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Dine-In: Chicken Cacciatore


Chicken cacciatore is a fancy name for what’s really a pretty simple dish – braised chicken, Italian style.

The name comes from the Italian phrase for “hunter’s style,” which in culinary terms usually means “with mushrooms,”  but in this case also means cooked with tomatoes and wine. Chicken cacciatore was a popular dish in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and you can still find it in some old-school Italian restaurants, but for the most part it is one of those dishes you just don’t see much anymore.

I don’t really understand that, because it’s actually a very solid dish, easy to make but full of flavor. Serve it over pasta, or with some warm, crusty bread, and you have a hearty dinner for a cool evening.

I prefer using thigh meat, because I think the dark meat is moister and more flavorful, but if you like white meat better, you can substitute an equivalent amount of bone-in chicken breasts, probably about one package of four breasts, depending on the size. Do not use boneless, skinless breasts unless that’s all you have; cooking the chicken with the bones and skin adds a much richer flavor.

In all, this is a pretty classic recipe, including the use of red wine. If you are not used to cooking with wine, be aware that the alcohol evaporates during the cooking. If you prefer not to use it, perhaps because of allergies to the sulfites in red wine, you can substitute additional chicken stock, but the finished dish will not have quite the depth of flavor as the original recipe. 

Chicken Cacciatore with Mushrooms and Herbs
Serves 4

Ingredients:
8 bone-in chicken thighs (about 3 pounds), trimmed of excess fat
1 tsp. teaspoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 portobello mushroom caps, wiped clean and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tbls.unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2  cups dry red wine
1/2 cup chicken stock or low-sodium canned chicken broth
1 can diced tomatoes (14 1/2 ounces), drained
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, minced
1 piece Parmesan cheese rind (2 inches, about 1 ounce), optional
2 tsp. fresh sage leaves, minced

Directions:
Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes. Add four chicken thighs, skin-side down, and cook, not moving them until skin is crisp and well browned, about 5 minutes; using tongs, flip chicken and brown on second side, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer browned chicken to large plate; brown remaining chicken thighs, transfer to plate, and set aside.

Drain off all but 1 tablespoon fat from pot. Add onion, mushrooms, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; sauté over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until moisture evaporates and vegetables begin to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Meanwhile, remove and discard skin from browned chicken thighs. Add garlic to pot and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Add wine, scraping pot bottom with wooden spoon to loosen brown bits. Stir in stock, tomatoes, thyme, cheese rind (if using), 1/2 teaspoon salt (omit salt if using cheese rind), and pepper to taste. Submerge chicken pieces in liquid and bring to boil; cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until chicken is tender and cooked through, about 45 minutes, turning chicken pieces with tongs halfway through cooking. Discard cheese rind, stir in sage, adjust seasonings with salt and pepper, and serve.

If your Dutch oven is large enough to hold all the chicken pieces in a single layer without crowding, brown all the pieces at once instead of in batches. The Parmesan cheese rind is optional, but it is recommended for the robust, savory flavor it adds to the dish. An equal amount of minced fresh rosemary can be substituted for the sage.


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