Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

Last weekend, the temperature dipped into the 20s overnight and this weekend hovered near the 70s. North Carolina weather is never predictable. But Chicken Cacciatore is. And this deep-flavored, comforting dish is always welcome on our table.

It hadn’t even occurred to me that it’s called Hunters’ Chicken, yet how appropriate. Jim returned last week from a successful hunting trip — three deer — and I was making this on Sunday as he was breaking down his deer meat into meal-size portions for the freezer. I’m excited about cooking with a meat that’s new to me. In the past, I left it all to him to cook but we have enough now that I’m getting into the game. Heh.

The dried porcini mushrooms are the umami secret in this dish. If you can’t find them in your supermarket, and don’t want to order them online, you might want to add a few anchovies and Worcestershire sauce to replicate that fungi meatiness. Don’t worry, you’ll never taste the fishiness of the anchovies, but you’ll enjoy their umami contribution.

This isn’t a quick dinner but it rewards you with tantalizing aromas. And it provides a nice contrast to all the Thanksgiving flavors that you will surely overdose on this week. I found the original recipe on Food 52 and have adapted it slightly to our tastes.

I usually serve this over polenta, but mashed potatoes or egg noodles would also make a good accompaniment. This time I used white polenta, aka grits. Looks kind of funny to me, same flavor, different texture.

Chicken Cacciatore | Grabbing the Gusto

Chicken Cacciatore | Grabbing the Gusto

Chicken Cacciatore (Hunters’ Chicken)

You’ll need a small bowl, coffee filter, and large oven-safe pot or Dutch oven with lid.

  • 2/3 cup dried porcini mushrooms
  • 2/3 cup boiling water
  • 2 to 2-3/4 pounds of chicken pieces – either bone-in, skin-on thighs or boneless, skinless thighs, cut into pieces
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 ounces crimini mushrooms, quartered
  • 1-1/2 ounces sweet (red) vermouth
  • 1-1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped red, yellow, or orange bell peppers
  • 2 to 3 ounces pancetta or bacon, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup grated carrot, peeled and grated
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups diced canned tomatoes, drained but save the juice
  • 2/3 cup dry red wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped rosemary – could use oregano, thyme and/or Italian parsley as part of the mix

In a small bowl, cover the porcini with boiling water and steep until the mushrooms are soft. Remove the mushrooms, finely chop and set aside. Strain the mushroom soaking liquid through a coffee filter to remove grit, and set the liquid aside.

Preheat oven to 325. Pat the chicken pieces dry. Season generously with salt and set aside.

Warm oil in a pot, and brown the chicken in batches, skin-side down, until all of it is browned and crisp-skinned. Set chicken aside. Leave a thin layer of fat in the pot – remove the rest.

Add mushrooms to the pan. Cook over medium heat until mushrooms are browned on all sides. Add the chopped porcini and vermouth, scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula to get up all the browned chicken bits. Cook until the vermouth has evaporated. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

Add the onions, peppers and pancetta to the pan with a sprinkle of salt, adding a little more oil if necessary, and cook until soft. Make some room for the garlic, add the garlic, top with a bit of oil, if necessary, and cook one minute. Add the carrot and toss through. Make a little room on the bottom of the pan and add the tomato paste. Let it cook for a minute, then add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes, wine and reserved strained mushroom liquid, stirring well and bringing to a simmer.

Toss the rosemary with the mushrooms and return it all to the pot, stirring through. Nestle the chicken pieces on top, being sure to add any of the juices that have accumulated. Cover the pot and put it in the oven. Cook for at least one hour, preferably more, until the chicken is falling-apart tender and the sauce is thick and reduced. Check at 30 minutes: if too much of the sauce is reducing, add some of the reserved tomato juice, or if not enough is reducing, remove lid.

Serve over polenta, mashed potatoes, or pasta.

Adapted from: Hunter’s Style Chicken, Food 52

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