Chicken Cacciatore Recipe

This is a very rustic and comforting meal. It’s pretty easy to cook and makes for a wonderful post-ride recovery dinner in cold weather.

“Cacciatore” means “hunter” in Italian, and is typically made with either chicken or rabbit. You could easily make this vegetarian or vegan by omitting the meat and making some good, hearty mushrooms the star of the dish. There are nearly as many different recipes for Chicken Cacciatore as there are cooks who make it, and some of us have several variations of our own recipes. Here’s one way I make it.

Chicken Cacciatore
serves 4-6

1 1/2 pounds of chicken, bone in, skinned
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and cubed
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes (more if you dare!)
1 large carrot, shredded
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms
1/2 cup dry wine (white or red, your preference)
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 bay leaf
3 large sprigs of fresh thyme
2 large sprigs of fresh parsley (optional)
2 to 6 ounces of tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste
fresh chopped thyme & parsley, for garnish

Mis en place:  prepare and assemble all of your ingredients.

Skin the chicken, pat dry with paper towels, season with a little salt and pepper. Be careful to not over season at this stage. Cover and keep refrigerated until you’re ready to cook them.

Remember to always wash your hands, cutting boards all utensils thoroughly with hot soapy water after handling raw chicken. 

Clean and prepare your vegetables, keeping each one separate for now. Cut the fennel into about 1/2-inch cubes. Shred the carrot (or if you prefer, slice into 1/8-inch thick slices). Trim and slice the mushrooms into about 1/4-inch thick slices. Chop your tomatoes.

I have been using a mixture of heirloom cherry tomatoes lately, but you really can use any kind of fresh tomato for this. Keep in mind that some tomatoes have more liquid than others, so this is where the tomato paste comes into play. If your tomatoes are very juicy, you’ll want a little more of the tomato paste than if they’re on the dryer side.

In a large, heavy bottomed pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium high heat. Place the chicken in the pan and brown on both sides. This will take about 5 to 10 minutes. Remember that you’re not cooking the chicken all the way at this step, just beginning to develop some flavors by browning the meat. Remove the chicken, set on a clean plate, cover and set aside while you cook the vegetables.

Using the same pan, if necessary add about half of the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the garlic and cook very briefly, being careful to not burn it. Add the fennel and stir to coat with the oil. Caramelize it a bit to bring out the natural sweetness, but be careful to not burn it.

Caramelize the fennel to bring out the natural sweetness.

I love fresh fennel, but if you don’t, feel free to substitute onion.

Add the fennel seeds and chili flakes; stir to combine well. Transfer the fennel to a large bowl and cover to keep warm. Add the carrots to the pan and saute just to lightly brown and soften them a bit. Remove from the pan and add to the cooked fennel. If necessary, add the remaining olive oil to the pan and allow to heat a bit. Now add the mushrooms and cook until browned.

Now return all of the cooked vegetables to the pan, stir to combine well, and add the wine. Raise heat to high and cook until most of the wine has evaporated. This should take at most a minute on high, so watch carefully at this step.

Reduce heat to medium and add the chopped tomatoes, bay leaf, sprigs of thyme and parsley. Stir to combine well. Return all of the vegetables to the pan, stir to combine well. Add the chicken. Bring the entire mixture just to a boil and then reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook for about 30 minutes. You’ll want to cook this until the chicken is thoroughly cooked and tender.

Check the consistency of the sauce. If you want it to be a little thicker, then add some tomato paste. Add about 1 tablespoon at a time until you reach your desired thickness. Then, season to taste with salt and pepper.

This is a very rustic and chunky sauce. Feel free to puree it a bit before adding the bay leaf, whole sprigs of herbs, and chicken. It’s entirely up to your preference.

I like to serve this over a good quality whole grain or spinach pasta. It’s great with a crispy, refreshing side salad and crusty Artisan bread.

I prefer chicken legs because they cook up more tender and flavorful than the breasts, but you can use whatever cut of chicken you like. When cooking this dish for a group, I like to use a whole, cut up chicken so everyone has a choice of their favorite. I always skin the chicken, regardless of the cut I use. I just don’t like all that extra fat in the dish.

Chicken Cacciatore

Serve with a whole grain pasta and garnish with a bit of cheese and fresh herbs.

I am sure hoping to get a ride in today, but the weather here is looking very iffy and I am fighting a cold. It might just end up being a Farmers’ Market and make a big batch of soup kind of day.

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