Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Hunter's Chicken (Pollo alla Cacciatora)

So this is how my life works. As I was going to bed, I realized that I hadn't dragged anything out of the freezer to thaw for dinner, and I pondered what I might make for dinner the next day.

I knew I had chicken thighs in the freezer, and I remembered seeing a chicken recipe in one of the piles of cookbooks I'd recently bookmarked.

So, first thing I did (well, after coffee, actually) I pulled the chicken out. Later, I went hunting for the cookbook. The recipe obviously wasn't in the cookie book or the pie book or the bakery book or the mug meal cookbook or ... hmmm ... which one? I knew I saw it somewhere.

Finally, I picked up Extra Virgin by Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar. I paged through the bookmarks. Not the potato and pepper stew, not pork loin, not the pasta ... and then I saw the Hunter's Chicken. That was it!

As I perused the ingredients, I realized that I had (sort of) everything I needed. The recipe called for 12 pieces of chicken including white and dark meat. I had six chicken thighs. The recipe called for anchovy filets, and I had anchovy paste. The recipe called for garlic cloves and I had Dorot frozen crushed garlic cubes. The recipe called for red onion, carrot, and celery. Okay, I had those.

But then it called for Sangiovese red wine. I had red wine, but not that one in particular. I used a red blend from Chateau La Paws. The recipe called for chopped fresh Roma or plum tomatoes. I had canned tomato products. The recipe called for black pitted olives. I had Lindsay Naturals green olives (they taste like black olives, but they're green). The recipe called for fresh bay leaves, but I had dry bay leaves sent to me by my friend Charles Turnipseed.

And while we're naming brands, I just happened to notice that I was using Hunt's canned tomato products for a recipe called Hunter's Chicken. On a side note, one of my favorite canned tomato products is the Petite Diced. I can't explain exactly what it is, but they taste fresher and they also tend to hold their shape better when they're used in cooked recipes, so you keep the texture.

So, after reading the recipe and checking my available ingredients I realized that I might as well make my own version of the recipe. Not a big deal, because I'd made Chicken Cacciatore many times, so I knew what it was supposed to be like, and I decided to keep the "bones" of the Extra Virgin recipe. My changes weren't all about substituting ingredients, though. Once I decided to wander off on my own, I also changed the amount of most of the ingredients. Some were small changes and some were much more substantial.

In the end, it worked. Possibly better than other versions of Chicken Cacciatore I'd made before. I served with rotini pasta to take advantage of the sauce - and I cooked it in a new way. Yup, a new way for cooking dried pasta. Whoda thunkit?

And, by the way, when my brain isn't fully engaged, I'm quite likely to call this recipe Kitchen Cacciatore. Which makes no sense at all.

Hunter's Chicken (Chicken Cacciatore)
Inspired by Extra Virgin by Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar

1 tablespoon olive oil
6 chicken thighs
Salt and pepper (to taste)
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
2 cubes Dorot garlic (or 2 garlic cloves, minced or crushed)
1 red onion, peeled and diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 cup red wine (I used Chateau La Paws red blend)
1 14.5-ounce can petite diced tomatoes
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 6-ounce net weight can Lindsay Naturals pitted green olives (you can use black olives), drained
2 dry bay leaves

In a large skillet or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Salt and pepper the chicken on all sides. Add the chicken to the pan, skin-side down, and cook until golden brown. Flip and cook on the other side. Remove the chicken from the pan while you continue cooking.

Add the anchovy paste and garlic cubes and cook, stirring, until the garlic cubes have thawed in the pan and the mixture is fragrant. You don't want the garlic to get more than very lightly browned, because a few seconds more could result in burned garlic.

Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook until the onions look translucent and the vegetables are all beginning to soften.

Add the wine and cook at a vigorous simmer until the alcohol scent is gone. You want it to smell winey, but not like alcohol. It will reduce while you're doing this.

Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, and olives. Stir to combine.

Nestle the chicken into the sauce and add any liquid that came out of the chicken while it was resting. Nestle the bay leaves into the sauce - you'll be removing them before serving, so adding them last makes them easy to fish out.

Cover the pot, turn the heat to low, and cook until the chicken is tender - about 50 minutes. Since you're working with dark meat, it can stand to be cooked longer with no ill effects, so if you need to leave it longer, that's perfectly fine.

Serve hot.

There's a lot of sauce, so it's a good idea to serve this with something to take advantage of that sauce. I suggest pasta, but crusty bread is great, too.