Now that fall is officially here with cooler days and nights, we tend to start cooking heartier meals. One that comes to mind is Chicken Cacciatora, or Hunter’s Chicken. Cacciatora means hunter in Italian. In cuisine, alla cacciatora refers to a meal prepared hunter-style with tomatoes, onions, herbs, often bell pepper, and sometimes wine.
What’s great about this dish is that it can be cooked in one pot. There are many different versions of this dish, but the one I go to is from one of my favorite cookbooks: Elodia Rigante’s Italian Immigrant Cooking. It is filled with many wonderful recipes that were passed down in her family for generations, recipes that originated in the Apulia region in southern Italy where her parents were from.
To quote Elodia, “The best cacciatora is cooked slowly for a long time, so that the flavors in the sauce are subtle and perfectly blended, and the chicken is tender as butter. Therefore, even though I say to let this dish simmer for an hour, if you have time simmer it for two hours on very low heat.”
The recipe calls for a whole chicken cut up, but I prefer to use chicken legs and bone in breasts. I also like to cook with cremini mushrooms, but it is one’s preference. The original recipe adds cheese to the dish before serving, but this is optional. I am not one to measure, so always check your ingredients. You may have to adjust them.
1 chicken (5 pounds) cut in pieces, or 6 chicken legs and 4 whole chicken breasts with bones, split in half with skin removed
1⁄4 cup olive oil
1 cup flour
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup sliced cremini mushrooms
1 cup julienned carrot
1 cup julienned green pepper
minced garlic (optional)
1 35 oz can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
1 6 oz can of tomato paste
3⁄4 cup red or Marsala wine
1⁄2 cup of chopped fresh basil and parsley
1 tsp chopped fresh oregano
2 whole bay leaves
crushed black pepper to taste
salt to taste
grated Romano cheese (optional)
loaf of Italian bread
Wash and dry the chicken pieces. Heat the oil in a deep skillet or Dutch oven. Roll and coat each chicken piece in the flour, and brown each piece on all sides to a golden brown. Transfer the chicken to a paper towel to drain.
Sauté the onion, mushrooms, carrot, green pepper, crushed black pepper, and garlic, if you are using it, in the same skillet for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and sauté for another 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste to thicken (you may not use the whole can), then add wine, herbs and salt, and cook over medium heat for another 5 minutes.
Add all the chicken pieces and mix well. Turn down the heat very low, and simmer, covered, for 1 hour or longer if you have the time to do so. Adjust the salt and pepper to your taste. Remove the bay leaves before serving.
Serve with freshly grated cheese (optional), a nice warm loaf of Italian bread, and your favorite salad. Enjoy!