Chicken Cacciatore is one of those dishes that we've all heard of and probably even tasted at some point in our lives. Back in the '40's and '50's it was a star dish at dinner parties, featured on the menus of most Italian restaurants and every housewife with a knack for cooking whipped it up on occasion for their families. But then one day, it became 'passe', a has been relegated to the back of the recipe box. The good news is, tried and true basic dishes like Chicken Cacciatore, Beef Stroganoff and Meatloaf are making a comeback, becoming all the rage once again!
The word 'cacciatore' is actually Italian for 'hunter', with 'alla cacciatore' meaning 'hunters' style'. As with every dish that piques my curiousity, I did a little digging and apparently, Chicken Cacciatore dates back to the Renaissance period (1450-1600) when the only people who could afford poultry and the sport of hunting were the 'well-to-do'. For some odd reason, the image that I kept conjuring up in my mind was of an Elmer Fudd-like character, stalking the vicious wild chicken in the hills of Tuscany. The words 'hunter' and 'chicken' just don't seem to jive in my opinion. That's when I stumbled upon another source on the origin of Chicken Cacciatore that mentioned the word 'cacciatora' meaning in the style of the hunter's wife, which made a heckuvalot more sense to me. I could totally envision the hunter's wife whipping up this dish to fortify her husband before the hunt, or perhaps even to console him after returning home tired, hungry and empty-handed. For that reason, and that reason alone, I've decided to call my quick and easy dish 'Chicken Cacciatora'.
There are many variations on Chicken Cacciatora, with traditional Italian chicken cacciatore not always containing tomatoes...it really depends on what region of Italy the recipe is from. In northern Italy, white wine is used. In southern Italy, dry red wine, and in central Italy? Tomatoes. The very basic of recipes simply uses braised chicken, or sometimes rabbit, (maybe that's where the whole Elmer Fudd vision came from?), onions, mushrooms and herbs. From there it pretty much is left up to the cook...garlic, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, capers even anchovies are not uncommon.
My Chicken Cacciatora is a pretty basic dish. You see, I found myself two days home from vacation, not yet aclimated to no longer being on vacation, (denial, if you will), grocery shopping still on my to do list, and it was a federal holiday, meaning all the stores were closed. All I had to work with was 3 frozen chicken breasts, a badly depleted vegetable drawer and a can of diced tomatoes. What could I possibly create with that? Racking my brain for inspiration. I remembered while on vacation, we went out to eat at an Italian restaurant and my youngest daughter had Chicken Cacciatore and absolutely raved about it! That was all the inspiration I needed!
First up, I cut up the three thawed chicken breasts into bite size pieces, seasoned with freshly ground sea salt and black pepper and a dusting of flour.
I heated about 2 Tbsp of canola oil in a large skillet and then added the chicken pieces, a little at a time so as to not crowd the pot and steam, as opposed to brown, the chicken. Once the chicken was all browned, I transferred it from the pan to a plate and put it aside until I had the basis for my sauce done.
Look at all those yummy, yummy brown bits! Whatever you do, never, ever scrap out the brown bits...that's pure flavour there my friends and while it might look like everything will stick to the pan, trust me, a little liquid and all that flavour goes right into your sauce!
To the pan, I added another Tbsp of oil and sauteed one medium onion, diced, 1 can of mushrooms, (I didn't have any fresh mushrooms on hand), 1 clove of garlic, minced, and one red pepper, diced. I would have preferred to use green pepper just for a little contrast in color but guess what? I didn't have any! (Notice the bottom of the pan....all the brown bits have been released from the bottom of the pan and mixed in with the sauteed veg).
To the pan, I then added one can of no salt added diced tomatoes, 1/2 of a 5 oz (150ml) can of tomato paste, 1/2 c. no salt added chicken broth, about 2 tsp, give or take, of Italian seasoning, a little freshly ground sea salt and black pepper, and about a Tbsp of pesto, because, as far as I'm concerned, pesto is amped up basil and amped up basil goes with anything Italian! I brought all of that to a simmering boil and added the chicken back to the pan.
All that was left to do was place the cover on the pan, let the sauce simmer, reduce/thicken and let all those yummy flavours come together as one! How long you let the sauce simmer is completely up to you but the more time simmering means more intensity in flavour. You can easily serve the sauce now over rice or pasta...completely, unequivocally, up to you.
As mentioned, it was a holiday when I whipped this batch up so I started to make the sauce around 3:30 and served supper at 5:30. The aroma from this Chicken Cacciatora simmering for almost 2 hours had everyone in my family sitting at the table, eager for supper, without me having to call out to a single one of them, not even once!
Tell me this doesn't looking delicious! Go ahead! I dare ya'!
I chose to serve the Chicken Cacciatora over rice but you can use pasta or even mashed potatoes. When we were vacationing, the Chicken Cacciatore my daughter had was served with cheese stuffed manicotti, which to me, put the dish a little over the top, but to each his own.
Chicken Cacciatora has so many layers of flavour that you tongue virtually dances in your mouth and while feeling warm and inviting like every good comfort food should, you can't help but feel like you're eating a fancy and luxurious meal. Chicken Cacciatora....easy, healthied-up, inexpensive AND delicious!
3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 Tbsp canola oil
2 Tbsp all purpose flour
1 medium onion, diced
1 red or green pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 c. mushrooms, sliced (or 1 can of pieces and stems)
1 x 28 oz. no salt added diced tomatoes
2 and 1/2 oz. tomato paste
1/2 c. no salt added chicken broth
2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 Tbsp pesto (optional)
Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper to taste
Cut chicken breasts into bite size pieces. Season lightly with freshly ground sea salt and black pepper and dust lightly with all purpose flour. Heat 2 Tbsp canola oil in large, deep skillet over medium high heat. Brown chicken pieces, a little at a time being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Transfer browned chicken pieces to a plate and set aside. Add another Tbsp of canola oil to the pan and heat over medium heat; add diced onion and saute until soft. Add diced pepper, mushrooms and garlic. Scrape up flavourful brown bits from pan using a wooden spoon. When mushrooms golden and garlic is fragrant, add diced tomatoes, tomato paste, chicken broth and Italian seasoning. Stir to combine. Add pesto if using.
Bring to a simmering boil, add chicken back to sauce and stir to combine. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for a minimum of 10 minutes up to 2 hours...the longer it simmers and reduces the more flavourful the sauce will be.
Serve over rice, pasta or mashed potatoes...ENJOY! (For printable version, CLICK HERE).