Curried Chicken with Rice Colombo (Oklahoma, 1920s, adapted)


Curried Chicken with Rice Colombo comes to us by way of a community cookbook published by the First Presbyterian Church of Enid, Oklahoma in the late 1920s.    Originally published in the Kansas City Star, it provides an interesting window into perceptions of “exotic” cuisine in this area.   Colombo presumably refers to the Sri Lankan port town which – at the time of this recipe’s publication – would have been until British control.  The dessert-like curry sauce bears some resemblance to Anglicized sweet curries or a modern Thai curry, but looks very little like any recipe I’ve seen otherwise.

The surprise ingredient in the curry sauce is banana.  Not the semi-sweet starchy plantain varieties, which were and are common staples in Sri Lankan curries, but the candy-sweet grocery store banana.  I’ve got a Latin American savory chicken recipe on this site made with bananas, but I can’t find any traditional examples in Southeast Asian or Indian cuisine.  Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that a century-old recipe from a Midwest newspaper isn’t the “real deal”, but I’m curious as to how this recipe came to be.

Traditional or not Curried Chicken with Rice Colombo is surprisingly delicious and a little bit addictive.  Even if the ingredients are unconventional, the preparation is more or less in line with traditional Sri Lankan curries.  Aromatics are sauted in spices and boiled in a coconut base.  Pineapple, banana, and a healthy dose of chutney provide some tropical sweetness, and the whole dish is served over chicken and basmati rice.

I’ve made a few adjustments to the recipe for simplicity’s sake.  I’ve used trimmed boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead of chicken pieces, mostly for convenience but also because I prefer the flavor and texture of dark meat.  Given that the sauce is the star of the show I imagine the dish is delicious either way.  I’ve also used an immersion blender to prepare the sauce, a convenience not readily available in the 1920s and much less labor intensive than forcing a chunky sauce through a sieve.  Lastly, I’ve omitted the final topping, for which the recipe obliquely recommends “flakes of fish salted, dried in the sun, and crisped in [the] oven.”  I considered using bonito flakes or even salted, dried anchovies in its place but determined quickly that the dish is perfectly satisfying without it.

Curried Chicken with Rice Colombo is fairly hearty, and can make a complete meal served over a bed of rice, perhaps with a side salad or fresh fruit.  It is also the kind of curiosity perfect for a church potluck – different enough to make a conversation piece but won’t offend even the least sophisticated palates.  Enjoy!

 

Curried Chicken with Rice Colombo (Oklahoma, 1920s, adapted)

  • Preparation: 15 min
  • Cooking: 20 min
  • Ready in: 35 min
  • For: 6 hearty portions
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Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Saute onion, peppers, and garlic in butter over medium heat until onions and pepper are tender, taking care not to scorch the garlic.
  2. Add the banana, pineapple, flour, and curry powder and saute 2-3 minutes more until well-mixed.
  3. Add coconut milk and chutney. Stir well and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes until all ingredients are quite soft. Set aside and let cool.
  4. Season chicken with salt and dredge in flour. In a large cast iron skillet saute in oil or butter until well-browned.
  5. Puree the cooled curry sauce to desired texture using an immersion blender. (I prefer to leave it a little bit chunky). Pour over top of the chicken breasts and simmer 10-15 minutes more until chicken is cooked through. Serve over basmati rice.

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