Chicken Cacciatore, that Italian classic Chicken Stew, seems an odd choice for a summer meal. However, not too long ago, I was craving it and having just loaded up on Chicken thighs and with 8 people coming to dinner, I went with my craving and I was so glad I did. This is a wonderful, flavorful dish with a bright tomato-ey sauce. And given the number and variety of vegetables used in this recipe, it was a wonderful way to use great summer produce. And leftover Chicken Cacciatore over pasta is sublime.
Chicken Cacciatore means “Hunter’s Chicken”. The French have their Chicken Chasseur, the British have their Hunter’s Chicken too. And, as Marcella Hazan pointed out, “ since there’s almost been a hunter in nearly every Italian household” (or French or British households for that matter), “every Italian cook prepares a dish with a claim to that description”. It is also made with rabbit which would have a stronger connection to the “hunter” than chicken ever had. But food historians believe that this dish, which has roots as far back as the 14th Century, was likely fuel for the hunters and served the night before the hunt. In all its variations and family permutations in the recipe, generally, it is a chicken or rabbit fricassee with tomato, onion, and vegetables. In the north of Italy, the wine is red. In the south, it is white. To me, the white wine used here makes the dish lighter and more summery whereas red gives it some heft in colder climes.
In looking through the catalog of recipes for the dish, I gravitated to this one precisely because it was loaded with vegetables and bright, fresh flavors. Almost all recipes call for a 3 to 4 lb. chicken cut into 6 to 8 pieces. I made it with 12 skin-on thighs so it was full of chicken flavor. It’s a dish that takes its time, especially since I wanted to reduce the sauce quite dramatically at the end. But it’s one of those dishes that’s worth every minute you put into it. Here is the recipe.
Chicken Cacciatore Summer Style
This classic Chicken Fricassee gets a summer-y makeover with lots of fresh vegetables in a bright tomato sauce.
- 1 (3-1/2-lb.) chicken, cut into eighths, or 3 lb. chicken legs and thighs or 3 lbs skin-on chicken thighs
- 2-1/2- to 3-1/2 tsp. kosher salt (divided)
- 1-1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper (divided)
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup plus 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil (divided)
- 1/2 lb. button or cremini mushrooms, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (2 cups)
- 2 stalks of celery, cut into ¼ inch pieces
- 1 large yellow onion, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 1-1/2 cups)
- 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 3/4 cups)
- 1 large green bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 1-1/2 cups)
- 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped (about 1 Tbs.)
- 1-1/2 cups dry white wine, such as Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, or Sauvignon Blanc
- 1 (28-oz.) can whole tomatoes, with the juice
- Step 1 Heat the oven to 350°F. Arrange the chicken in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet or plate. Season with 2 tsp. of the salt and 1 tsp. of the pepper. (I like to massage the seasoning into the chicken to ensure it’s evenly distributed.) Place the flour in a shallow dish. Dip the chicken in the flour, making sure to coat it on all sides, then return it to the sheet.
- Step 2 Place a large (12- to 14-inch), straight-sided sauté pan or a Dutch oven over high heat for several minutes. When hot, add 1/4 cup of the oil and heat until shimmering. Add the chicken, skin side down (that way the fat “melts” as it cooks and gives you a bit more sizzle in the pan), in a single layer and sauté over high heat without moving it for about 4 minutes, or until browned on the first side. (If the pieces stick, that means they haven’t browned long enough. Let them cook a bit longer. If sticking continues to be a problem, use a sharp-edged spatula to loosen the skin from the pan.) Turn the chicken over and repeat, lowering the heat to medium-high if it gets too dark too quickly. Transfer the browned chicken to a clean baking sheet, trying to leave as much oil as possible in the pan.
- Step 3 Let the pan heat up for a minute over high heat. Add the mushrooms, season with the remaining 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/8 tsp. black pepper, and let them sauté, without stirring, for about 2 minutes. Stir and let the mushrooms sauté undisturbed for another 2 minutes. Stir again and repeat, if necessary, until they’re almost all seared and golden. Remove the mushrooms to the baking sheet with the chicken, leaving as much fat in the pan as possible.
- Step 4 Reduce the heat to medium-high. Add the remaining 3 Tbs. olive oil and then the onions, carrots, and peppers. Sauté until the onions are very soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more, until fragrant.
- Step 5 Deglaze the pan with the wine, stirring to scrape up the browned bits. Add the tomatoes, squeezing them (with clean hands) as you add them to the pan to help them break down faster. Return the chicken and mushrooms to the pan and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan tightly with foil or a lid and place in the oven. Cook for about 40 minutes, or until the chicken is very tender.
- Step 6 The sauce should be the perfect consistency (like a rich soup rather than pasta sauce), but if it seems at all watery, transfer the chicken to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm. Simmer the sauce, uncovered, over medium-high heat until thickened, about 5 minutes. (How long this takes depends on how thin the sauce is and the dimensions of your pan. Just keep an eye on it so you don’t over-reduce it). Taste and add 1 more tsp. salt if needed. Serve with rice, pasta, or crusty bread.