What’s in a name? In common parlance, this dish is known as chicken cacciatore. Isn’t that a little odd: half the name in English, and the other half in Italian? I’m guessing the name was conjured up by early Italian-American restaurateurs hoping to entice Americans with their way of cooking. In Italy, the dish is known as pollo alla cacciatora and translates in English to chicken, hunter’s style. Cacciare is the verb to hunt in Italian.
Cooking “alla cacciatora” includes the step of sautéing wild game in an acidy liquid such as wine, vinegar, or lemon juice to help tame the gamey flavors. If the cook is sautéing rabbit, the same dish is called coniglio alla cacciatora, and if wild duck it is called anatra selvatica alla cacciatora. We’ve still got lots of duck meat in our freezer, and I’m hoping my ever curious American hunter will consider giving this Italian method of cooking the ducks a try. NOT that his family doesn’t adore his recipe for Kelly’s Duck Stew. Lord knows, if I want to lure my family over for dinner, I need to do nothing more than text, “Dad is cooking duck stew for dinner tonight”!
A few words about ingredients: Make sure the bay leaves you use are freshly dried. They should have a woodsy and fragrant smell when you open their container — every time you open it. If they are no longer fragrant, it’s time to get a new batch of bay leaves. I like to use Turkish bay leaves.
Chicken cacciatore is typically served over either polenta, wide flat noodles, or rice. Lately, as part of the Whole30 way of eating, I’ve been serving it over roasted spaghetti squash, and my husband and I love it. If you decide you want to serve yours this way, then start cooking the squash before you proceed with cooking the cacciatore. For instructions on how to prepare spaghetti squash check out Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Asparagus and Chicken on my blog. The squash will take an hour to roast.
2-3 bell peppers (1 pound), sliced
1-2 sweet onions (1 pound), sliced
1-ounce garlic cloves (about 1 small head of garlic), peeled and smashed
½ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 pounds boneless, skinless, chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ cup all-purpose flour
3 stems rosemary leaves
3 stems oregano leaves
4 bay leaves
1 cup white wine
2 cans “Italian Style” stewed tomatoes, puréed (optional)
1 pound mushroom, sliced
Mise en Place:
Mise en Place Instructions:
1) Prep peppers and onions: Remove core, stem and seeds, slice
2) Prep garlic: Smash peeled garlic with a mallet.
3) Prep chicken thighs: Rinse, pat dry, trim fat and cut into 2-inch chunks
4) Prep herbs: Separate leaves from stems, use a scissor or knife to mince leaves. Never chop a bay leaf!
5) Purée stewed tomatoes if using.
6) Prep mushrooms: I like to slice with a mushroom/egg slicer.
1) Coat bottom of a 12-inch heavy-bottomed deep sauté pan with olive oil. Warm the olive oil over high heat until it is hot, but not smoking hot. Add peppers, onions, garlic, salt, and cracked pepper to the oil and sauté for 5-7 minutes, stirring regularly. Turn off heat. Using a slotted spoon, remove cooked vegetables to a bowl and set aside. Leave remaining oil in frying pan. You will be sautéing the chicken in that oil shortly.
2) In a separate bowl, season the chicken pieces with salt and ground pepper. Add flour and mix well, so each piece of chicken is evenly coated with flour. Do not do this step ahead of time because the chicken pieces tend to absorb the flour and then the pieces all clump together in the bowl.
3) Brown chicken evenly on all sides for about 8-10 minutes on medium-high heat. Stir often so the chicken pieces do not stick to the pan.
4) Add the herbs and wine to the browned chicken and stir. Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes.
5) Add the bowl of sautéed vegetables and the tomatoes to the chicken. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
6) Add mushrooms, cover and simmer for 30 minutes more.
Let rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. This dish tastes even better the next day.
Serve over spaghetti squash, fettuccine, rice or polenta to sop up the juices. This dish is a great party dish because you can easily increase the number of servings and make it ahead of time.
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