There are hundreds of variations on the popular dish Chicken Cacciatore (Pollo alla Cacciatora) translated as in the style of the hunter, including using various meats such as rabbit, pheasant, partridge, and capretto (baby goat). Most versions of the dish include herbs, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms and a braising liquid such as white or red wine (and/or water). It’s my guess that most cacciatora dishes of the past did not include chicken but rather wild game which required a long, slow, braise to tenderize the meat.
As Marcella Hazan explains in The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking she also cites the variation of cacciatore: “Since there has always been a hunter in nearly every Italian household, every Italian cook prepares a dish with a claim to that description. There are uncounted permutations in the dishes that go by the cacciatora name, but what they generally consist of is a … fricassee with tomato, onion, and other vegetables.”
- 1 whole chicken butchered into eight parts
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cloves of garlic diced into chunky pieces
- 2 cups of mushrooms, chopped into 1-2 inch pieces (stock mushrooms are fine, but you can get fancy and use any wild variety, as well)
- 2-3 cups of dry white or red wine (you could also use water and while the flavor will not be as intense it's perfectly suitable)
- Good extra virgin olive oil
- Herbs of choice (2-3 bay leaves or a few sprigs of rosemary)
- 1-2 cups of plum tomatoes (macerated by hand) - optional
- 1 small potato diced into 1-2 inch pieces - optional
- Most cacciatore dishes start by searing seasoned meat (which has been butchered into parts) in olive oil. The searing adds flavor to the meat and produces a fatty base in the pot for the next step, which includes removing the meat and sauteing onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, etc. The vegetables are then cooked down for about five minutes and the liquid is added (usually red or white wine depending on the region of Italy).
- The amount of liquid added is important because you don't want the meat to boil in lots of liquid rather you want to add just enough liquid to create a "pot roasting or braising" environment. Thereafter, the meat is returned to the pot and the dish is simmered for approximately 60 minutes on low heat. The end product should produce meat that is tender and full of simple, and highly satisfying, flavor.
- Note: you can keep the skin on the bird or remove it (if you remove it then add a bit more olive oil)