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Chicken Cacciatore: Rich People Food?

April 30, 2007

Chicken Cacciatore

When I was a kid, chicken cacciatore seemed to my mind the epitome of elegant dining. I have no idea why. My mom never made chicken cacciatore. I don’t ever remember eating chicken cacciatore at friends’ houses. I think the only time I had it might have been on an airplane, and I can’t imagine that airplane food circa 1986 would have led me to perceive that this was glamour food. All I know is that when I pretended I was rich and famous, chicken cacciatore was what I imagined eating.

I never translated this chicken cacciatore daydream into reality, probably because I forgot all about it, until I was flipping through Giada’s cookbook (yes, again), where she offers an excellent looking cacciatore recipe. Cacciatore means “hunter’s style,” but I’m not entirely sure why. Elise speculates that if a hunter was unsuccessful, his wife would have to kill a chicken for dinner from their henhouse. Chicken cacciatore is just chicken braised in a tomato-based sauce, which sounds kind of boring and not easily distinguishable from other chicken dishes. But somehow this simple dish of common ingredients ended up being something memorable and distinctive. Ahh, the magic of cooking. Or something.

So, I had never actually cooked chicken pieces with bones in them before. I mean, I’ve roasted whole chickens, but splitting a chicken breast was a new experience for me. And a bit of an adventure. Crystal had no idea how to do it, either. We did a little Joy of Cooking research, and I found myself wishing for poultry shears for the first time ever. Eventually I just picked up the dang thing and cracked it in half with my hands, then used a sharp knife to cut through the meat. Not the most elegant solution, perhaps, but it did kind of get me into a hunter-style mood.

Giada’s Chicken Cacciatore

  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 4 chicken thighs and 1 whole chicken breast, bone in and skin on
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3/4 c. white wine
  • 1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 3/4 c. chicken stock or broth
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 3 T. capers
  • fresh basil

First, you want to split the chicken breast in half. Poultry shears work wonders, if you have them. Joy of Cooking recommends pulling out the wishbone before breaking the breast in half. I couldn’t find the wishbone. If I ever figure out how to split a chicken breast the proper way, I will document it for all of you, but I think you’re ok exercising your primal instincts and just cracking it in half with your hands. If you like, you can shout, “Ahahahaha! I feel so manly!” Then sprinkle each piece of chicken with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Spread the flour out on a plate, and dredge each piece of chicken lightly in it, coating it all over with flour. Place the chicken in the skillet, working in two batches so you don’t crowd the chicken. Cook each piece for about 4 minutes on each side, or until they are lightly browned, then remove them and let them rest on a plate.

Add the onion, garlic, and red pepper to the chicken-cooking skillet. Cook it up, stirring occasionally, until the onions and peppers are soft, probably about 7 minutes. Then add the wine, and scrape up all the browned chicken and vegetable bits from the bottom of the pan. Let the wine and vegetables simmer until the wine is about half evaporated. Then add the tomatoes, chicken stock, dried oregano, capers, and a bit more salt and pepper if you want. Stir it all together, and put the chicken pieces back in, coating them with the sauce and burying them as well as you can. Bring it all back up to a simmer, and then just let it cook for about 30 minutes. You’ll occasionally want to spoon some of the sauce over the chicken to kind of braise it, but you can mostly leave it alone.

Chicken in the hunter’s style, matching too well with the bowl

When the chicken is cooked through (the breasts might take less time), pull out the chicken pieces and put them on a platter, and then pour the sauce right over them. Sprinkle the chopped up fresh basil on top, and you’ve got dinner.

I made some simple garlic bread and a romaine and tomato salad to go with it, and seriously felt like a mother or something. It was just such a family-style meal, which I don’t usually do. With a big bowl of salad? And garlic bread? What? Who am I? But it was absolutely delicious and Crystal and I were happy ladies. Of course, because it was only the two of us, and I ended up with enough food to feed a family of six, I’ll be eating chicken cacciatore all week. I forced Mr. X to take some home last night and the tupperware container my leftovers are in still weighs 50 pounds. Any suggestions for what to do with leftovers? I suspect I’ll be really tired of chicken cacciatore by Wednesday.

The irony of my childhood cacciatore impression is that chicken cacciatore was actually peasant food. It is cheap (well, except the bell pepper) and hearty and filling. I don’t know what rich people were eating in Italy in the 1600s, but it certainly wasn’t this. I, however, will continue to pretend it’s rich people food so that when I’m in school and poor again, and this is all I can afford, I can tell myself I’m eating like a real gourmet. Some childhood fantasies are best left intact.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. gary permalink
    October 18, 2007 1:12 pm

    I love cacciatore but I am not so keen on giada’s (even though I love giada most of the time). I also love food history — cacciatora style probably originated with more small game food like rabbit or squirrel. There are other ideas like if you were removing shot from a bird (like an old tough mean rooster you couldn’t catch and had to shoot) you would have to cut the chicken up to get the shot out.

    I usually cut boneless chicken thighs up in thin strips, then cut the onion, red bell, and fresh tomatoes up in similar sized strips. The chicken gets fried in a pan with a strip of bacon to give it extra flavor (dump the bacon fat after the cooking to stay a little extra health concious — I cook chicken vesuvio the same way). I use red wine (zinfandel or syrah/shiraz works great. Add some red pepper flakes and a can of black olives quartered to go delux.

    You can vary the starch you serve it with — from rice to pasta to potato wedges.

  2. Dana permalink
    May 16, 2008 3:29 pm

    I was sorry that I couldn’t just print out the recipe without the pictures. I guard my printer ink and just didn’t want to waste it on what I wouldn’t need, so I didn’t use this recipe. Can you adjust your webpage to allow for that?

  3. Sonny permalink
    December 23, 2008 2:10 pm

    Coming from a rich and very old Sicilian heritage I remember learning that any cacciatore originated simply as “Hunter Stew”.

    For generations, my family members were hunters in the hills of Palermo and after the day’s hunt they would gather in cabin’s available to all. Each hunter would contribute parts of their day’s catch…mutton, pheasant, rabbit…sort of a Hobo Stew, and together they all shared the bounty.

    Yes, the pieces were cut up due to the removal of shot or pieces wasted during the dressing of the meat because the hunters would have to bring back as much meat to sell to village butchers and of course, bring home to an anxious family. To reduce weight only the best cuts were packed for the return hike and the rest, eaten in combination and prepared as “cacciatore”.

    Fantastic that what was considered as “poor food” has evolved to become a cuisine all it’s own. The Greek have the same “Kachngnior” (spelling?) which is basically the same thing and similar pronunciation.

    Good eating everyone!

  4. December 16, 2009 2:09 pm

    this sounds delicious!

  5. Potato Peeler permalink
    February 2, 2010 10:17 pm

    Thanks for the excellent recipe. It really is a classy dish. So far I have made it couple of times and it has always been a hit!

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