In her Guardian column this week, Rachel Roddy presents a recipe for ‘Italian Hunter’s Chicken‘. The Brit-turned-Roman cook and writer’s version of chicken cacciatore (or more correctly alla cacciatora) is a version of the one in My Kitchen in Rome. It’s a pretty straight forward chicken fricassé, a braise in white wine. Cacciatore means hunter’s style, but after that the definition of the dish becomes plastic. There will be frying involved, followed by braising. There will likely be onions in the sautée, or maybe garlic. Probably some wine, possibly tomatoes. It’s the perfect dish for the free-style cook, since the only real requirements are chicken (or rabbit), a good size pan and a cooking liquid.
Google tells me that the ambient temperature outside of Roddy’s kitchen in Rome today is 15C. Outside of mine this morning it’s trending up to -5C. I’m looking forward to making Roddy’s white wine version of cacciatore in a few weeks when Toronto’s continental climate catches up to her Mediterranean one. In the meantime, I’ll stick to a tomato sauce based braise, punctuated with olives if they’re around. The tomato sauce gets silky around the chicken to make a thick and warming stew.
The basic recipe is always the same. There are five of us in the house, so 10 chicken thighs will just fit into our braising pan. Coated in salt and pepper, in they go skin side down to brown, then over. They are temporarily removed, while a sofrito of onion, carrot and celery and a sprinkling of thyme melts down in the residual chicken fat. Then, the pan is deglazed with a splash of wine, and once that’s been reduced, in goes the can of tomatoes and the chicken is squeezed back in. If there are olives in the fridge, maybe left over from drinks before a dinner party a few weeks ago, they go in too. All of it slips into the oven to reduce and cook through. Sometimes I’ll give the dish a broiler treatment before taking it out, just so the chicken and sauce get a little charred.
The great cacciatore cheat is the cooking time. Any stew made with beef, or pork shoulder, famously takes hours to break down and render tender: three hours at minimum, but sometimes all day. Chicken will cook to tender in under an hour. This is why cacciatore is a requisite after ski meal in my family. It can be prepared and fried up in long underwear, and will be done by the time one’s had a bath and changed for dinner. Or, if one would like an another aperitif before dining, it’s happy to stay in the oven for an extra half hour. Forgiving and delicious with good bread and a sprinkling or parsley on top.