken curry named Country Captain was invented. There are theories that the recipe came from a captain of a boat during the Raj days though, interestingly, similar recipes appeared during that period in the American south.

Mild and sweet

Despite many different versions, the basic recipe of Country Captain is akin to a simple chicken curry, wholesome and with no frills. Today the most popular versions include raisins, almonds and brown onions - giving the curry a mild and sweet tinge. Elizabeth M. Collingham gives us another recipe and a dash more history in her book Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors:

Appealing to a non-Indian palate

Chef Manoj Vasaikar makes a point of serving Country Captain annually as part of the main course dishes in the Christmas Day menu at his popular west London restaurant Indian Zing. The dish comes with a side of saffron-flavoured basmati rice. 'Before I joined Chutney Mary restaurant in London, which in its original form used to only serve Anglo-Indian dishes, I visited the homes of various Mumbai-based east Indian families because those pockets of communities really know how to cook Country Captain with a recipe, which is as authentic as it can get. The flavour is very close to a korma-style dish though I think that makes it more appealing to a non-Indian palate,' says Manoj.

The blogger’s view

Another expert on Anglo-Indian cooking is author and blogger Bridget Kumar, whose website anglo-indianfood.blogspot.com takes a long, hard look at the subject. 'Anglo-Indian cuisine evolved over many hundreds of years as a result of reinventing and reinterpreting the quintessentially western cuisine by assimilating and amalgamating ingredients and cooking techniques from all over the Indian sub-continent. It was neither too bland nor too spicy, but with a distinctive flavour of its own. It became a direct reflection of the multi-cultural and hybrid heritage of the new colonial population,' Bridget says.

She adds: 'I'm really not surprised that Indian chefs in the UK don’t prepare Anglo-Indian food. The reason being is that they don’t even know that there is a separate Anglo-Indian Cuisine.' Bridget has a recipe using veal on her site.

Popular again

'On the one hand, Country Captain is very similar to the kind of chicken curries that are so popular in the UK today,' says chef Mamrej Khan of the modern Indian restaurant The Mint Room in Bath. 'But it's also uniquely different. It's one of the very first fusion dishes in the world and that also applies to a whole host of items in the Anglo-Indian repertoire. It gave birth to a cooking style, which has a double heritage - Indian and British. If executed in the right way, there is no reason why it can't become popular again.'

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