January 10, 2011

Cacciator-Me if You Can

On Saturday night, my mom and I decided to throw a little family love fest. With eleven relatives and one small dog in attendance, we decided to keep it casual. Nothing fancy. Just hearty food to beat the winter chill and good conversation. But when someone says the words “dinner party,” I have a hard time holding back. The hostess gene gets activated (I have five aprons that need wearing, for goodness sake) and I want nothing more than to give my guests a great eating experience. And if that means three hours of simmering meat, then that’s exactly what I’ll do.

So when it was all settled that I would be catering this casual dinner, my mother kindly suggested that I use my grandmother’s chicken cacciatore recipe. Um, right. I was thinking fish hot pockets.

Now, I’ve never made cacciatore before, nor do I think I would have picked it out of a line-up. But in reading the ingredients, I was instantly transported back to my grandmother’s Eichler kitchen, steaming with the smell of stewed tomatoes. Her take on rustic dishes, like chicken parmesan and stewed cabbage, always felt like a hug. And after pondering the homey quality of her food for a few moments, I was quickly convinced to give this so called cacciatore a try.

With somewhat bare-bone directions – my grandmother never wrote down measurements – I took to the task of updating and recreating her hunter-style chicken, adding dashes, sprinkles, and splashes of spices (no tablespoons in these parts) as I saw necessary. I wanted to be sure that the olfactory experience of the simmering meat was just as enjoyable as eating it. So I added some extra, untraditional ingredients, like turmeric and cinnamon, to create wafting layers of smell and flavor.

Other than needing to be patient while your chicken softens in its savory tomato bath, the recipe is quite simple. And for your enjoyment, I’ve taken slightly more detailed notes of my version. You can simply serve it over plain pasta or, like I did, pair it with more unusual sides – like an arugula risotto and some lemon/pea puree. But don’t let that rich red sauce go to waste! If you aren’t using it for your cacciatore plating, save it for meals later in the week. It is truly the recipe that keeps on giving.

Ciao on.


  • One fryer chicken (which breaks down into either 8 or 10 parts), butchered and skinned – I butchered the chicken myself, but you can easily ask the butcher at your market to break it down for you. Remember to ask to keep the back!
  • 2 tablespoons turmeric
  • 2-3 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 white onion, sliced
  • 5 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cup of sliced mushrooms (portabella or crimini)
  • 1 can of no-salt added tomato sauce
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • splash of red wine vinegar
  • handful of roughly chopped parsley and basil


1. Place the chicken backbone – and any other bones given to you by the butcher – into a large pot filled with the four cups of water. Bring the water and chicken bits to a boil and then let simmer over medium heat while you prep. Surprise – you’re making a simple stock.

2. In a large Ziploc bag (or two), place chicken pieces (skin removed) with the turmeric and the flour. Shake until all the chicken pieces are coated in the flour.

3. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large sauce pan. When piping spitting hot, add your chicken pieces. Make sure there is enough room in the pan so that they all touch the bottom. If you need to, fry in two batches.

4. Simply cook until both sides have browned (8 minutes per side) and remove chicken to another plate to cool.

5. Lower heat and add a bit more oil if pan is dry. Add the onions and cook until translucent, 5 minutes

6. Add the mushrooms and the tomatoes to the onion and continue cooking for 10 minutes.

7. Next, add the wet ingredients (the wine, the tomato sauce, and the dash of red wine vinegar) and the dry spices (ground pepper, oregano, cinnamon, and nutmeg) to the pan and allow to cook for another 10 minutes.

8. Finally, add the chicken pieces from the bag into the pan.

9. Add water from your chicken stock pot until the chicken is almost covered in liquid.

10. Place a lid over the sauce pan and turn heat down low until the sauce is gently simmering.

11. Allow to cook with lid on for at least one hour, stirring the contents every 15 minutes or so to make sure nothing is burning at the bottom of the pan.

12. Serve the chicken pieces alone or with sauce over pasta for a truly decadent, low sodium, Italian meal.

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