Whenever I pose the question to my husband is there anything you’re craving, the response nine times out of ten will be Chicken Cacciatore. It’s a dish we’ve been making for nearly as long as we’ve been together. It has a form of fried chicken as it’s base, so totally in my wheelhouse since the age of 9 or so. It’s saucy, one of the base criteria for a great dish in my husband’s mind. Last but certainly not least is that it’s even better as leftovers than it is when freshly made. So even if you are cooking for two make the entire recipe! The other cool thing is that if you choose to make it with a whole chicken, you will have the makings for some great chicken noodle soup as well.
Over the years I’ve tried numerous variations, all tasty, but when it comes right down to it, our favorite is based on the one we discovered so many years ago in the Betty Crocker’s International Cookbook. As with most of the recipes we’ve made from this gem of a cookbook it has ingredients that are and have been readily available in nearly every grocery store across the country since it was published in 1980. Yet, somehow each recipe seems to remain true to the spirit and flavor of it’s origins. We made it for the couple who were to become my in-laws in Montevideo MN on the evening before we announced our engagement. And believe me Montevideo was not the culinary capital of the US either then or now.
The other aspect that makes me love this cookbook so much is that the heading of each recipe gives a brief history or some insight into the recipe. The recipe names are even subtitled with the name in the language of it’s origin-in this case the recipe is Pollo alla Cacciatora which translates to Chicken Hunter’s Style in Italian. The legend the heading explains, tells that it was invented by a hunter’s wife who’s husband returned home with only a few mushrooms and olives. I find it totally believable as I’ve witnessed first hand how inventive Italian cooks are with a few simple ingredients…..(if you check Amazon I think you can still find copies for sale, I’ve given a copy to each of my children)
I’ve made this dish so many times, it now pretty much falls into one of those “cooking without a recipe recipes ” and can vary slightly depending on the ingredients I have on hand i.e. what’s in the garden, refrigerator and pantry. However, for this post I’ll go back to the original and recreate it as written* and leave it to you to make it your own with the ingredients you have and your inspiration. The next time it hits our table I’ll post it with the minor changes I’ve been making over the years that were never recorded. For example it could use a bit more sauce and the addition of some wine is not without merit! However, the original that I give you here is pretty darn tasty just as it was back in 1980.
The ingredients are pretty simple and I’ve used everything from canned mushrooms (oh my I know -but in rural Minnesota in the 1980’s fresh were unheard of) and plain black olives because who ever heard of Kalamata. And yes, I’ve even been known to use boneless, skinless chicken-don’t do it unless you are in an extreme hurry. I’m convinced that good quality bone-in, skin on chicken that you cut up your self is worth the effort. If you need a tutorial on cutting up a chicken see the post https://tablemb.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/mexico-city-enchiladas/
For this recipe I started with a whole fryer that was close to 5 lbs. in weight. After I cut it into leg and thigh portions and 7 portions of breast (a wishbone, and each half into three pieces) I had around 2.75 lb of chicken for the Cacciatore. Perfect for feeding 6 to 8 people or the two of us for at least three meals. The remaining 2.25 pounds of composed of wings, back etc. will become chicken noodle soup. That’s a lot of good food from a chicken that cost me $7.73
Next comes the mise en place for all of the flavorings-mushrooms (this time they are shitake but I’ve used white button and cremini over the years, all good), sliced kalamata olives, onion, garlic, whole peeled tomatoes in puree (today they are fire roasted because that’s what I had in the cupboard). I much prefer whole peeled rather than diced in a saucy dish like this, they break down into a great sauce. Just cut them up with some shears. Onions, garlic and some dried herbs. In a simmered dish like this I actually prefer the flavor of dried vs. fresh oregano
All of these are going in at once, so just put them in a bowl and set aside. A little unusual not to sauté the onion,garlic and mushrooms before adding the tomatoes but it works!
The chicken pieces get dredged in the flour, salt and pepper mixture and then into a large pan with the olive oil. If you don’t have a pan large enough to brown all of the chicken in an even layer with a little space between each piece, do it in batches.
After the chicken is nicely browned on all sides but not cooked through, remove it from the pan and spoon off the excess fat. Take care to leave all the little brown bits of flavor!
Add the chicken back to the pan and top with the all the remaining ingredients except the parsley. Cover and simmer for around 30 minutes or until all of the chicken pieces are cooked through.
When the chicken is almost done, cook some long pasta. Remember that excess olive oil and chicken fat you removed from the pan? Use a bit of that to toss with the cooked pasta-it’s loaded with great flavor. Remember, this is a sometimes dish, you can go for just olive oil for the everyday food.
Sprinkle the chicken with some chopped fresh parsley and pour some light red wine.
So saucy and flavorful, no wonder it’s made it’s way to my table for over three decades!!
I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.
by: M.B. Einerson
Ever so barely adapted from Betty Crocker’s International Cookbook
Servings: 6 to 8
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. pepper
- 1 ½ to 3 lb. broiler-fryer chicken, cut up
- ¼ cup olive or vegetable oil
- 1 can (16 ounces) tomatoes *
- 1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
- 1 cup mushrooms, sliced
- ¼ cup water (plus a little more to rinse out the cans of tomato products)
- ¼ cup sliced pitted ripe olives
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 tsp. salt (this one thing I did omit, as I find older recipes to be a bit high in salt for my taste these days-so leave it out and the add some at the end if you feel it needs it)
- 1 tsp. crushed oregano leaves (Greek, Turkish etc. not Mexican)
- ¼ tsp. pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- Snipped parsley
- Hot cooked spaghetti
Mix flour, salt and pepper. Coat chicken with flour mixture. Heat oil in 12-inch skillet or Dutch oven until hot. Cook chicken over medium heat until brown on all sides, about 15 minutes. Drain fat from skillet.
Mix tomatoes, tomato sauce, mushrooms, water, olives, onion, garlic, salt, oregano, pepper and the bay leaf; break up tomatoes with fork. Pour over chicken. Heat to boiling, reduce heat. Cover and simmer until thickest pieces of chicken are done, about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley; serve with spaghetti.
* the only thing to note is that there has been a bit of slippage in can volumes between 1980 and now. The original recipe uses 1 can (16 ounces) tomatoes which have become a 14.5 ounce can!! In this case I actually weighed the 16 ounces from a 28 ounce can so I could be precise-but normally I would simply throw in the entire 28 ounces.