Dad’s Chicken Cacciatore

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I grew up in the Pennsylvania Appalachians, but my culinary roots are deeply Italian thanks to my dad, who was 50% Italian and 100% the cook in our home. Every day I engaged in the ritual of sitting in the kitchen at the table, watching dad cook. His worn wooden cutting board and razor-sharp chef’s knife were his primary tools; an acute sense of what just tastes good his secret weapon.

This dish, chicken cacciatore as dad made it, was on our table every fortnight at minimum. It’s quick and easy and tasty.

I’ve adapted the recipe a bit from dad’s original, primarily to remove the effects of poverty on the ingredient list. This is the way I make it now, and I encourage you to adapt it as you’d like.

Dad’s Chicken Cacciatore

Serves 4-6, makes good leftovers

  • boneless, skinless chicken thighs, 1-2 pounds
  • olive oil or other flavorful fat for the pan (like rendered bacon)
  • 3 -4 cloves of garlic, minced – about a tablespoon
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced large
  • 1 green pepper, diced large
  • dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • dried Italian seasonings of your choice – basil, oregano, marjoram, etc
  • 1/4cup of cream sherry or any wine you have open right now
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes, whatever flavor you bought
  • 1 can tomato sauce (around the 14oz size)
  • tablespoon of honey or agave nectar or white sugar (if you don’t have either of the first two)
  • for serving: shaved parmasean (or that plastic container; we all use it; stop judging)
  • for serving: cooked rice or pasta

To make:
I prefer now to make my cacciatore in a Dutch oven or large pot that’s both stovetop safe and oven safe. If you don’t have a suitable pot, it’s worth the trouble to start the dish on the stovetop then transfer the ingredients to something heavy you can seal shut with foil. The chicken is way more tender when you let it braise in the liquid for an hour, rather than cooking it all on the stovetop. We didn’t have a formal oven growing up, unless you count the wood-fired one in the basement, so Dad made his cacciatore either in a pot on top of the wood stove in the living room, or in an electric wok. 

Prep your ingredients by dicing the garlic, onion, and peppers; letting the chicken come to room temp if you have time; and seasoning the chicken with salt, pepper, and Italian seasonings before it goes into the pot. (Or as it’s cooking, if you’re lazy like I am.)  Preheat the oven to 325.

In a large Dutch oven on low-to-medium heat, heat olive oil or butter or bacon fat till shimmery and lay in the chicken pieces to sear on each side before proceeding. Let the chicken develop to medium brown but don’t cook it all the way through – if the pieces are thin, keep an eye on it. Make sure you’ve seasoned the chicken by this point (salt, pepper, Italian herbs)

When close to browned, add a quarter to a half cup of cream sherry or wine (either white or red) or even a little balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan, scraping up brown bits from the bottom. Don’t use all 3 of those options; pick one. 😉

Let simmer a minute then add the garlic, onion, and green pepper. Shove the chicken out of the way, piling it on top of the vegetables while they sauté. Lightly dust the pot with a couple dashes of cayenne pepper and add another few doses of cracked black pepper (fresh ground, if you can).

Add the two cans of diced tomatoes (or stewed or chopped or throw in actual diced tomatoes if you have them, about 3 cups worth, plus additional salt and sugar) and the can of tomato sauce. Add salt at this point – I’d recommend a tablespoon.

Stir everything together and add another tablespoon of dried Italian herbs. And (trust me on this) stir in about a tablespoon of honey or other natural sweetener. Don’t overdo on the honey, but tomatoes are pretty sour and you have to adjust for this; if you used a dry wine instead of sherry in the earlier step, this will help offset the sourness there too. If all you have is white sugar, make sure you stir thoroughly or it’ll be grainy.

Make sure nothing is sticking on the bottom and give everything a final stir. Place the pot in the oven (centered) and bake for an hour.

It’s nice to serve this over rice, since you’ll have plenty of liquid tomato-y goodness to soak up. You could also cook pasta noodles or just dip good bread in it like a cacciatore soup.

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