Rules rule. The dietitian insists: more fiber, less sugar. The food pyramid instructs: more fruit, less butter. Michael Pollan decrees: more vegetables, less meat.
And though such rules annoy me, I maintain my own. To wit: Never dine above or below grade. Cuts down on the disappointment served at the basement-level dive and the hotel-top tavern. In the kitchen, my rules rule out raisins, cornstarch, gelatin and food coloring. (Except under emergency conditions.)
So when I set out to make country captain, I foresaw few regulatory issues. Country captain is chicken stew, seasoned with curry. It could be called chicken curry, but it's not. It traces its heritage to the Savannah and Charleston spice trade. Very old school.
The recipe does call for currants, suspiciously similar to raisins. But because they're smaller, cuter and more British, I gave them a pass. I forgot that my husband maintains his own dietary restrictions: No structures jutting more than 2 inches off the plate. And no cloves. Apparently my curry mix harbored cloves.
I tried again with a custom curry, only to learn that my husband lives by this law: no skin on chicken in stew. I could see his point; it gets soggy. On my third date with the captain, my husband announced a sweeping injunction: I don't like this dish. No matter what.
Fighting words. I reworked country captain from stew to stack: sticky rice, golden chicken, fragrant vegetables, crunchy toppings. I served the ex-stew as Captain Crunch. Which my local captain dispatched, happily.
Prep: 25 minutes
Cook: 35-40 minutes
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon curry powder
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, halved
4 slices bacon, thinly sliced crosswise
1 onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
Cooked sticky rice, currants, slivered almonds, toasted
Combine flour, 2 tablespoons curry powder, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Rub mixture into chicken. Set seasoned chicken on a rack, pieces not touching; let rest 15 minutes.
Set a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Tumble in bacon. Cook crisp, about 10 minutes. Scoop out bacon with a slotted spoon; drain on paper towels.
Add chicken to the hot bacon fat. Sizzle over medium-high heat, turning once, until nicely browned outside and cooked through inside, about 12 minutes. Set cooked chicken on a plate, cover with foil.
Add onion, pepper and garlic to the skillet. Season with remaining 1 teaspoon curry powder, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cook until soft and fragrant, about 7 minutes. Deglaze with wine. Add tomatoes and cook until tomatoes soften, but still hold their shape, about 5 minutes.
Scoop rice into shallow bowls. Arrange a few pieces of chicken on rice. Top with a scoop of the vegetables. Let guests garnish with currants, almonds and bacon.
Leah Eskin is a Tribune special contributor