Pollo alla Cacciatora, better known as “Chicken Cacciatore,” can be loosely translated as “Hunter’s Chicken.” It’s unclear where the name originated – perhaps pheasant or other wild game birds were replaced by domesticated fowl somewhere along the way. The classic rendition of this rustic dish is nothing like the version that comes covered in thick, tomatoey spaghetti sauce, as is all too frequently found in the United States. Done properly, it’s light, but satisfying, flavorful and subtly sweet with carrots, onion and celery – and a modest amount of tomato.
The basic technique is that of a braise, in other words, the meat (in this case, chicken), is dredged in flour, then quickly browned and finally slowly simmered at low heat with liquid and other ingredients.
There are plenty of regional (and individual) variations, which may include olives, capers, anchovies and other ingredients. Our version features an Italian favorite, flavorful porcini mushrooms (Boletus edulis).
If you’re fortunate enough to forage your own porcini, you can splurge and add as many as you like. You may be equally fortunate to find a local market that sells fresh porcini in season. Be careful; less-than-fresh porcini can become infested with small maggoty worms, which while not harmful in themselves, can be rather off-putting to even the strongest stomachs.
If decent fresh porcini are not an option, all is not lost. There are several good alternatives. First, you can substitute any fresh mushroom, including white buttom mushrooms or cremini, in combination with dried porcini. You’ll get the appealing texture of fresh mushrooms, bolstered by the flavor of the dried porcini, which can be much more intensely flavored than their fresh counterparts.
Another option is using frozen porcini. While you may have never heard of frozen porcini (let alone thought of using them), they are readily available online from Earthy.com. There are a couple of reasons to consider using them. To start with, they are virtually critter-free. They’re also very uniform in size, which can be an important consideration if consistency in appearance and portion size are factors for you. Last, but not least – they taste great.
Many versions of this recipe call for a whole cut up chicken, but we opted for the equivalent amount of skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs. While chicken breast meat may overcook and become tough and dry, the luscious skin and rich, dark meat of thighs are perfect for this style of preparation. Whatever your preference, don’t pass up the chance to try this classic dish. It’s rustic Italian comfort food at its very finest.
Chicken Cacciatore with Porcini Mushrooms
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 6 chicken thighs, skin on (about 3 lb) or 1 medium chicken, cut into pieces
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 tsp rosemary, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 medium carrot, sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds
- 1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and diced OR the equivalent amount of jarred roasted red peppers
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 stalk celery, sliced 1/4 inch thick
- 1 pound fresh or frozen small porcini mushrooms (2 – 4 inches), cleaned and cut in halves or quarters
- 1/2 cup marsala
- 1 large can (28 oz) plum tomatoes
- 1 Tbsp chopped parsley
Heat the olive oil in an large saucepan over medium-high heat.
Season the flour with an pinch each of salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken in the flour, coating thoroughly. Brown the chicken on all sides in the hot oil in batches, about 10 minutes per batch; don’t overcrowd the pan. Transfer the browned chicken to a clean plate and set aside.
Drain away the excess oil and fat from the pan, leaving about 1 – 2 tablespoons. Add the rosemary, garlic, bay leaf, carrot, red bell pepper, onion and celery to the pan. Cook, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add the porcini mushrooms and continue to cook for an additional 3 – 4 minutes. Add the marsala and continue to cook, stirring and scraping up the browned bits from the bottom, until the liquid has reduced by half.
Return the previously browned chicken to the pan. Slowly pour in the tomatoes and their juice, crushing the tomatoes with your hand as you add them (watch out for squirting juice!). Return to a steady simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook until the chicken is very tender, about 45 minutes or more, depending on the size of the chicken pieces. If you want a thicker sauce, remove the lid and simmer for another 15 minutes or until sufficiently reduced. Turn off the heat and add the parsley. Serve the chicken in large, deep plates with plenty of the sauce spooned over the top.
Many of the ingredients used in this recipe, and other recipes on the Earthy Delights Blog, can be purchased online at our retail website, Earthy.com. We welcome you to visit the Earthy.com website to view our extensive selection of hard-to-find ingredients and our complete Recipe Collection of over 500 tested recipes.
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