Hungry like a hunter? In Italian, cacciatore means “hunter” and the style of cooking alla cacciatora refers to a dish, most commonly chicken or rabbit, that’s cooked “hunter-style” with tomatoes, herbs, onions, and wine. In searching for the quintessential Chicken Cacciatore recipe, or any Italian recipe really, I most often turn to my sauce-splattered copy of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan for guidance. She’s never failed me. Her authentic Italian recipes are approachable and uncomplicated and can be accomplished by home cooks of any level.
A cacciatore can vary depending on the region. In the south of Italy red wine is most commonly used; in the north, white. Some add bell peppers or perhaps carrots for sweetness, some do not. But all begin with sautéing chicken (or rabbit) in oil until a nice caramelized sear appears on the skin. Then, along with tomatoes, garlic, onions, herbs and wine the chicken is slowly simmered so that the sauce thickens and the flavors develop and deepen. Serve this rustic dish with a nice crusty bread such as Pugliese, and over or alongside the pasta of your choice. Pair it with a red wine such as Chianti Classico or Cabernet Sauvignon, or, if you prefer white, go with a Pinot Grigio or a Sauvignon Blanc.
Classic Cacciatore Chicken
From Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
1 3 to 4-pound chicken, cut into 6-8 pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Flour, for dusting
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup onion, thinly sliced
2/3 cup dry white white
1 sweet yellow, orange or red bell pepper, cut into thin julienne strips
1 carrot, peeled and cut into thin disks
1/2 stalk celery, thinly sliced crosswise
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2/3 cup canned Italian plum tomatoes, chopped coarsely, with their juice
Wash the chicken in cold water and pat thoroughly dry with paper towels.
In a large sauté pan, heat oil over medium-high. When oil is hot, coat chicken in flour, shake off the excess, and carefully place them skin side down in the pan. Brown well then turn over to brown on the other side. Transfer to a plate and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Turn the heat back on to medium-high, put in the sliced onion and cook until a deep gold. Add wine and let it simmer briskly for about 30 seconds while using a wooden spoon to scrape the browning residue from the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the chicken to the pan, except for the breasts, which cook faster. Add the bell pepper, carrot, celery, garlic, and tomatoes with their juices and mushrooms. Adjust heat to a low simmer and cover pan tightly. After 40 minutes add the breast meat and continue cooking covered at least 10 minutes more until the thighs feel very tender when prodded with a fork, and the meat comes easily off the bone. Turn and baste the chicken occasionally while cooking.
When chicken is done, transfer to a warm serving platter, using a slotted spoon. If the contents of the pan is too thin and watery, turn the heat up to high and let it reduce, uncovered, until thickened. Pour over chicken and serve at once.
Note: The photo shows mushrooms, but we did not include them in the ingredient list as we wanted to stay true to Marcella's recipe. Feel free to add a handful to your dish if it pleases!