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~ Crockpot Hunter's-Style Chicken-Thigh Cacciatore ~

IMG_2392In the style of the hunter, aka the catcher.  Traditional cacciatore was a thick, rustic stew prepared primarily when the hunter bought home "white meat" to feed his family -- partridges, pheasants or rabbits.  In Italian, the word "cacciatore" means "hunter", and, the term "alla cacciatore" means "in the style of the hunter".  The Italian-American term infers a chicken stew prepared with mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, olives, herbs and red wine. It's pretty easy to imagine how the dish transitioned from game birds and rabbits in Italy to chicken here in America.

Traditional cacciatore is prepared on the stovetop.

Cacciatore is a slow-cooked stew that's traditionally prepared on the stovetop -- the culinary term is "stovetop-braised".  It starts by heating some olive oil in a large skillet.  The "white meat" (I use boneless, skinless chicken thighs) gets dusted with salt, pepper and flour, sautéed until golden brown on both sides, then removed from the skillet.  The pan gets deglazed with the red wine and the flavorful juices are used to sauté the earthy vegetables.  After that, the chicken is returned to the pan, tomatoes are added, and the mixture gently simmers, low and slow, for 1 1/2-2+ hours.

Chicken cacciatore, essentially a slow-cooked stovetop stew, as it turns out, is a delightful dish to cook in the crockpot too.

Because cacciatore is essentially a slow-cooked stew, it is a dish that adapts very well to the crockpot.  That said, for the best flavor, texture and presentation, begin by browning the chicken thighs in some oil in a skillet on the stovetop before putting them in the crockpot.  Past that, all the ingredients, as listed below, just get layered on top of the browned chicken.  The crockpot gets turned to high, and four hours later:  Luscious, succulent chicken thighs swimming in a thick, rich, divinely-seasoned vegetable-laced sauce are ready to serve atop of bed garlic-butter pasta. 

IMG_3106Meet Crockpot's Casserole Crock. For me, it's my latest acquisition in a long line of slow cookers.  I now currently own ten different brands, models and sizes -- which is odd because, me, not-the-queen-of-crockpot-cooking, uses a slow cooker, maybe, five-six times a year. While Crockpot rightfully peddles this one as a casserole crock (because it is essentially a 13" x 9" x 3" casserole), and, it's intended to make-and-take slow-cooked casseroles (it's got lock-in-place handles and a stay-cool handle for carrying the entire contraption), I saw it as a vehicle for 12 large chicken thighs, to slowly cook in sauce, evenly and in comfort -- single-layer spa-style.

IMG_2279To brown the chicken and sausage:

12  large boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1  pound country-style breakfast sausage links

Wondra quick-mixing flour for sauce and gravy, for dusting chicken thighs

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for seasoning chicken thighs

4-6  tablespoons olive oil, for browning chicken thighs

1/2  cup inexpensive port wine, for deglazing pan

For the vegetable additions:

1  cup diced onion

1  cup peeled and diced carrot

1  cup diced red bell pepper

1  4-ounce can sliced mushrooms, well-drained

1  4-ounce can sliced black olives, well-drained

For the sauce and spices:

1  6-ounce can tomato paste

1  tablespoon Italian seasoning blend

2  teaspoons dehydrated minced garlic

2  teaspoons sea salt

1 1/2  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1  28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

IMG_2241 IMG_2241 IMG_2241 IMG_2241 IMG_2241 IMG_2241~Step 1.  Place the chicken thighs, as is (meaning do not unroll them), smooth sides up, on a plate or platter.  Lightly dust their tops with flour, following by a grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend. Set aside. Place 4-6 tablespoons olive oil, enough to coat bottom, in a 12" skillet.  Add the sausage links. Over medium-high heat, brown the sausage, about 3-4 minutes per side.  Remove the sausage links from the skillet and set aside.

IMG_2245 IMG_2245 IMG_2245 IMG_2245 IMG_2257~Step 2.  Add the chicken thighs, smooth flour-dusted sides down, to the hot skillet.  Dust the undersides of thighs with flour and lightly-season with sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Adjust heat to sauté, until chicken is golden on both sides, turning only once, about 15-20 minutes (8-10 minutes per side.  While the chicken is sautéing, quickly slice the sausage links into 1/2"-thick coins.  Using a pair of tongs, remove the thighs from the skillet and arrange them, in a single layer, in bottom of crockpot.  Scatter the sausage coins over the chicken.

IMG_2261 IMG_2261 IMG_2261~ Step 3.  Add the wine to the drippings in the skillet. Over medium-high heat, use a large spoon or spatula to deglaze the pan by scraping the stirring to loosen the browned bits from the bottom, cooking and stirring for about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and pour the mixture over the chicken and sausage in crockpot.

IMG_2282 IMG_2282 IMG_2282 IMG_2282 IMG_2282 IMG_2295 IMG_2295 IMG_2295~Step 4.  Scatter the vegetables, the diced onions, carrots, red bell peppers over the chicken thighs and sausage, followed by the well-drained sliced mushrooms and black olives.  Dollop the tomato paste atop the vegetables, followed by the seasonings and the crushed tomatoes.  Using the back of a large spoon and a light touch, spread  crushed tomatoes to the edges of the crock.

IMG_2304 IMG_2304 IMG_2311 IMG_2317 IMG_2317~Step 5.  Cover the crockpot and cook on high for 4 hours.  Remove the lid from Crockpot casserole.  Using a large slotted spoon, gently remove the chicken thighs to a large plate or platter, allowing excess sauce to drizzle back into crock.  Give the sauce a thorough stir.  Portion and serve chicken and a ladle-full of sauce atop garlic-butter and herb pasta.

Serve sauced atop garlic-butter and herb penne pasta:

IMG_2412Crockpot Hunter's Style Chicken-Thigh Cacciatore:  Recipe yields 12 chicken thighs/6 servings and 2 quarts of sauce.

Special Equipment List: 12" nonstick skillet; tongs; cutting board; chef's knife; large spoon or spatula; vegetable peeler; large slotted spoon; ladle

IMG_2363Cook's Note:  To make my slightly-spicy garlic-butter and herb penne pasta:  Over high heat, cook 1 pound penne as package directs, to al dente. Drain thoroughly and return hot pasta to hot stockpot on still warm stovetop. Add 8 tablespoons salted butter (1 stick, cut into pieces), 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend3/4 teaspoon sea salt, and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Stir until butter has melted and pasta is coated.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)


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