I had half a large chicken, which had been languishing in the freezer and some good tomatoes and mushrooms in the fridge, so Chicken Cacciatore was an obvious choice for supper. Chicken Cacciatore is an Italian classic – the word cacciatore means hunter and therefore the dish is probably related to the way in which Tuscan hunters cook rabbit or game birds, both of which benefit from slow cooking in stock and I’m sure, taste delicious done this way.
Pollo alla Cacciatora recipe (serves 3):
Half a large (6lb) chicken or a 3lb chicken (jointed), or 4 legs (divided)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
3 large tomatoes (blanched, peeled and chopped) or half a tin
1 carrot (chopped)
1 stick of celery (chopped)
8 mushrooms (chopped)
a glass of red wine
half a pint home made chicken stock
12 black olives (Kalamata)
a dessertspoon tomato pureé
a large squirt of anchovy paste
a teaspoon of Dijon mustard
a dessertspoon red wine vinegar
2 bay leaves
8 fresh basil leaves (torn)
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
3 dessertspoons plain flour, seasoned with a little salt and pepper
additional cracked black pepper (to taste)
2 tbsp olive oil
Since I was using fresh tomatoes, I blanched them in boiling water for a couple of minutes and peeled them before doing anything else. I only used half the above six, the rest became a sauce with garlic, basil and anchovy paste, to use with pasta or a pizza (now in the freezer for a rainy day).
Dust the chicken with seasoned flour and brown to caramelise the sugars in the skin. Do this in batches as meat browns better if given some space. The chicken is not cooked at this point, just coloured for 5 minutes or so per side. If using a terracotta cazuela like me, use plenty of olive oil and heat it up slowly or the terracotta will crack. Don’t get it too hot before you put the chicken in. If using a normal frying pan, get it nice and hot to brown the chicken quickly. When the chicken is done, transfer it to a plate. If there is a lot of oil in your pan, pour some off and save it for later – it will taste great for frying steak!
Using the same pan (terracotta cazuelas, cast iron casseroles or frying pans are ideal) fry the onions until translucent, followed by carrot, celery, mushrooms and garlic. When the vegetables have been coated with oil, add the tomatoes and crush them gently with a potato masher.
Squeeze the tomato purée and anchovy paste into the vegetables, sprinkle on the olives and pour in the red wine vinegar, the glass of wine and half the stock. The mustard, bay leaves and rosemary can go in now too. Allow the sauce to bubble for a few minutes to burn off the alcohol in the wine. At this point, if the sauce is a bit thick, add some more stock. I held on to the leftover seasoned flour, which can be used to thicken the sauce if it’s a bit too liquid. Taste the sauce, it may be a little frisky, but you should be able to tell if it needs more anchovy paste (if lacking saltiness) or pepper. It will mellow over time. When you are satisfied that the sauce is good, return the chicken to the cooking pot and cover with a lid or some foil – remember that it is not cooked through yet, so allow at least 20 minutes before tasting again!
If using a small 3lb chicken the cacciatore will take about 45 minutes to cook on a low heat. It’s done when the meat starts to fall off the bone. Do turn the chicken over half way through, so that it absorbs lots of flavour and stays moist. I cooked my chicken for 90 minutes because the pieces were quite large (especially the breast) and removed the foil for the last 10 minutes to thicken the sauce. If using a cast iron casserole with lid, the cacciatore can be cooked in the oven at about 150º C.
I was delighted by the thick gelatinous skin that started to form on top of my cacciatore – there’s a lot of goodness in the bones and I love it when the sauce makes my lips stick together!