Once as a very young man, I walked into a health food store that was run by one of those formidable New Age types whose moral superiority in the realm of nutrition–which she considered an extension of her deep-seated beliefs in The Great Mother and Her Bosom of Beneficence–was further exaggerated by just being an asshole herself.
When I asked her where she kept the curry, she literally sniffed, tilted her nose towards the tie-dyed bed sheets covering the ceiling and said, “I’m sure you mean to make your own. If you’ll give me your recipe, I’ll show you where you can find the ingredients.”
So I fumbled in my pockets and mumbled something about leaving the recipe my friend Rupta had given me at home before beating a retreat and hitting the books only to discover that curry is indeed not a singular spice or seasoning, but a combination of any given number of ingredients with endless variations.
Still, that experience cooled my tenuous relationship with curries, and though I have read Madhur Jaffre’s pontificates on the subject, I’ve never reached the degree of sophistication peers have by actually making my own blend. Granted, curry isn’t a spice mixture I use very often, either, but I love a curried chicken, particularly cold with sour cream, and it’s good with eggplant and okra, too.
Peel and halve (or cut into thick slices, depending on the size) six small or two large eggplants, brush liberally with oil (I don’t recommend olive oil for this recipe, nor ghee or what passes for it in your world; if you’re picky about it–and God help you if you are–use peanut oil), dust with pepper and place in a very hot oven until browned and soft. For this recipe you’ll need about three cups of cooked eggplant.
Saute about two pounds 26-30 count shrimp with a chopped a small onion and 2 small mild peppers. Don’t use a bell if you can help it; even a poblano is better. Saute with two cloves of garlic until shrimp are cooked, then add eggplant. Season with a quarter cup of your favorite curry. Blend with a cup to two of weak stock to the consistency of a thick gumbo . Bake in a medium (350) oven until reduced by half.
This typically fussy vintage recipe for Country Captain comes from Winifred Green Cheney’s wonderful Southern Hospitality Cookbook (1976). Winifred informs us that she copied it from Mildred Williams, food columnist for a Virginia newspaper, but the original recipe came from Mrs. W. L. Bullard of Warms Springs, Georgia, who often served her famous dish to Franklin D. Roosevelt. “And once, when there wasn’t time for General George Patton to stay for dinner, he is said to have wired Mrs. Bullard to have the Country Captain waiting for him in a tin bucket at the train.”
2 frying-size chickens
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 clove garlic, chopped
1⁄2 cup olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 bell pepper, sliced
4 3/4 cups canned tomatoes
2 teaspoons chopped parsley
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon powdered thyme
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1⁄2 cup water
1 cup seedless raisins
2 1⁄2 cup toasted almonds
2 cups hot cooked rice
Fresh parsley (optional)
Cut chicken into frying-size pieces; split the breast, separate leg and thigh, and use the wings. Save bony pieces for stew. Flour chicken by shaking in a paper bag containing flour, salt, black pepper, and paprika. Make garlic oil by adding chopped garlic to olive oil and letting it stand until flavor is absorbed from garlic. Use 1⁄2 cup of hot garlic oil to brown chicken on both sides in a large skillet over high heat, turning pieces often so that it is golden but not dark.
Remove chicken to roaster and cover. Add onion and bell pepper to drippings in skillet; cook over medium heat until they are limp but not brown, stirring constantly. Add tomatoes, parsley, curry, thyme, and cayenne pepper; cook slowly about 5 minutes until blended. Pour over chicken, rinsing out skillet with water.
Cover and bake chicken in a preheated 325° oven for 45 minutes or until chicken is tender. Add raisins the last 15 minutes of cooking. Split blanched almonds in halves; brown lightly in a little melted butter. Arrange chicken in center of a large heated platter, pour sauce over it and pile cooked rice around edges. Sprinkle toasted almonds on top and garnish with fresh parsley, if desired. Yield: 8 to 10 servings.