January 26, 2010
Pollo alla Cacciatora
by Gareth Mark
Turn that plate with polenta around and you'll find pollo alla cacciatora, or chicken cacciatore. It's really a simple dish to make.
The essential ingredients include carrots, onions, and celery, to make a soffritto; tomatoes, either canned or fresh, and some tomato paste; some wine; some cheese; a few fresh or dried herbs; mushrooms if you wish to include them; and chicken or some other protein. Take out the chicken and use tofu and you have a vegan supper. Use tarragon instead of oregano and reinforce with some demi-glace and the nationality changes from Italian to French (poulet alachasseur). Make the sauce with some brown stock and serve it with schnitzel and you have a fine Jägerschnitzel.
I chose to make it with chicken in an Italian style. Start by dredging your chicken--a whole cut-up chicken or any of the meaty parts you have on hand--in flour well-seasoned with kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Preheat a sauté pan with a nice, fruity extra-virgin olive oil and brown the chicken. If you want to make it gluten-free, use rice flour or just season the chicken and skip the flour.
When all the chicken has browned, set it aside for the moment and toss in some minced carrots, celery, and onions--if you want, add some sliced garlic. Cook until the onions are at least translucent, or even until they've started to brown, stirring to keep from burning them. Then deglaze the pan with some wine. Use whatever wine you have open, color is unimportant. If you are going to buy some wine to make this, buy chianti classico.
Add tomatoes. If you're using canned tomatoes, a 28.5 ounce can of San Marzanos will be just right. If they're whole, crush them carefully. If you chose to use fresh tomatoes be sure to peel them, or even concassé them--even better is to run them through a tomato press. Add about a teaspoon to a tablespoon of tomato paste and your choice of fresh or dried herbs--rosemary and oregano is a classic combination.
Return the chicken to the pan and if there isn't enough liquid to braise, add some water or chicken stock. If you have it, toss in a piece of parmigiano-reggiano rind. Simmer about half an hour until the chicken is beginning to fall off the bones. Adjust the seasoning, then serve with polenta, rice, pasta, or even just some good rustic bread, and a nice fresh green salad. Grate some parmigiano-reggiano on top if you wish.
You can easily change this to suit your taste. If you like the sweetness of red bell peppers add some. Have some good olive on hand? Good ahead and include them. Want to mix fresh tomatoes with canned? Excellent idea. Just don't think there is one "real" recipe, because every farmhouse cook or hunter made it with what was at hand.