Classic Italian, made even better with mushrooms and red bell pepper
Ready for rustic? Cacciatore means “hunter” in Italian, so the idea is to eat as you would on the trail. Or something.
We prefer to cook it in our kitchen, where we can add wine. Not to mention red sauce, mushrooms, and tasty bell peppers.
Our version is still simple to make, though. And you can even prepare it ahead of time, then reheat it whenever.
So you won’t have to hunt around for something decent to eat.
Recipe: Chicken Cacciatore
There are hundreds of cacciatore-style recipes. They all feature braising, but the ingredients vary. Italian cooks often use rabbit instead of chicken.
Most recipes feature tomatoes and onions. How about mushrooms, bell peppers, and wine? Those seem to be optional, but we like them. So they all appear in our version of Chicken Cacciatore.
This dish may be more popular in the US than in Italy – it’s long been a staple of Italian restaurants in the US. The Italian-American version typically features chicken swimming in a rich tomato-based sauce (by contrast, most Italian recipes make a fairly dry dish, with minimal sauce). We’re saucy types, so we prefer the Italian-American version.
We like to serve this dish over Polenta. But it’s also great over pasta (Homemade Noodles would be our choice). Alternatively, you can serve it over rice, or even mashed potatoes. It’s also delicious all by itself.
Prep time for this dish is about 20 minutes. Cooking adds another 40 to 60 minutes (most of it unattended).
This recipe serves 4 to 6 as a main course. Leftovers keep for a few days if refrigerated in an airtight container.
- ~1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
- 2 cups very hot (or boiling) water (to reconstitute the mushrooms)
- 3 to 4 pounds chicken thighs and/or legs
- salt for seasoning the chicken (1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt for us; see Notes)
- olive oil as needed for browning the chicken pieces (probably a couple of tablespoons)
- 1 onion (large for us, but suit yourself)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 red bell pepper (or other color of your choice; see Notes)
- additional salt to taste (probably 1 teaspoon kosher salt)
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (or to taste; ½ teaspoon for us, because we like spicy)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- ¾ cup dry red or white wine (your choice; can substitute ½ cup dry vermouth)
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 pound mushrooms (the ordinary white ones work fine)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 additional tablespoons olive oil for cooking the mushrooms
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- additional salt for seasoning the mushrooms (about ½ teaspoon kosher salt for us)
- freshly ground black pepper to taste (about a dozen grinds for us)
- mini sweet pepper slices for garnish (optional; see Notes)
- chopped parsley for garnish (optional)
- freshly grated Parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)
- Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a heat-proof container, then cover them with 2 cups of very hot water. Allow them to soak for at least 15 minutes (30 is better).
- Dry the chicken pieces with a paper towel and season them to taste with salt. Place a wide-bottomed Dutch oven over medium stovetop heat (you could also use a heatproof casserole or a large frying pan). When the cooking pan is hot, add the oil. When the oil is heated (about 15 seconds; it’ll shimmer), add several pieces of chicken (skin side down). Add only as many pieces as will fit easily in one layer (if you crowd the pan, the chicken won’t brown properly). Brown the chicken pieces for 5 minutes. Turn the pieces over, then brown the other side for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the chicken pieces and drain them on paper towels. Continue browning the rest of the chicken pieces (adding more olive oil to the cooking pot if needed). When all the chicken pieces are browned, pour off most of the fat in the pan, leaving only about a tablespoon (or add a tablespoon of oil if there’s none left in the pan).
- Meanwhile, prep the onion, garlic, and bell pepper: Peel the onion and chop it into dice of about ½ inch. Set aside. Peel the garlic and mince it finely. Set aside. Wash and core the bell pepper, then cut it into dice of ¼ to ½ inch. Set aside.
- Add the chopped onion and bell pepper to the cooking pot, season to taste with salt, then sauté for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 additional minute. Add the oregano, the red pepper flakes, and the tomato paste. Cook, stirring, for a minute or two.
- Remove the rehydrated porcini mushrooms from their soaking liquid. Chop the porcinis roughly, then add them to the cooking pot. Pour the soaking liquid through a fine mesh strainer (to trap any sand or grit). Reserve the liquid.
- Add the wine to the cooking pot. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for 3 minutes. Add the mushroom soaking liquid from Step 5, along with the diced tomatoes and the browned chicken pieces. Bring the mixture to a simmer again, then set a timer for 30 minutes.
- Wipe the mushrooms with a damp cloth to remove any excess dirt (or wash them if they’re extremely dirty). Cut the mushrooms into halves or quarters (depending on their size). Place a large frying pan on medium stovetop heat (use one large enough to hold the mushrooms in a single layer). When hot, add the butter and olive oil. When the fat is heated, add the chopped mushrooms. Season with thyme, salt, and pepper to taste. Sauté the mushrooms for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Set aside until ready to use in the next step.
- After the chicken has cooked for 30 minutes, add the cooked mushrooms. Cook the mixture for an additional 15 to 30 minutes, until the chicken is tender. (If you want to cook this dish a day ahead of time, stop cooking after 15 minutes. Then, when ready to serve, bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for an additional 15 minutes.)
- Plate the dish: If serving over polenta, add a large spoonful to each plate. Spoon the chicken mixture over it. Garnish with slices of mini sweet bell pepper, chopped parsley, and/or grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.
- If you prefer, you can cook the mushrooms (Step 7) and then stir them into the dish right before serving.
- Most supermarkets carry packages of mini sweet bell peppers in assorted colors. You substitute them for red bell pepper in this recipe (use a handful or two). We prefer to use them as garnish.
- We like to use chicken thighs and legs for braising. But use any cut you like. Breast meat takes less time to braise, so cook it for only 20 to 30 minutes, total. (If using a mix of dark and breast meat, add the breast meat midway through cooking.)
- Some cooks like to dip chicken pieces in flour (then shake off the excess) before browning. If that’s you, indulge. Season the chicken pieces before dipping them in the flour. And season the flour, too.
- You can use almost any herb you like in this dish. We’ve opted for oregano to flavor the tomato sauce, and thyme to flavor the mushrooms. Many cooks like to use rosemary.
- We use kosher salt in cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the flakes are larger, so they pack a measure less tightly). If using table salt, start with about half as much as we recommend. But always season to your taste, not ours.
- Many countries’ cuisines have some version of “hunter’s chicken.” In France the dish is poulet chasseur. It differs quite a bit from the Italian version (the chicken is sautéed, not braised, and the chasseur sauce – a brown sauce often flavored with mushrooms and tomato – is added to the chicken after it is cooked). There’s also a British dish called Hunter’s Chicken. It features bacon-wrapped chicken covered in barbeque sauce (and often topped with cheese).
- What makes this dish “hunter’s” chicken? Who knows? The Italian version probably was made with rabbit originally (and often still is). Rabbits are common prey for hunters, of course. And while in the woods, hunters might discover some wild mushrooms, which they could add to the cooking pot. However it got its name, this is a wonderful dish.
“Yum,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Best version of this dish yet.”
“The bell peppers rock,” I said. “It’s fun to try new ingredients.”
“Just don’t make it with rabbit,” said Mrs K R.
“Uh, right,” I said. “Every time I’ve cooked rabbit, you just push the food around your plate, muttering about Flopsy and Mopsy.”
“Poor little fluffy bunnies,” said Mrs K R.
I’ve finally learned that our table is a no-rabbit zone. Why bother having hare today if I’m gone tomorrow?
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