Chicken Cacciatore has its' roots in Italian cuisine. In this recipe we roast pasture raised whole chicken pieces in the oven. The sauce is prepared separately in a pan. We combine San Marzano tomatoes with sausage, onions, fennel, roasted red peppers, baby bella mushrooms, olives, garlic, chicken stock and wine. The end result is a rich flavorful Cacciatore that you can enjoy with rice or pasta. I recommend some fresh baked ciabatta or sour dough bread to mop up all the extra sauce.
Chicken Cacciatore is so simple to make yet really good. During my college years it was part of my regular rotation. But, for whatever reason I have not made it in a long time. This was enough motivation to revisit this classical Italian dish. I needed to start by familiarizing myself with the sauce first.
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Wine is always a must. I tried red, white and marsala with the best flavor from the marsala wine. In three different renditions, I first tried only with tomato paste. On my second try, I used canned San Marzano tomatoes with tomato paste. On the last version which yielded the best results, I only used canned San Marzano. This started with whole canned San Marzano tomatoes that I blended into a puree. If you want a slightly thicker sauce, add 3 ounces of tomato paste. Any more than that and the tomato starts to overwhelm the dish.
Why use whole chicken?
I also used to only purchase whole chicken which I stopped doing out of convenience. Two things happened. I bought some chicken breast from the market and it was so chewy that we ended up feeding it to our dog. Dogs are not picky and she was incredibly happy. Then I received a Cook’s Venture whole chicken with my monthly Crowd Cow subscription. The quality of this pasture raised chicken was unbelievable. It was incredibly flavorful and moist with no brining involved.
RELATED ARTICLE: Step by Step Guide for Breaking Down Whole Chicken
PREPARING THE CHICKEN
We are going to cook the chicken separately then combine with the Cacciatore sauce at the end. Start by breaking down a whole chicken or you could purchase whole chicken already in individual pieces. Click here for step by step instructions on easy fabrication for a whole chicken.
Toss the chicken in 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. You can adjust salt and pepper based on your preference.
Place the pan on a medium rack and cook till the skin is nicely browned and crispy (approximately 10 minutes). Your oven might be better than mine. The goal is to get an even browning while rendering out the fat.
While the chicken is cooking you can prep the sauce.
Reduce heat to 375F. Depending on the size of the chicken, cook for 18-22 minutes. Make sure that there is no pink around the bone areas. The thickest parts should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165F.
Remove from the oven and set aside.
*CrossEat Tip: If you purchased a whole chicken, use the carcass for homemade chicken stock. You can freeze the stock for up to 2 months.
Roasting the Red Pepper
I experimented with slicing the bell pepper and sautéing together with the onions. Pre-roasting the pepper then incorporating into the dish was ultimately the better way to go. There was more flavor and roasting improves the textural aspect of the pepper as part of the Cacciatore sauce.
Start by roasting the bell pepper. Line a pan with foil and roast the bell pepper in the toaster oven on broil. Cook each side till it starts to blacken and blister. Remove the bell pepper.
Peel off the outer skin. Discard or compost the outer skin, stems and seeds. Chop and set aside.
I prefer to blend the San Marzano tomatoes unless they are already crushed or pureed. While the bell pepper is roasting, place tomatoes with juice in a blender and blend on high for 5 seconds then set aside.
For the sauce I would recommend using a large non-stock sauce pan. Heat 1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Cook the garlic, mushrooms, dried oregano and sausage till browned about 5 minutes.
*Tasting Notes: Probably the correct way to do this is to cook the garlic first, if you are using whole cloves (see below). Then, you remove the garlic from the pan and cook the mushrooms. Removed the mushrooms once they release their moisture and are nicely caramelized. Brown the sausage then return the garlic and the mushrooms to the pan with the dried oregano. Sauté for 1 minute then move to the next step. I cooked everything at the same time and it was fine. You just need to keep moving all the ingredients around so they cook evenly.
I used whole garlic cloves in this recipe because I love the flavor of pan roasted garlic or garlic confit. You do need some oil in the pan and the garlic needs to be sautéed to get an even browning for that nice caramelized flavor. The interior of the garlic softens during the rest of the cooking process. Alternatively, you can slice them paper thin like from the movie Goodfellas or minced garlic if you prefer. We all have our heritage, but I sometimes just love cooking Italian because of the focus on simple ingredients that rely on the best quality.
Add the onions and fennel, then cook for 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Turn the heat up to a medium high. Deglaze with wine. Scrape up any of the brown bits that have accumulated at the bottom of the pan. Reduce for 2 minutes.
Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes.
Next, add the roasted bell pepper, sugar, dried chili flakes and tomato puree. Cook for 5 minutes.
**Tasting Notes: You can increase or decrease the spice depending on the level of heat that you like.
Reduce heat to medium low and add the olives. You can use any type of olives that you want. I would recommend either kalamata or Greek olives. Make sure that you buy the pitted ones. I misread the label on this go around and an olive pitter is the one kitchen tool I was missing.
Season the sauce with salt and pepper.
Add the cooked chicken to the pan with any juices. Coat the chicken well and cook for 1 minutes. The reason we cooked the chicken separately was to effectively render the fat. Also, we wanted to keep the skin crispy. It would have turned out soggy had we cooked it in the sauce.
Remove pan from heat and serve immediately with rice, pasta, polenta or toasted bread. We enjoyed our Chicken Cacciatore with steamed white rice, a small salad and a sourdough boule from Boudin Bakery.
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