Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.
Do Food Historians Have It Wrong?
According to folklore, chicken cacciatore (hunter-style chicken) is an Italian dish—from central Italy, to be exact. We're also told that this savory braise of chicken, mushrooms, and tomatoes originated during the Renaissance. What’s wrong with this story?
First, the chicken. If indeed this was a dish inspired by the bounty of a hunting party, would it really have been a free-range chicken? I would wager that the poultry was actually quail or pheasant. Next, the ingredients don’t mesh with history. The Renaissance was 1300–1600 A.D. and at that time tomatoes were across the Atlantic, roughly 6,000 miles away.
The website Days of the Year has a much more plausible scenario:
"It is thought that the first Chicken Cacciatore was not made with chicken at all, but with rabbit or other wild game sometime during the Renaissance period, so between the 14th and 16th centuries. Chicken cacciatore’s simple but delicious recipe was likely developed to satisfy the appetites of hunters who may have been on the track of a larger animal or herd of animals for several days, and who needed a tasty, filling stew that could easily be cooked outdoors to keep them going. The spices used, such as parsley and oregano, would have also been readily available to humble hunters."
Nevertheless, chicken cacciatore is a nourishing bowl of comfort, containing simple ingredients that are inexpensive and readily attainable. Although the time spent cooking an authentic dish might be lengthy, it's an easy dish to prepare; even a novice cook can make chicken cacciatore.
Let's look first at an authentic recipe, and then some fun alternative dishes that provide all those same amazing flavors.
Pasquale Sciarappa's Authentic Chicken Cacciatore
I have a secret to divulge, and I hope none of you will tell my husband. I am in love with another man. The first time I saw him was on a television cooking channel. Yes, intellectually I recognize he was performing for the masses, but in my heart of hearts, I know that he was speaking to me. Allow me to explain.
Pasquale Sciarappa was born in Orsara, the Apulia region of Italy, in 1939. He began his culinary career in Torino in 1957 then moved to the United States where he found a new home in Long Branch, New Jersey.
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I don't know what he did all those years, but after retirement, Pasquale wanted to share his love of cooking with the world, and so he began Osara Recipes, named for the town of his birth. What began as a hobby is now a full-time new career with a website, media appearances, and merchandise.
Watch this video of him making his authentic chicken cacciatore, the old-fashioned way, and you'll understand my adoration.
Slow Cooker Chicken Cacciatore
By tradition, chicken cacciatore is slow-simmered. How lucky we are that, unlike the Italian nanas of long ago, we now have slow-cookers (crockpots) to do almost all of the work for us. This slow cooker cacciatore utilizes health(ier) breast portions, but they stay incredibly moist when slow-simmered in a crockpot. There's plenty of garlic and herbs, and Erin adds a dash of balsamic vinegar to brighten the flavors.
My younger daughter is a vegetarian, so of course, I wanted to find a cacciatore for her. Most of the recipes I found on the internet use eggplant (not her favorite), so I was happy when I found this vegan cacciatore that uses extra-firm tofu. It's rich and comforting, with the deep umami flavors of carrot, mushrooms, and canned tomatoes.
Chicken Cacciatore Meatballs
What if you don't want to wait hours for your chicken braise to simmer slowly in the oven or on the stovetop? You have a family to feed (or yourself) and stomachs are rumbling. Make this dish of chicken cacciatore meatballs with all the savory flavors you want, but without all of the time and fuss.
All the flavors you love in our featured dish can come to your table even faster with this chicken cacciatore soup. Dan and Christie use rotisserie chicken to streamline the dish. Simply sweat the vegetables in your Dutch oven, deglaze with a splash of wine, add tomato, the chicken, and spinach. Let simmer till everything is hot and the flavors marry together. Use the pasta of your choice and in 40 minutes dinner is served.
- October 15 is National Chicken Cacciatore Day
© 2020 Linda Lum