everyday chicken

Classic Italian: Chicken Cacciatore

When I sent Nancy DeStefanis an email confirming that she was signed up for the Pomodori!~Tomatoes in the Italian Kitchen workshop at the Italian Consulate she asked that I include chicken cacciatore in the line up. If you know Nancy, you also know that she's a larger than life local hero, committed to the welfare of great blue herons and underserved youth and that she's not one to whom one can say no.

"Alla cacciatora" means hunters' style in Italian, and therein lies the problem: there are about as manyversion of this dish as there are hunters in Italy. I narrowed it down to one with tomatoes, given the class's subject matter and Nancy also said her mom's had mushrooms and I so happened to have a jar of dried porcini sent straight from Umbria by a friend.

May I present then, my version of chicken cacciatore. Enjoy!

By the way, if you are free this Saturday, Nancy is leading a heron's nesting watch in Golden Gate Park.

 


Pollo in umido alla cacciatora

Chicken braised with tomatoes and mushrooms

for 4 people

1/4 cup dry mushrooms (ideally porcini)

1 smallish chicken cut in 8 pieces (about 3 pounds, or you can also use thighs)

salt to taste

1 carrot

1 celery stalk

1 medium yellow onion

2 slices pancetta

2 very ripe large tomatoes

olive oil

2 bay leaves

1/2 cup dry red wine

pepper to taste

Soak the mushrooms in hot water.

Season the chicken pieces generously with salt and leave on the counter to come to room temperature.

In the meantime, chop the carrot, celery and onion finely.

Mince the pancetta into a paste.

Score the tomatoes and immerse them in boiling water for about 30 seconds.

Fish them out of the pot and run them under cold water. Peel them, remove the seeds and chop them into a rough dice.

Heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan and add the carrot celery and onion with the bay leaves and a generous pinch of salt.

Soften over medium lively heat for about 5 minutes, stirring often.

Transfer the aromatics to a dish and set aside.

Add the pancetta to the same pan and let render for 2 to 3 minutes.

Brown the chicken pieces in the pancetta in one layer. Do this in batches if needed.

Return all the chicken to the sauté pan and deglaze with the wine.

Once you no longer smell the acidity of the wine, return the carrot, celery and onions to the chicken.

Drain the mushrooms and squeeze the excess water, add them to the sauté pan.

Save the liquid in which the mushrooms have soaked and filter to eliminate dirt, if necessary.

Sauté everything for another 5 minutes. Add the diced tomato pulp.

Bring to the boil then turn down the heat to a low simmer.

Cover and braise gently for about 30 to 35 minutes, occasionally checking for water.

If necessary, add small amounts of liquid. The water in which the mushrooms have soaked is perfect for this.

When the chicken is tender but still compact and not falling off the bone, arrange attractively on a platter and cover to keep warm.

Adjust salt and pepper in the sauce and stir over the heat for a few minutes.

Pour all over the chicken and serve immediately.

Pollo alle Olive ~ Chicken with Olives

On Thursday night, I rented the beautiful Naked Kitchen on Valencia and taught a class of 35 delightful people how to turn an evening of cooking into boisterous fun among friends. Today's featured chicken was a last minute addition for those who preferred not to eat pork. It is simple and my husband adores it, yet I had not made it in some time and couldn't recall ever teaching it in one of my classes, yet all who had it raved about it and I was reminded of how it came to be.

It has been a favorite since 1988 when, not even 25 years old, I created it for a man I was sure I would marry. As it turned out, even back then, my instinct for food was far superior to my understanding of men.

Ted, the fellow in question, eventually married my beloved friend Olivia-aka the risotto queen, while I tortuously found my way into Ted's best friend John's imperfectly perfect arms.

Before you get all hot and bothered expecting salacious details...there are none. There was no overlapping, no hair pulling, no fisticuffs nor duels. The only strife happened at Olivia and Ted's wedding, when they could not agree on whose side I would stand-he won.

Today the four of us are still bonded by a deep, unquestioning affection and a long shared history of joys and sorrows, disappointments and successes.

Chicken and olives continue to be part of the never-ending conversation that is our friendship.

Olivia, Teddi, Johnny: here's to love and friendship. And yes it is forever.


Pollo alle olive in teglia

Stove top chicken with olives

 

for 6 to 8 people

1 chicken

salt to taste

1 cup black olives

4 sage sprigs

2 wide strips lemon peel

1 clove garlic olive oil

1 small green garlic stalk (or 1 clove garlic)

grated zest of 1 lemon

splash white wine

2 cups hot chicken stock

pepper to taste

 

The day before making the dish, have the butcher cut your chicken in 10 pieces and skin them. Instruct them to keep the back, as it will impart great flavor to the final dish.

Salt the chicken generously, cover and refrigerate.

When ready to start cooking, remove the salted chicken from the refrigerator and place on the counter to come to room temperature.

Rinse the olives well and place them in a small bowl. Squeeze them lightly with your fingers to loosen the flesh.

Pick the leaves off 1 sage sprig and rub them and the lemon peel strips between your palms to release their essence. Smash the garlic clove without peeling.

Add the rubbed sage and lemon and the smashed garlic clove to the olives then cover everything in olive oil.

Mince the green garlic to a paste with a generous pinch of salt and mix with the zest. Pick the leaves off the remaining sage sprigs and rub them between your palms to release their essence.

Select a sauté pan wide enough to accommodate the chicken pieces in one comfortable layer. Pour 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil in it and add the lemon/green garlic mince.

Set on gentle heat and add the sage leaves. Soften for 4 to 5 minutes stirring often to prevent burning and sticking.

Add the chicken pieces and bring the fire to medium to brown lightly on both sides, still stirring to ensure the garlic doesn't burn.

Raise the heat to high and deglaze with the wine. When you no longer smell the acidity, but just the sugar, pour the stock all over the chicken.

When the stock start boiling, lower the heat to medium low and cover the pan.

The chicken will need to cook for 30 to 35 minutes in a lively simmer. It will get quite tender. You will have to return to it often to ensure it is not burning nor sticking and has a bit of liquid on the bottom.

Discard the garlic clove and pour out some of the excess oil from the olives then add them to the chicken.

Braise for another 10 to 15 minutes, adjust salt and pepper. Transfer to a warm platter and serve.

NOTES

  • I prefer to use back olives for this. Gaeta, nicoise, taggiasca, Kalamata will all work. Even the sun dried or roasted ones are suitable, though they will give a slightly different flavor
  • Use green if you prefer, the flavor will be tangier but still delicious and I'd probably go with an herb like marjoram or oregano
  • Either way: leave the pit in, it does make for a better flavor
  • Use a cast iron pan, if you have it
  • Crack the chicken back in half before adding it,  as cracked bones give depth of flavor to stews