Friday, March 19, 2010

Hunting for Chicken Cacciatore

A local supermarket advertised a giganza meat sale last week and I came home pretty happyand not too much poorer. For around $80, I got 4 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breast, 10 pounds of pork loin and 12 pounds of New York strip steaks. I’m no math whiz, but that averaged out to something like $3 per pound. (I passed up buying a T-shirt once that read: “English Major. You do the math.” Have to get it.) Back home, I repackaged everything with my vacuum sealer -- love that thing – and put the meat away in the freezer. It's a comforting feeling, knowing that we're well-stocked, and pretty inexpensively at that.

Seeing all those pretty red steaks made me hungry for them that night, but it made more sense to do something with the chicken tenderloin pieces I’d trimmed. But what? Same ol’, same ol’? I often dip them in egg, then a mixture of Parmesan cheese and seasoned bread crumbs, and brown them in butter and oil, which I really like, but I wanted to be a little more adventurous. I decided on Chicken Cacciatore, because I knew I had some peppers and celery. But that’s pretty much saying I was going to make meatloaf or lasagna. There are thousands of recipes for “Pollo Alla Cacciatora."

Everyone’s got a different spin on what cacciatore is. When I told my husband what was for dinner, he asked, “What’s ‘cacciatore’ again?” I told him it was chicken stewed in a tomato-vegetable mixture, which I guess is a pretty good quick-and-dirty definition.

Because I knew I’d be writing about the dish, I thought I better read a few recipes before I dove in. I knew that cacciatore meant hunter-style in Italian, but that’s where my knowledge ended. Whether the dish has tomatoes in it or not, boneless chicken or not, peppers and/or mushrooms or not are all wildly debatable.

Here are some of the morsels I learned in my cursory research:
* Usually, a cut-up chicken is browned then simmered in a tomato sauce, often with mushrooms.
* I read that “The dish is kind of a hunter’s solace; domestic poultry replaces the pheasant or hare that got away, the porcini being all that could be salvaged from a day in the forest.”
* The dish was developed in central Italy, probably in the Renaissance period (1450-1600) when the only people who could afford to enjoy poultry and the sport of hunting were the well-to-do.” This was another tidbit I found.
* Sometimes, the chicken pieces are dredged in flour before browning, which makes a nice gravy, when wine or broth is added.

All very interesting. I surmised from this reading that “authentic” cacciatore uses chicken pieces, not boneless breast, and preferably the dark meat of the legs and thighs, and usually does have mushrooms. I didn’t have any fresh mushrooms that day, but one green pepper and plenty of onion and celery. So maybe the version I made was more like an light Italian stir fry, not a chicken stew. But it was good Chicken Cacciatore, or Kitchen Catch-a-story, as I called it when I was little.

This was more than enough for dinner for two, so the leftovers became a soup the next day for lunch. I added chicken broth and a half-cup of cooked rice. Instant meal #2.

Chicken Cacciatore (Quick and Easy)

1 pound chicken breast, cut in 1 inch pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 green pepper, cut in ½ pieces
1 sweet onion, cut in ½ inch pieces
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ pound cooked pasta or 2 cups cooked rice
Parmesan for serving

In a skillet over medium–high heat,brown the chicken breast pieces in 1 tablespoon olive oil until lightly browned. 3-4 minutes. Remove. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to pan and add peppers, onions, celery and garlic. Cook 3-4 minutes or until softened slightly. Reduce heat to simmer, add chicken, tomatoes and Italian seasoning (I like Penzey’s Tuscan Sunset , a salt-free Italian seasoning) and cook, covered, 15-20 minutes. Serve over with pasta or rice. (I used bow-ties. My husband doesn’t like them: too slippery to easily fork.)

Don't forget the Parmesan!

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