I was gifted an incredible book for my birthday this year from two of my closest friends: “Science in the Kitchen and Art of Eating Well” by Pellegrino Artusi. It’s a cook book from the late 1800s written for the common person and housewife and has been translated and published multiple times over the past 100+ years. It was also a staple in every Italian household in the 20th Century, so I feel honoured that this is now part of my collection.
It’s fascinating to read not only because I am learning new recipes that I haven’t even heard of before, but also to see how more well-known recipes were, in the eyes of Artusi, made back then. Many of these are still relevant, tomato sauce is a good example here and so I thought when I wanted to work on this recipe – well, Artusi wrote this famous book in Firenze, and Cacciatora originates from Toscana, so surely this will be in there.
Low and behold, it was…and this is how Artusi says a real Cacciatora should be made:
“Pollo alla Cacciatora (Chicken Hunter’s Style) Slice a large onion and soak it in cold water for more than half an hour. Then dry it and place in skillet with olive oil or lard. When the onion has turned soft and translucent, remove it from the pan and put to one side. Cut up a pullet or cockerel, sauté the pieces in the grease left in the pan, and when browned, add the onion, seasoning with salt and pepper, and sprinkling half a glass of Sangiovese or other fine red wine over it. Also add some tomato sauce. After cooking it for five more minutes, serve. I warn you – this is no dish for weak stomachs. “ Pellegrino Artusi
Needless to say, Artusi’s style of recipe writing wasn’t quite how we find them today and I decided that this version just wasn’t for me. Instead, I read around to see the different styles and ultimately, I came to realise that no one recipe was the same except for the inclusion of chicken and tomatoes. And so, here you will find my interpretation of a chicken cacciatora.
Also! Don’t be put off by the prep time! I asked my Nonna to give me a hand, and she told me that before doing anything, you need to put the chicken into a bowl of cold water with some salt – this draws out any muck and impurities and leaves the chicken nice and clean ready to be fried. This was a first for me, but I listened and as she said, there were these random bits of gunk floating on the surface. Just pour this away and essentially give the chicken a bit of a rub down to get rid of any excess water. Patting the pieces dry is essential before frying as you don’t want the water mixing with the oil. If you want to cut down the prep time, you can skip this whole stage out – but I advise you still pat the chicken down regardless!
Serves: 5-6 people
Prep Time: 1 hour 15 mins
Cook Time: 1 hour 15 mins
Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
6 Pieces of Chicken (I used 4 large legs and 2 wings here but thighs are a great choice)
3 Small White Onions, halved & sliced
1 Large Garlic Clove, roughly chopped
2 Large Peppers, diced
150ml White Wine
800ml Chopped Tomatoes
60g Capers, rinsed
100g Pitted Black Olives, rinsed
2 Sprigs Rosemary
2 Bay Leaves
1 Tsp Dried Oregano
2 Tbsp White Wine Vinegar
1 Tsp Chilli flakes, optional
Place the chicken in a bowl of water with a pinch of salt for around an hour – this will remove some of the impurities. Rinse and squeeze out as much fluid as possible. Place on some kitchen roll and pat dry.
Heat olive oil in a large pan (ideally that has a lid) on a high heat, and when hot, add the chicken, season with salt and pepper and sear for around 4 minutes a side. Once browned on all sides, remove and set aside.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the onions. Fry until translucent – around 8-10 minutes – stirring occasionally.
Add the garlic and fry for a minute before adding the peppers and chilli flakes if using. Fry for a further 10 minutes until the peppers are soft.
Add the wine and increase to a high heat to cook off the alcohol. Once most of the liquid has gone, add the capers and olives and stir to combine.
Pour in the chopped tomatoes, fill both tins with water and pour into the pan along with the vinegar, rosemary, bay leaves and oregano, stirring to combine.
Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for around 20 minutes with the lid off until the sauce reduces to around half, stirring occasionally.
Check the seasoning at this stage and add more salt & pepper as required. Add the chicken back in along with all the juices, spoon some of the sauce over, drizzle over some extra olive oil and then leave to simmer for around 40 minutes with the lid on, turning the chicken halfway through.
Check the chicken is cooked through and serve with rice, polenta, mash potato or salad.