Cacciatore is Italian for hunter, thus chicken cacciatore is translated as hunter’s chicken. In America, that means chicken pieces cooked in tomato sauce with mushrooms, peppers and onions. Now, I don’t know a lot of hunters well, but I’m pretty sure they do not carry cans of tomato sauce or handfuls of tomatoes into the field with them. Not unlike chicken parmigiana, the Italian-American food machine has bastardized an authentic Italian dish.
No, it seems that a true chicken cacciatore is not unlike a cowboy stew. Hunters would go off to, well, hunt, and this was a dish that could be made easily over an open fire from a portion of their catch along with wild herbs and vegetables (think mushrooms), and wine. Of course wine. You think they took a lot of water out on those trips? Paesan! C’mon. Up North, The Wife’s people took white wines out on the hunt for rabbit. Down in the south, it was red.
Somewhere over the Atlantic, cacciatore went red. Look at Mario Batali’s recipe. Nary a tomato in sight.
Anyhow, I made the bastard cacciatore smothered in tomatoes. What can I say? I like to rant.
WHAT WORKED: Bacon. I skipped pancetta and went for glorious, fatty bacon. Added a rich, smoky flavor to the finished product.
WHAT DIDN’T: I wish I had more time to let this cook down. The hour I had was fine, but I wish I had 90 minutes to let the sauce reduce further.
EASE OF PREPARATION: Easy to medium.
BEST FOR: A mid-week dinner, if you have time, or Sunday dinner for the family.
SERVE WITH: Chianti. Just a robust red wine.
Chicken Cacciatore (American Style)
By Jared Paventi
- 6 chicken thighs (I used boneless, skinless, but bone-in would probably be best)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp. kosher salt
- 1 tsp. white pepper
- olive oil
- 4 slices bacon
- 1 green bell pepper, sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 8 oz. mushrooms, washed, stemmed and chopped
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 24 oz. crushed tomatoes
- 8 large basil leaves, chopped
- 8 oz. long pasta, cooked
- grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Pat chicken breasts with a paper towel to dry, and set aside. Combine flour with salt and pepper in a large bowl, and mix with a spoon or small whisk. Transfer about half of it to a small bowl, and reserve the rest for the next time you are cooking chicken.
Heat oil in a Dutch oven over high heat. When it shimmers, dredge the chicken in the flour and shake off the excess. Add the thighs piece by piece to the pan, taking care not to crowd the meat in the pan. Cook 3 to 5 minutes on each side, browning each piece. Transfer each cooked piece to a plate and set aside.
Add the bacon to the pan and render the fat, cooking the bacon until crisp. Add the peppers, onions, and mushrooms to the pan. Cook until onions are softened and peppers begin to brown. Add the garlic and toss with a spoon. Cook an additional minute until the garlic becomes fragrant. Stir occasionally to prevent from sticking.
Add the red wine and scrape the bottom of the pan. Cook vegetables in the pan for 2 minutes, then add the stock. Cook 1 minute, then add the tomatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and stir in the basil. Cover partially and simmer one hour. Check periodically, lowering heat if the simmer is too high.
Before serving, add pasta to a serving bowl along with 1 to 2 ladlefuls of tomato sauce. Toss with grated cheese. Serve the chicken from the pot with plenty of grated cheese and crusty bread.