Chicken Cacciatore is one of those famous Italian recipes with wildly variable ingredients. There really is no single “official” recipe, although there are some common features to most (not all). I’m going to show you how to make a simple version. Oh, and I’m going to make a really bad chicken cacciatore joke. I apologize for that in advance.
An Obvious Joke About Chicken Cacciatore
Okay, let’s the the joke out of the way first. Sorry, I can’t help myself. This is just how my brain works. I hope you will forgive me. Truth be told, this isn’t really even a joke. There’s no set up and punchline, really. No humorous narrative structure. It’s really more of a humorous observation. And in fact, it’s probably not even that humorous. Except to me, that is. To me it’s absolutely hilarious.
Cacciatore means “hunter” in Italian. So a dish prepared “alla Cacciatore” means ‘in the hunter style’. All fine and well, right? Right. So Chicken Cacciatore is the Anglicized name of an Italian dish called Pollo alla cacciatora. That means “chicken in the hunter’s style”. That’s dignified enough, right? Right. But not to me.
To me Chicken Cacciatore is an absurdist dish. And of course that makes me like it all the more because that’s how my brain works.
Chicken Cacciatore is absurd because it makes me think about Italian chicken hunters. The idea of hunting chickens is very, very funny to me. The idea that these chicken hunters are also Italian makes it even funnier to me. I mean think about it. Chickens aren’t exactly hard to stalk and kill. First, they can barely fly. Second, they’re not wild–not any more anyway, and certainly not in Italy. So I imagine that hunting them entails staking out a chicken coop on some farm. It’s hardly sporting.
The Cacciatore and His Wife: An Absurdist Scene
You’d think my stupid brain would call it good at noting that chicken hunting is ridiculous. But no. It never does. I always also imagine the unfolding of a scene.
Scene: [An Italian woman is in a country kitchen, chopping vegetables for a meal. In walks her husband dressed in a hunter’s coat and hat, a la Elmer Fudd. In one hand he carries a shotgun, in the other, a burlap sack.]
[Hunter’s Wife:] Any luck hunting today dear?
[Hunter:] Yes! I bagged this chicken! [Reaches into sack. pulls out chicken and grins.]
[Hunter’s Wife: Stares at the chicken, then at the hunter. Shaking her head she says:] What the hell is wrong with you?
I think of this scene every time I hear the phrase Chicken Cacciatore. Every. Single. Time.
A More Plausible Story About Chicken Cacciatore
I suspect that the chicken in Chicken Cacciatore is actually an easy to obtain substitute for rabbit (Coniglio alla cacciatora). And rabbit hunting is an actual thing. Moreover, I think “in the hunter’s style” is just that: a rustic, country style of preparation. In other words, no one said (except my stupid brain) that the dish was made with the hunter’s bounty of the hunt. No. It simply means that something–whatever–is cooked in the hunter’s style of cooking. Hunters can have style, can’t they? At the very least, Italian hunters can. Indeed, they surely do!
That’s probably obvious to you all. But I still like the scene myself.
Anyway, this style seems to just mean braising meat with some onions, garlic, tomatoes, herbs, and some wine. Simple. Rustic. Many versions (including mine) have mushrooms. And come to think of it, people actually do go mushroom hunting. So there. Take that stupid brain.
- 8 Chicken Thighs
- 1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 1 Red Bell Pepper, seeded and sliced int matchstick pieces
- 2 Large Carrots, peeled and diced
- 1 Large Yellow Onion, peeled and sliced into matchstick pieces
- 4 Cloves Garlic, minced
- 1 Tablespoon Fresh Chopped Rosemary
- 2 Cups Crimini Button Mushrooms sliced in half
- 1 Cup Dry Red Wine
- 2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
- 1 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper
- 1 Large Can Whole Tomatoes, tomatoes quartered
- Preheat oven to 375F (190C).
- Add olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium heat. Salt the chicken thighs and add to the pan, skin side down. Saute until fat is rendered and the skin is nicely browned and crispy.
- Remove the chicken pieces and add to an oiled casserole.
- Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the skillet and add the bell pepper, carrots, and onions. Saute over medium high heat until the onion becomes soft.
- Add the garlic, rosemary, and mushrooms and continue to cook a few minutes more. Until garlic is fragrant and cooked.
- Deglaze the pan with the wine and simmer until the volume of the wine is reduced by half.
- Add the tomato paste, crushed pepper, and whole tomatoes. Stir to incorporate and cook a few minutes to allow flavors to mingle.
- Pour the sauce from the skillet over the chicken in the casserole. Bake casserole in the oven until the chicken is tender (about 45 minutes).