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~ Comfort Food Italian-Style: Chicken- Cacciatore ~

PICT2207Cacciatore means hunter in Italian, and alla cacciatore means, in the style of the hunter. The French refer to this dish as chasseur, and the Spanish call it cazadores.  In any language, in the style of the hunter, it is a very rustic stew which was prepared primarily when the hunter brought home a "white meat" to feed his family -- partridges, pheasants or rabbits.  The American-Italian term usually refers to chicken breasts or thighs prepared hunter-style, and contains woodsy mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, briny olives, various earthy herbs and, of course, red wine.

PICT2148 Cacciatore starts with heating some olive oil in a large skillet.  The "white meat" is dusted with salt, pepper and flour, sauteed until golden brown on both sides, then removed from the skillet.  The pan gets deglazed with some wine and the juices are used to saute the vegetables.  Tomatoes are added, the meat is returned to the skillet and the mixture simmers gently for about 1 1/2 hours.

PICT2154 It is pretty easy to imagine how the dish transitioned to using chicken, and nowadays this stew is almost always associated with chicken ("pollo alla cacciatora") and this is the kind I make for my family. For a more refined looking, user-friendly version, with little or no compromise in result, boneless, skinless chicken may be used.  My family prefers the more flavorful chicken thighs to breasts, therefore, I prepare my delicious rendition of this Italian classic using 24 boneless, skinless chicken thighs and no breasts or legs.  In the style of the hunter's wife, I always serve mine atop a bed of pasta accompanied by crusty, rustic bread to sop up the wonderful sauce.

PICT1997 "Did Melanie just say 24 chicken thighs?"  Yes, I did, and I have two very good reasons for why I'm preparing so many. Firstly, I always make a double batch of chicken cacciatore, divide it between two 13" x 9" x 2" casserole dishes and freeze one.  It freezes perfectly.  So, in the same time it takes to make one casserole, I get two.  Secondly, every year at this time, Joe's garden gifts me with a big basket of green and red bell peppers.  This wonderful recipe is a way to make use of them while they are at their best.   And, for a bit of follow up, I can tell you this: in a few months, in the middle of one of our Pennsylvania snowstorms, I will be smiling from ear to ear when I remove my cacciatore from the freezer, reheat and serve it in front of a roaring fireplace.  You can thank me later.

PICT2009 For the chicken & sausage:

6  chicken breast halves and 6 leg/thigh portions, not boneless, or:

8  boneless, skinless breast halves and 8  boneless skinless thighs, or:

24 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1  pound Italian sausage, hot or mild, sliced into 1/2" "coins"

salt and white pepper

Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

6  tablespoons olive oil

6  tablespoons butter 

1-1 1/2  cups Madeira (a Portuguese, fortified, sweet white wine), 1 cup to start, a little more if necessary 

PICT2015~ Step 1.  Depending upon what chicken pieces you decided to use: Using kitchen shears, trim rib sections from breasts and remove skin.  Remove skin from leg/thigh portions.  Sprinkle the skinless tops of all chicken pieces with salt, white pepper and flour.  Set aside for 30 minutes.  This allows time for the flour to absorb moisture from the chicken, which results in a crispy texture when the chicken is fried. This step is important.  Don't rush it.

6a0120a8551282970b014e8c18d394970d~ Step 2.  While the chicken is resting:  Prep and place the sausage coins in a 14" chef's pan w/straight deep sides.  Over medium-high heat, saute until thoroughly cooked, about 8-10 minutes.  The coins will now resemble small, plump, browned, meatballs.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.  Set aside.  Turn the heat off, and do not discard the drippings from the pan.  Next: 

PICT2053 For the vegetables (prep as directed below and separately, set each aside):

1  pound stemmed, cleaned and thinly sliced white, button mushroom caps

1 1/2  pounds halved, quartered and thinly sliced yellow or sweet onion

8  large, minced garlic cloves, about 2 tablespoons minced garlic

12  ounces julienne of green bell pepper, strips cut in half lengthwise

12  ounces julienne of red bell pepper, strips cut in half lengthwise

1  8-ounce can small pitted olives, well-drained and sliced

PICT2104 For the sauce and the spice mixture (prep and have ready):

1  28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

2  8-ounce cans tomato sauce

4  whole bay leaves

1  teaspoon dried basil leaves

1  teaspoon dried marjoram leaves

2  tablespoons dried mint flakes

1/2  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1  teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1  teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1  tablespoon sugar

PICT2165 For the pasta and cheese:

1 1/2  pounds penne, rigatoni or a combination of tubes, shells and spirals (1 1/2 pounds for each 13" x 9" x 2" casserole), stranded pasta is not recommended for cacciatore

Note:  If you like whole grain/whole wheat pasta, now is the time to use it.  If you're not sure if you like whole wheat pasta, now is the time to try it. Whole wheat pasta complements the earthy flavors of cacciatore perfectly.

12  tablespoons butter, at room temperature (1 1/2 sticks) 

1/2  cup grated or shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (1/2 cup for each 13" x 9" x 2" casserole)

Preparing the Cacciatore

PICT2031 ~ Step 1.  Add the olive oil and melt the butter into the sausage drippings over low heat.  Add the chicken pieces, floured side down. Sprinkle the second sides with salt , white pepper and flour.  Adjust heat to saute, until golden brown on the first side, about 25-35 minutes, carefully regulating the heat so as to brown, but not scorch.  


~ Step 2.  Using a pair of tongs, turn the chicken pieces over and saute on the second side, until golden brown, about 25-35 minutes. Transfer the chicken pieces to a large platter, cover with aluminum foil  and set aside.

~ Step 3.  Add 1 cup of wine to pan. Use a spatula to deglaze by scraping and stirring to loosen the browned bits from the bottom.

PICT2118 ~ Step 4.  Add all of the prepped vegetables to the pan:  mushrooms, onions, garlic, bell peppers and olives.  Thoroughly combine.  

~ Step 5.  Adjust the heat to saute, until the the onion has softened and the mushrooms have lost most of their moisture, stirring frequently, about 15-20 minutes.  Carefully regulate the heat.  You do not want this mixture to brown.

PICT2135 ~ Step 6.  Stir in the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce and spices.

PICT2143 ~ Step 7. Chop the sausage into bits and pieces.  Return chicken to pan and top with the sausage pieces.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, partially cover and cook about 1 1/2 hours.  Use a spoon to "sort of" stir occasionally, meaning:  Without tossing or disturbing the chicken.

PICT2168 ~ Step 8.  Remove cacciatore from heat.  

Using a large slotted spoon, remove, transfer and place 12 chicken thighs into each of two, 13" x 9" x 2" glass baking dishes.

Note:  I always use Pyrex, glass baking dishes for storing and freezing foods.  The plastic lids make the casseroles easy to stack in the refrigerator or freezer.

PICT2179 ~ Step 9.  Using a large spoon, evenly distribute the vegetable/sauce mixture over the top of the chicken in both casseroles.  Seal with plastic wrap and place the lids on. 

Note:  One to eat and one to freeze, or two to eat or two to freeze -- the choice is yours.  As with most slow-cooked food, cacciatore will taste even better the next day.

~ Step 10.  When you're ready to eat, in an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a boil over high heat.  Cook the pasta, according to package directions, until al dente, about 10-11 minutes. Drain into a colander and immediately return pasta to still hot stockpot and toss with butter.  Cover and set aside about 5 minutes, to give pasta time to absorb all of the butter.

~ Step 11:  To serve, make a bed of the pasta on a large, warmed platter. Arrange chicken over pasta followed by vegetables/sauce.  Generously garnish with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese:

PICT2226 Comfort Food Italian-Style:  Chicken Cacciatore:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings for each casserole.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen shears; cutting board; chef's knife; 14 chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large slotted spoon; paper towels; tongs; 1-cup measuring container; 2, 13" x 9" x 2" glass baking dishes; large spoon; plastic wrap; 8-quart stockpot w/lid; colander; cheese grater

Cook's Note:  This absolutely wonderful, Fall meal is more versatile that you might think.  I have served it (reheated on a campstove) at a couple of Italian-themed Penn State tailgates, as well as on Lenox china in my dining room for a dinner party.  I am also proud to tell you that my friend Scott, after eating it for dinner one evening in Melanie's Kitchen, put it on his restaurant menu!    

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)


Ashear -- great to hear from you! So glad you and yours enjoyed it. Hope you made the big batch and froze one (it reheats great)! Hope to see you soon, best to Tom too! ~ Mel (& Joe).

I made your Chicken Cacciatore dish for family and friends last night and it was a big hit. Tom said Tell Mel this is great! xxoo Ashear

Shelly! Thank you for your truly lovely comment! I am so happy you found Kitchen Encounters and hope you'll check back often. It is feedback like this that makes all the hours it takes to post a recipe worth while. I look forward to hearing from you in the future (and often). If you, your family, or friends have any recipe requests, feel free to ask! Enjoy the cacciatore! ~ Mel.

Dear Melanie,
I came across your website by accident and I m so glad I did! It is just fabulous!! I love your step by step instructions along with the photos. It makes it so easy for those who don't cook much or are afraid to do so.
Since I am also Italian, we do a lot of cooking in our family. Cooking is the center of our family's all about food. I am always looking for new and interesting dishes to make. Since its a very cool and rainy day in Connecticut today, I have decided to make your Chicken Cacciatore. We make ours almost the same way except we bake it and add small baby potatoes. I am making it your way today along with the Whole Wheat Pasta. It's almost done. Can't wait for dinner!! I will definitely be trying many of your recipes. Thanks for the great website I really love it!
Shelley Zinno

Chef Marvin: I noticed the Parmesan encrusted green beans this AM and fell in love with them... immediately. They are a dish I want to and will make. I adored your cacciatore post. The version I posted here was made for a Penn State tailgate party. We have so much in common my friend... IT IS ALL ABOUT THE THIGHS! ~ Mel.

I posted on today's Cookteaser Blog last evenings dinner of Chicken Cacciatore and Parmesan encrusted Green Beans, If you had a chance to view it I would welcome your thoughts.

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