Cacciatore is Italian for hunter. But whether chicken cacciatore was originally cooked by hunters who made good use of ingredients found in the forest or whether the hunters merely gathered the ingredients to hand them to cooks of rich families is anyone’s guess.
Historians agree on one thing though. Tomatoes weren’t originally an ingredient of the dish. That may sound strange considering that, today, you’ll hardly find chicken cacciatore without tomatoes in it.
It starts with seasoning the chicken to build the first layer of flavor. It’s not a good idea to simply rely on the seasonings in the sauce. Although the chicken will soak that up, the meat will will taste better if pre-seasoned. You want to lock in those flavors when you do the nest step. Browning.
Toss the seasoned chicken in a little flour. The flour has two functions here. The first is to make sure that the chicken does not stick to the pan during browning. The second is to help thicken the sauce during the stewing stage.
Brown the chicken in olive oil. This is the second stage of layering flavors. You want to create caramelization for better flavor. It’s called Maillard reaction and I have a full post devoted on the topic of browning meat before braising or stewing.
The browned chicken pieces are scooped out and most of the oil is poured off leaving only enough to saute the spices in. Third layer of flavor. Saute onion, garlic and oregano. Be patient. You want to wait until the onions are softened before proceeding to the next step.
Because this is a stew, of course there has to be liquid in which to stew the chicken. The liquid comes in two forms. Diced tomatoes and wine. Is adding wine necessary? It’s desirable. There really is nothing like wine to add richness and depth of flavor.
With the sauce boiling, the browned chicken pieces go back into the pan. And all you have to do is wait for the chicken to get cooked through. While it may be tempting to add more liquid, I don’t recommend it. Personally, I like my chicken cacciatore almost dry with the sauce so thick that it clings to the chicken.
The last thing you add is capers. Stir them in. If the sauce still appears too soupy for you at this point, you can continue cooking the chicken, uncovered, until the sauce is nice and thick.
- 1 kilogram chicken - cut into serving-size pieces
- 1 tablespoon salt - plus more, as needed
- ½ teaspoon pepper - plus more, as needed
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup olive oil - not extra virgin
- 1 onion - chopped
- 1 large bell pepper - diced
- 4 cloves garlic - minced
- 2 cups diced tomatoes - fresh or canned, but please don’t use tomato sauce
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 ½ cups white wine
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 tablespoons capers
- Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour; shake off the excess.
- Heat the olive oil in a large wide pan.
- Brown in the hot oil, turning to brown all sides evenly. You are NOT cooking it through at this point but merely browning the chicken to form a crust that, later, will really add so much texture to the cooked dish.
- Remove the chicken from the pan.
- Pour off the oil (strain so you can reuse it) leaving only two tablespoonfuls in the pan.
- Reheat the oil, add the chopped onion, garlic and oregano.
- Cook, stirring, for about a minute or until the onion pieces start to soften and turn translucent.
- Add the tomatoes, bell pepper and white wine. Stir.
- Add the bay leaves. Boil gently for about two minutes.
- Add the chicken pieces and stir gently to coat each piece with sauce. Cover the pan, lower the heat and simmer for 40 minutes. I do not recommend any more stirring.
- When the sauce is thick, stir in the capers. Simmer, uncovered, until the sauce thickens some more and the mixture appears almost dry.
- Taste, add more salt and pepper, if needed (note though that if you seasoned your chicken well, there should be no need for additional salt and pepper as the white wine provides all the flavors the chicken needs).
- Chicken cacciatore goes well with crusty bread, rice or pasta.