Cool weather comfort foods: Chicken cacciatore

January 9, 2013

Chicken Cacciatore

Back when the weather started to turn cool, I made a list of the various cool-weather foods I couldn’t wait to make, my comfort foods for winter 2012-2013. I promised to post a few new recipes this season, and finally, I’ve gotten around to making a few of my favorites and documenting them. The first is this terribly simple chicken cacciatore served over a creamy, parmesan-cheese-laced polenta that screams comfort food.

Cacciatore is Italian for hunter, thus this is the hunter’s chicken. The preparation is simple, with just a few items that need chopping and sauteing before you let the chicken braise in a tomato-wine sauce. Traditionally, cacciatore is served with bread or pasta, but I love to serve it over polenta, which I think pairs perfectly with a tangy tomato sauce. If you want to add a little green to your meal, try sauteing a bit of broccolini with garlic and olive oil to serve on the side.

Chicken Cacciatore with Polenta
Serves 4
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
6 ounces pancetta, cubed
4 ounces crimini mushrooms, sliced
8 chicken thighs, bone in with skin, or 1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1/3 cup dry white wine
28 ounces San Marzano tomatoes, chopped
1 sprig oregano
1 sprig rosemary
1 bay leaf
Sugar, optional

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a Dutch oven. Add the onion, garlic, and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium low heat for 6 to 8 minutes, until the onion is golden.

Add the pancetta and the mushrooms, and increase the heat to medium. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Spoon onto a plate with a slotted spoon and set aside.

If needed, add the additional 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the Dutch oven. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper, then lightly brown the chicken pieces in batches, sitting aside browned pieces on a spare plate.

Remove the Dutch oven from heat and carefully add the wine, taking care not to let any grease splash you. Return to heat, scrape the bottom of the pot to deglaze it, and add the chicken pieces back in. Cook until almost all of the liquid has evaporated.

Add the tomatoes, oregano, rosemary, and bay leaf, along with 1/3 cup cold water. Stir and bring the mixture to a boil, then add the reserved pancetta mixture back to the pot. Taste, and add sugar if needed (depends on if your tomatoes are sweet enough, add 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon) and season with salt and pepper (amount of salt will depend on how much salt the pancetta mixture adds). Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and cooked through.

If the liquid is too thin, remove the chicken from the pot, increase the heat, and boil until the sauce is thickened. Discard the herb sprigs and bay leaf, season again if needed, and serve over polenta (recipe follows).

3 1/4 cups whole milk
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper
1 cup polenta

Bring milk, salt, and oil to a slow boil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add polenta, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring often, until thickened and tender, about 5-8 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in Parmesan. Drizzle with oil, and season with pepper. Serve immediately.

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