Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chicken Country Captain – A Low Country Classic

Chicken Country Captain is one of the Low Country’s favorite dishes. You’ll find it served in restaurants and home dining rooms throughout the southern cities of Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. Both lay claim to this Southern classic, which may have been brought to America by a ship’s captain ferrying spices from the Far East.

According to an article in the New York Times, “Chicken Country Captain is, simply, chicken fried in butter or bacon fat, then stewed in the oven with tomatoes fragrant with curry and pepper and served over white Carolina rice. But what a history it has. Charleston and Savannah are ports, and the cuisine of each city benefited from their access to the spices that arrived aboard ships that also hauled rum, molasses, tropical fruit and human chattel. Country Captain, some say, arrived in the South stowed away on one. It was, the story goes, the favorite recipe of an English skipper who served in Bengal and introduced the dish to friends in Savannah. Or Charleston. Or neither; its provenance has been much debated.”

A staple of Southeastern Junior League cookbooks since the 1950’s, the recipe for Chicken Country Captain can be traced back in various forms to older cookbooks as far back as the 18th century. This dish was said to be a favorite of the late U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and has gone in and out of fashion through the years.

But it was Cecily Brownstone, the Associated Press food writer, who kept the recipe for Chicken Country Captain alive for decades. Brownstone persuaded James Beard, the dean of American cookery, to teach the recipe in his cooking school and Irma Rombauer to publish it in The Joy of Cooking, one of the world’s most published cookbooks.  She herself published the recipe in hundreds of newspapers and was very upset when people would make changes to the original recipe. Miss Brownstone once said, "For years, every variation upset me. I would worry about eroding the image of the dish, about people getting the wrong impression. Using a breast in Chicken Country Captain, can you imagine?" 

For Cecily Brownstone’s original recipe, I know you’ll enjoy reading this article written by Molly O’Neill in the New York Times. I’m sorry Cecily, but I too have taken some liberties and changed a couple of things in the recipe, including using the dreaded breast. Here’s my version that we serve often in our home, always of course with the quintessential rice that the low country is so famous for. Enjoy.

Chicken Country Captain
Adapted from A Jug of Wine by Morrison Wood

4 skinless, boneless, chicken breasts
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
All purpose flour
3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium sized yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 small clove garlic, finely minced
1 ½ teaspoons curry powder (I like Madras brand)
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 14-ounce can whole tomatoes, crushed into pieces, juices reserved
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon brandy
3 tablespoons dried currants or raisins, plumped in a little hot water, then drained
Garnish: sliced almonds, carefully browned, and finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Dry the chicken well and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dust the chicken pieces lightly with flour. In a large non stick skillet heat the olive oil and sauté the chicken until it is golden brown, turning frequently so that all pieces are done evenly. If they don’t all fit, do in 2 batches. Don’t crowd in the skillet or the chicken will steam instead of browning. When the chicken is browned nicely on both sides, remove to a platter and keep warm.

In the same skillet sauté the chopped onions and the chopped green pepper in the olive oil until softened and slightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for one minute more. Add the curry powder, thyme, salt, freshly ground black pepper and cook a couple of minutes more, allowing the aromatics to flavor the onions and peppers. To that mixture, add the tomato paste and flour, stirring to incorporate them. Cook an additional three to five minutes, then add the crushed tomatoes, wine and brandy.  Mix and blend the ingredients well, and allow it to simmer over a medium flame for about 10 minutes. Add the drained currants or raisins, put the chicken back in the sauce, cover the pan, and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the chicken is completely tender, taking care not to overcook the chicken. If the sauce is too thick, you may thin it with a little of the reserved tomato juice from the canned tomatoes.

While the chicken is cooking, carefully brown some sliced almonds in a non-stick skillet until they start to brown. Set aside until serving time. After you plate the chicken, sprinkle generously with sliced almonds and a tiny bit of chopped parsley. Serves 4.

Rice is the traditional side dish for Chicken Country Captain. I like to mix my cooked rice with finely chopped parsley, a little good butter, and spoon it into individual small buttered dishes. When you are ready to serve, turn the molds over and carefully unmold on the individual dining plates. The little yellow specks on the top of the rice in the picture come from the butter in the mold and guests never seem to see it, so don’t worry about it. I can always count on getting complimentswhen I serve molded rice.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Quick Spicy Turkey Chili Flavored With Smoky Chipotle Chilies

In an effort to eat healthier I’ve been on the lookout for low calorie meals. Because we’re in the middle of gutting a condo down to the bare walls and dust and dirt is everywhere (this is why I'm not out and about as much lately as I'd like), when we get back home we’re tired and need a favorable meal that I can get on the table in a flash.

I found a recipe for spicy turkey chili in Cooking Light’s 5 Ingredients 15 Minute Recipes that I thought would fit the bill. I know you’re saying to yourself that you can’t make a good pot of chili in fifteen minutes. Well, I beg to differ. This is a very simple and hearty chili with plenty of flavor and guaranteed to satisfy even the most sadistic spicy food lover. As a food columnist, I’ve been invited to judge chili cooking contests and while this recipe might not win first prize, with its smoky spicy flavor of the chipotles it could easily come in a close second.

However, I must confess that our previous experience with ground turkey hasn’t always been a happy one. The first time we used very lean ground turkey we found it tough and tasteless. When we switched to 93% lean, that made all of the difference in the world with regard to taste and texture, so that’s what I’ve used in this dish.

I like to keep a jar of chopped chipotles in adobo sauce in my refrigerator to use when I want a little spice and smokiness in a dish. To chop the chipotles, remove them, along with their sauce, to the bowl of a food processor and chop until well blended. They’ll keep almost indefinitely in an airtight glass jar in the refrigerator and a little tiny spoonful of the chopped chipotles give a dish a bit of zest.

Add a made from scratch margarita and you’re good to go. Speaking of margaritas, count on the Barefoot Contessa to make the best margaritas you’ve ever tasted. Ina uses fresh limes and lemons and I promise that you’ll never, ever use a mix again.

Spicy, rich chili and a real margarita in 15 minutes.  How easy is that?

Quick Spicy Turkey Chili Flavored With Smoky Chipotle Chilies 
Adapted from Cooking Light 5 Ingredients 15 Minute Recipes

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 pound 93% ground turkey
A large poblano pepper, seeded and finely chopped
½ teaspoon chili powder
Kosher salt
2 cups water
½ teaspoon chopped chipotle in adobo sauce
1 (16 ounce) can of pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 (16 ounce) can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (16 ounce) jar of mild salsa
Shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
For garnish: sliced jalapeno peppers, grape tomato halves, chopped red onion, chopped scallions including some of the light green tops, & a slice of lime

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Crumble turkey meat and add to saucepan with the chopped poblano pepper. Be sure not to crowd the pan or the turkey will steam instead of brown. Cook 5 minutes until turkey is browned, stirring from time to time. Sprinkle cooked turkey mixture with the chili powder and salt, stirring to distribute the spices.

Stir in water, chopped chipotle in adobo sauce,drained & rinsed beans and salsa, cover and bring to a boil. When the chili comes to a boil, mash the beans lightly with a potato masher until chili is slightly thickened. Garnish with cheddar cheese (if using), sliced jalapeno peppers, grape tomato halves, chopped red onion, chopped scallions with a little of the green tops, and a slice of lime. Serves 6.

Real Margaritas 
From Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa Parties! 

If you like margaritas served in a glass with salt, rub the outside rims of six glasses with a cut lime and dip each glass lightly into a plate of kosher salt. Combine 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (5 limes), 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 lemon), 1 cup Triple Sec, and 3 cups ice in a blender and puree until completely blended. Add 1 cup white tequila and puree for 2 seconds more. Serve over ice. If you prefer frozen margaritas, halve each of the ingredients, double the ice, and blend in two batches. Serve with a cut lime. Serves 6.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Broiled salmon with tropical pineapple and tomatillo salsa

Like many of you, my new year’s resolutions include eating light and eating less. Combined with a rigorous exercise program, I’m hoping to shed a few pounds that always seen to find their way into my life around holiday time.

I have fallen head over heels in love with fruit salsas since I first tasted them at Little Moir’s Food Shack in Jupiter, Florida. You might remember I prepared the Food Shack’s version of fruit salsa and served it with salmon a while back.  Their salsa is sweet, spicy and hot all at the same time and it just bursts in your mouth with flavor. I love fruit salsas so much that I serve them with an endless number of things – fish, shrimp, chicken, pork – you name it. The fruit combinations are endless and you can make the salsas spicy or mild.

When I spotted this recipe for tomatillo red onion salsa served over roasted salmon in Cooking Light’s 5 Ingredients 15 Minutes book, I was drawn right away to the colorful green tomatillos and red onion salsa that was spooned over the pretty pink salmon. The main flavor in the salsa was tomatillos, those little green things with the papery skin that look like tomatoes but are really members of the gooseberry family. They have a tart, subtle apple flavor. I decided to give the salsa a tropical twist by substituting a little pineapple for some of the tomatillos.  If you want to make the salsa with just tomatillos, omit the pineapple and use three tomatillos instead of two. This is a beautiful dish, worthy of company.

Don’t leave out the sweet smoked Spanish paprika, also called pimenton de la Vera. It gives the fish a very subtle, smoked flavor. Smoked paprika used to be difficult to find, but I’ve seen it from McCormick in my local supermarket. However, if you can find the Spanish one in the red tin (La Chinta, available from La Tienda and gourmet shops), I think it is superior. Its artisan quality is generally accepted as the best. It’s grown, smoked and milled in the micro-climate of La Vera, not far from where Columbus presented the first plants to Ferdinand and Isabella. How cool is that?

Broiled salmon with tropical pineapple and tomatillo salsa
Adapted from Cooking Light 5 Ingredients 15 Minutes

4 (6 ounce) wild caught salmon filets (about an inch thick)
1 tablespoon grape seed oil, or other neutral oil, such as canola
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1½ teaspoons sweet Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Tropical pineapple and tomatillo sauce (recipe below)
Lemon wedges for garnish

Preheat the oven to broil. Arrange the pieces of fish in one layer, skin side down, on an unheated broiler tray or large sheet pan lined with heavy duty foil for easier clean-up. Smear the fish with the canola and season with cumin, smoked paprika, and salt and pepper. Place the fish under the broiler about six to seven inches from the source of heat. Broil about six minutes or just until the pieces are cooked through. It’s not necessary to turn the fish. If the fish begins to brown too much, turn the oven to 400 degrees F and bake for a few minutes until they achieve your desired doneness. Remember not to overcook it because if you do, it becomes dry. Serve with tropical salsa and a wedge of fresh lemon. Serves 4.

Tropical pineapple and tomatillo salsa
It may sound strange to use salt and pepper on fruit, but don’t omit this step. It helps bring out the flavor of the fruit. 

1/3 cup chopped tomatillos (2 medium), see instructions below
1/3 cup chopped fresh pineapple
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Remove the papery skin from the tomatillos, wash them well and pat them dry before chopping. Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Serve with broiled salmon. Yield 4 servings. This salsa would also be excellent with grilled chicken or pork.

This will be linked to Food on Friday at Carole's Chatter. 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Prime rib sandwich with truffle butter à la Barefoot Contessa

When I first saw the recipe for truffled filet of beef sandwich in the Barefoot Contessa’s Back to Basics cookbook, I instantly knew it was something that we would both love. In fact, we’ve been fascinated with truffles since we hand-carried one back with us from our last visit to France.

I knew my biggest challenge would be to find truffle butter. In my tiny town in the mountains of North Carolina, truffle butter isn’t exactly a staple in my market. In fact, I would bet you anything that no one in my market has even heard of a truffle, much less knows what one is.

Black truffle butter from The Fresh Market
I pretty much forgot about the truffle butter until this Christmas. We were planning on being in Florida and my brother-in-law was going to serve a seven rib prime beef for Christmas Eve dinner.  As we were walking through Fresh Market there, my husband Meakin said, “Let’s see if they carry truffle butter, because if they do (he paused and a big grin came on his face), we can bring some slices of really rare prime rib home from Christmas dinner and use it in place of the filet of beef to make Ina’s truffled beef sandwich.”

Meakin carving prime rib for our niece who likes hers well done
We like our prime rib rare

And that’s just what we did. Ina describes this sandwich as “not your average roast beef sandwich; it’s filet of beef with black truffle butter, Parmesan cheese, and bitter arugula. Your friends will swoon.” Well, we substituted rare roasted prime rib and Ina’s right – we definitely swooned.

Prime rib sandwich with truffle butter à la Barefoot Contessa
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa’s Back to Basics

Left over slices of rare roast beef from a prime rib
1 slender French baguette
Black truffle butter, at room temperature
Fleur de sel French sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Fresh Parmesan cheese
Fresh baby arugula

Bring left-over roast beef slices to room temperature. Cut the baguette lengthwise, but not all the way through. Spread the bottom half of the bread generously with the black truffle butter. Top with a layer of sliced beef and sprinkle it with the fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper. Using a vegetable peeler, shave the Parmesan cheese into thin shards and scatter the shards over the sliced beef on each sandwich. Sprinkle with arugula leaves, fold the tops of the sandwich over, and cut into diagonals.

Cook’s notes:
If you would like to make your own truffle butter, check out Natasha’s recipe on 5 Star Foodie Adventures. To see Ina’s original sandwich using filet of beef, click over to Bridgett’s post on La Bella Cooks. I promise you’ll swoon.

In the sidebar of Ina’s recipe she says she buys truffle butter from Dartagnan in three ounce packages and it’s surprisingly inexpensive. We were able to find it at a local Fresh Market. Truffle butter keeps very well in your freezer and both white and black truffle butter are available.