Feb 242008

I’ve been waiting to post this recipe for quite some time.

You see, you might call this dish Highly Significant.

It’s so significant that I often find myself asking if Cory and I would have gotten married if it were not for this recipe.

It’s one of the first things we ever cooked together, and from the point that we starting smooshing up those tomatoes with our hands, it was painfully apparent that we were meant to be.

Delicious chicken cacciatore
Nikon D50

We still cook up a batch of chicken cacciatore every time we’re together. I thought it was criminal that he didn’t have a copy of the recipe or The Joy of Cooking, so when he moved into his current apartment I bought him a copy the newly released 75th anniversary edition as a housewarming gift. Before I bought it for him I made sure that the recipe hadn’t gotten the axe and was included in that version, but when we brought it home and we inspected it more closely we found that it calls for diced canned tomatoes, not whole tomatoes that you crush with your hands. On that alone, I’ve basically panned the whole edition. It’s not worth buying! Find the 1997 edition! That older recipe helped Cory and I find love, and I who am I to deny anyone else that opportunity by recommending an inferior tome?

Delicious chicken cacciatore
Nikon D50

I’m going to admit upfront: my version of the classic Italian chicken is so not traditional. Every recipe I’ve ever seen and everyone else who’s ever served it to me – including places in Italy – call for chicken parts, not chicken breasts, but when I was first learning to cook I had no clue what the heck a chicken part was. Even if I had been savvy enough, I simply didn’t have the equipment to cut up a chicken and then cook it. So maybe it’s for the best that I’ve bastardized it. I still think it’s delicious, and it has the health benefits of being all-white meat.

Not everything about this recipe is 100% positive though. There is something about chicken cacciatore that makes living alone an especially bitter pill to swallow. This dish is so obviously meant to be cooked with people and then shared with people. That alone explains two of my behaviors: I always call Cory when I’m starting to crush up those tomatoes with my hands and tell him that I wish he was there with me, and whenever I’m cooking for a group people for the first time, this is the recipe I pull out. It’s just too good to not share with others. It’s not just the end result that’s important, it’s the whole process – from the first time you throw the onions and herbs in the pan and the fragrance makes everyone exclaim with delight to the times when the pan is in a long simmer and you can just sit around and enjoy the company of your companions to the first bite of that warm, earthy, wine-herbs-and-tomato chickeny goodness. Nothing says “I care” like chicken cacciatore.

Delicious chicken cacciatore
Nikon D50

Chicken cacciatore
Originally adapted from The Joy of Cooking (1997 edition), but I’ve changed it so much over the years that it could almost be called a Jitterbean original
Serves 4-6

Do not use a non-stick pan to cook this dish. The browned bits that will stick on to the pan are desirable since you will use them to flavor the sauce.
Maintain good control over the heat. You don’t want to boil the pan sauce because it will toughen the chicken. If it is kept at a simmer the whole time the sauce will thicken while keeping the chicken tender.
If you manage to have any left over, count yourself lucky! This dish is even more delicious the next day after the flavors have gotten a chance to meld better.
Several tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of excess fat and cut into approximately 1-inch cubes
About 1 tablespoon dried sage
Pepper for seasoning
1/2 cup diced onion
2-3 sprigs fresh sage leaves, cut into mince or chiffonade
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary leaves, minced
2 bay leaves
4 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup dry red wine such as cabernet or chianti
One 14 ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes with juice
Half of a 14 ounce can of black olives, drained, rinsed and roughly chopped (about 3/4 cup)
Heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a stainless steel (or otherwise sticky) saute pan or skillet. While the oil is heating, generously sprinkle the chicken with the pepper and the dried sage. Once the pan is heated, add the chicken and cook until it is browned on all sides. Remove the chicken to a plate.
Pour another tablespoon or two of olive oil into the pan and heat over medium heat. Add the onion, fresh sage, rosemary, and bay leaves and saute until the onions are light golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Return the chicken to the pan.
Pour in the red wine and cook, turning up the browned bits with a wooden spoon, until the liquid is evaporated. Add the chicken stock and tomato juice and crush each tomato well with your hands, adding them to the pan as well. Bring the pan to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes.
Stir in the olives. Continue to simmer, covered, for another 10 minutes. Adjust the seasonings as needed.
Simmer uncovered over low heat until the pan juices are thickened, about 15-20 minutes. Serve immediately with roasted rosemary red potatoes with green beans.

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