Wednesday, May 21, 2008

May 21: Chicken Cacciatore

Boy oh boy, have I seen chicken cacciatore go wrong. And by wrong, I mean, convoluted and overcooked. Chicken cacciatore is something that I think of as being intuitive, flavors that go together effortlessly: chicken, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, olives, white wine. It's rustic slow cooking at its best.

I don't make chicken cacciatore often, because it requires a long list of ingredients and the peppers are hard on my husband's digestion. But when I do, it's a production, and I freeze it and eat it for weeks.

I am a chicken racist--strictly a white-meat girl. It presents some challenges. Chicken breasts are lean and turn to sawdust in a heartbeat. They don't have much flavor on their own--it's the lean thing again. And in a braised dish, like cacciatore, chicken skin can do this awful, flabby, sloppy thing that just is not appealing on any level.

When I make cacciatore, I don't cook from a recipe. Like I said, this is something I think of as being intuitive. Nothing here is too terribly confusing or exacting. If you like mushrooms a lot, add more. If olives aren't your thing...well, I think you're kinda wrong, but go ahead and leave 'em out.

Seek out great canned tomatoes though. I've said it before, let me just do it again: Muir Glen Organic Fire Roasted Diced. It's a no-miss, and Muir Glen doesn't pay me to say that.

Serve this with a long strand pasta, like spaghetti or linguine, or better yet, with garlic mashed potatoes. Mmmmm, potatoes.

Chicken Cacciatore

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
2 tablespoons olive oil (no need to use extra virgin here, it's expensive and you won't taste it anyway)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 medium white onion, diced small
3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 cup good dry white wine
2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 14.5 ounce cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes
pinch of crushed red pepper
1/2 pound white mushrooms, wiped clean, cut in half, and sliced
2 red peppers, seeded and diced
1 cup pitted black olives, quartered lengthwise
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

Heat a medium high-sided skillet with 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Season chicken breasts liberally with salt and pepper. Brown chicken in skillet until well seared, 5-6 minutes on each side. Remove from pan and set aside.

Using the same skillet, add the additional tablespoon of oil. Over medium high heat, saute onions and garlic until transparent. Do not brown. Add mushrooms, peppers, and red pepper, and saute until mushrooms are darkening and peppers are softening, 4-5 minutes.

Using tongs, remove the chicken skin and discard. Return chicken to the pan, and add wine to the pan. Using a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, scrape browned bits from the bottom of the pan. When the wine has mostly cooked off, add the broth, tomatoes, and olives. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low, and partially cover. Simmer 30-35 minutes, until sauce is reduced and thickened and chicken is cooked through and tender.

Stir in oregano and parsley. Serve.

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