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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Chicken Cacciatore: Last of the cold weather dishes...

This will keep you warm!
It is a cold, rainy spring day...perfect for sharing my last cold-weather dish of the season: Chicken Cacciatore. My mother used to make this dish.  I have been making this dish for years for my family and every time I do it, it comes out differently. In fact, most of my dishes do, since I tend to tinker according to mood or based on whatever is in my refrigerator at the moment.

The word cacciatore  in Italian means "hunter", therefore this is really Hunter's Chicken.  I envision a hunter coming home with a pheasant or game hen, and his wife preparing a savory dish with whatever fresh vegetables she might have had on hand, and stewing it for a long time until the gaminess of the hunted fowl is cooked out and the meat falls off the bone. According to Linda Stradley, in her online resource What's Cooking America ( ) this dish originated in the Renaissance period in central Italy.  Only the well to do could afford fowl, and hunting was a pastime of only the very rich. So this seemingly humble dish, made at home by many Italian and American cooks, and on the menu of many Italian American restaurants, has elegant, upper-crustic origins. Who knew!
Fresh Peppers at Eataly

This dish is basically chicken pieces braised in wine and tomatoes, with onions, garlic, and vegetables such as peppers, mushrooms, carrots, even potatoes, and seasonings. For this recipe, I used only peppers and mushrooms, which is classic.

Braising is one of the essential cooking techniques, along with sauteing, frying, grilling, boiling, and steaming. According to Mark Bittman in his essential cookbook, How To Cook Everything (2008), braising is a combined cooking method, using both wet and dry methods.  It involves searing the meat in order to caramelize it, adding liquid (usually acidic), covering the pot, and cooking it on a low simmer until the meat falls off the bone. Interestingly, as there always is, actually, there is science involved!  According to The New Best Recipe by the editors of Cooks Illustrated (2004), cooking the meat in this way releases the collagen between the muscle fibers into the liquid. The liquid is absorbed by the meat at a certain point, and the collagen turns into gelatin which gives the liquid body and flavor.   Most of us who are home cooks use this method all the time without realizing that we are using this very important cooking technique.  I was very impressed with myself!

My recipe differs from most in that I use only skinless chicken thighs. I find the thigh is more flavorful and moist due to its higher fat content. Chicken breast tends to dry out no matter what the method.  I sometimes use boneless thighs, however leaving the bone in is preferable as it lends more flavor to the dish.  I  really don't like using the skin, since the skin is fatty, and I do not like those puckery, twirly, fatty, half-peeling-off and basically inedible things floating around in my cacciatore. Crispy chicken skin on a well-baked roast chicken is one thing, but braised chicken skin...ugh. You might feel differently, so it's your preference.

Here is the recipe:
Dredging the thighs



3 pounds bone-in or boneless chicken thighs, skinless
Salt and pepper
1 cup flour for dredging
1/4 cup and 3 tablespoons light olive oil or other oil, such as canola
1 red and 1 green bell pepper, sliced
8 ounces (one container) fresh mushrooms, sliced
Caramelized and waiting to be added!
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 can (28 ounces) peeled plum tomatoes in water or juice, broken up with hands or chopped coarsely
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, Sicilian, and on the stem if you can find it, usually in specialty stores.
  • Sprinkle thighs with salt and pepper, dredge in flour
  • Heat oil (extra virgin oil will lose its flavor) in dutch oven until hot but not smoking
  • Place thighs in oil, do not crowd, and brown on all sides, remove from pan and set aside. When browning, try not to shift them them while cooking. This should take 3 or 4 minutes per side.
  • Brown, but do not burn, onions and garlic.
  • Add wine, stir with wooden spoon to loosen the "frond", or caramelized bits. This makes the sauce very flavorful. Reduce to half.
  • Add tomatoes, fresh parsley and oregano, and stir to combine flavors
  • Add chicken, carefully.  Cover and cook for about 20 minutes on a low simmer.
  • Correct for seasoning, and serve.
  • While the chicken is cooking, saute peppers and mushrooms separately in a saucepan until slightly wilted, about 5 minutes. Add to chicken and tomatoes, cook for another 30 minutes until chicken is tender. 
  • Chicken added to tomato and vegetables
    Adding the tomatoes to the onions
  • Place chicken and vegetables in serving dish, sprinkle with fresh parsley, reserve extra sauce to serve over pasta such as penne or ziti.
This is a hearty dish bursting with flavor, but it is low in fat, so you can enjoy this dish without guilt!

On an appreciative note, I want to thank all of my family, friends, readers and followers for their feedback and comments. I really appreciate them. Recently, my son posted my blog on and through his efforts, I gained more followers, and received many compliments. It made this humble home cook feel really good about sharing these recipes with you.   Molto Grazie!