Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Chicken Curry in the 19th Century Chesapeake

Chicken Curry, C. 1824 Recipe, with Rice

The Recipe:
To Make a Dish of Curry After the East Indian Manner
The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph, 1824

Cut two chickens as for fricassee, wash them clean, and put them in a stew pan with as much water as will cover them, sprinkle them with a large spoonful of salt, and let them boil till tender, covered close all the time, and skim them well; when boiled enough, take up the chickens, and put the liquor of them into a pan, then put half a pound of fresh butter in the pan, and brown a little; put into it two cloves of garlick and a large onion, sliced, and let thee all fry till brown, often shaking the pan; then put in the chickens, and sprinkle over them two or three spoonful of curry powder; then cover the pan close and the chickens do till brown, often shaking the pan; then put in the liquor the chickens were boiled in, and let all stew till tender; if acid is agreeable, squeeze the juice of a lemon or orange in it.

What's a Curry?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a curry is "a preparation of meat, fish, fruit, or vegetables, cooked with a quantity of bruised spices and turmeric, and used as a relish or flavouring, esp. for dishes composed of or served with rice. Hence, a curry = a dish or stew (of rice, meat, etc.) flavoured with this preparation (or with curry-powder)."  Therefore, a curry is basically a spiced sauce that can be served with meats, fish seafood, and/or vegetables.

The spices used to flavor curry dishes can be very varied.  In India, spice mixtures are called masalas, and they are usually made as needed from whole roasted spices. In India, there are lots of masala spice blends that could be used to flavor curry dishes.

Therefore, it is important to note that curry powder is an anglicized version of the masala (blend of spices) most favored by the English during the British Raj in India. So curry powder is really just a standardized Western interpretation of a blend of Indian spices almost always used to flavor curry dishes in the West.  

Modern Recipe Adaptation: Chicken Curry


  • 1 Five to Six Pound Chicken, Cut in Pieces
  • 2 Teaspoons Salt
  • 4 Ounces Butter (1 Stick)
  • 1 Medium Onion, Sliced in Half Moons
  • 2 Cloves Garlic
  • 3 Tablespoons Curry Powder, Mild or Hot (or to taste)
  • Juice of 1 Lemon or Orange (optional)

  1. Place the cut-up chicken in a large stockpot or stew-pan, sprinkle with the salt, and cover with cold water.
  2. Bring the chicken to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to medium-low.  Boil for 20 minutes. Periodically, lift the lid to check for the scum to appear on the top of the water.  Using a slatted spoon, skim it off as it appears (this prevents the broth from becoming bitter).
  3. Remove from the heat and remove the chicken from the water.  Set the pot with the water aside--Do Not Discard.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350º F.
  5. In a large Dutch Oven with a lid, melt the butter over medium heat.  Increase the heat to allow the butter to brown, but be careful not to burn it.  As soon as it starts to turn brown remove it from the heat. Reduce the heat of the burner to medium low.
  6. Add the onions to the butter in the pan and place on the burner that is now set to medium-low. Sauté them for 5 minutes. Then add the garlic and cook until the onions and garlic start to brown, about 5 more minutes. Stir frequently.
  7. Brown the chicken pieces in small batches in the pan with the onions, being careful not to let the chicken stick or burn.
  8. Place all of the browned chicken back into the Dutch oven with the onions. Strain the left-over cooking liquid from step #3 and add it to the chicken and onion/garlic mixture in the pan. Add the curry powder and stir. Cover the Dutch oven and bring to a boil.
  9. Remove from the stovetop and place in the oven to stew for 60 minutes.
  10. Skim off the excess fat that will collect on top of the broth.
  11. Add the juice of the lemon or orange, if desired.
  12. Serve with rice.
Chicken Stock with the Scum
Rising to the Top

Skimming off the
Chicken Stock Scum

Finished Chicken Curry 

Notes on the Recipe

  • I listed the directions in the Modern Recipe Adaptation which basically followed Randolph's directions exactly except that I halved the amount of butter.  Half a pound of butter was too much for my tastes. 
  • I also decided not to add the optional lemon/orange juice at the end.


  1. I love it! It's so interesting how different people interpret historical recipes differently. I made this same recipe early this year, and while it was delicious, I went with less liquid than you did. I did go straight from Randall's recipe so the redaction was all my interpretation. Here is mine

    1. I tried to follow Randolph as closely as possible. It is interesting how the results can differ. Yours looked really good!


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