Friday, November 26, 2010

Chicken Cacciatore

This is a famous New York Italian recipe!
     Cacciatore is a stewed chicken or veal recipe.  The sauce should cling tight against the chicken or veal and the sauce should not be thin and loose on the plate.
     The flavor of this entree is very rich!  Wine is rarely used in Italian tomato sauces.  Many Italian chefs add a small amount of red wine to salsa di pomodoro, because the necessary tenderizing enzymes and acids from the red wine help to cook the tomatoes.  There is not enough red wine added to a salsa di pomodoro to be detected by the taste buds!
     The tomato sauce for a cacciatore recipe does require enough white wine to be tasted.  In this case, the wine helps to tenderize the chicken and it adds a classic flavor.
     Many of the older high Italian cuisine chefs, that I apprenticed with, scorned chicken on a menu.  Many traditional Italian chefs do not like chicken and they do not like the flavor of chicken.  It is not because chicken has a reputation of being poor people food.  It is because Italy, like Mexico, did not start to have refrigeration available nationwide, till the 1960's.  Before that it was ice coolers or mountain cellars that kept food chilled.
     Whole dead chickens used to hang at Italian markets, till they were sold, just like chicken in the markets of the Roman empire.  After hanging in warm air for several hours, a chicken carcass will develop a sulphur aroma and flavor in the meat.  That stink of sulphur oxides in chicken is an unforgettably bad smell!
     The same old traditional Italian chefs that I apprenticed with, preferred eggs over chicken!  Omelettes, frittatas and tomato sauce pastas with poached eggs on top is what they like to cook and eat.  The chicken or the egg?  In Italian fine dining, the egg wins!
     Italian American family style restaurants have no problem offering chicken on a menu.  Chicken sells okay in America and the family style clientele does order chicken on a menu.  High class Italian restaurants do offer the original veal cacciatore, but never chicken cacciatore.  The only chicken offered in fine dining is the occasional game hen or free range chicken entree on a French menu.
     I prefer the original veal cacciatore recipe to the chicken recipe, but chicken does taste great with the cacciatore preparation.  Many modern chefs are not aware that veal is even offered as cacciatore.  So many restaurants serve chicken cacciatore, that veal has been cast aside and many people associate the word cacciatore with only chicken.  Ce la vie!  
     Salsa di Pomodoro Recipe:
     This recipe makes several portions of salsa di pomodoro.  This tomato sauce is an Italian mother sauce for several Italian recipes.  The recipe for this tomato sauce was taught to me by a Sicilian chef who won the title of the best saute chef in New York City a very long time ago.
     Heat a large sauce pot over medium heat.
     Add 1 1/4 cups of olive oil.
     Add 8 cloves of finely chopped garlic.
     Add 1 handful of finely minced onion.
     When the onions turn clear in color, add 1 pinch of crushed dried red pepper.
     Add a 28 ounce can of imported canned Italian crushed plum tomatoes.
     Place a 28 ounce can of canned imported whole Italian plum tomatoes that are packed in their own juices into a mixing bowl.
     Hand squeeze and crush the tomatoes, till no big chunks remain.
     Add the hand crushed tomatoes and their own juices to the sauce pot.
     Add 5 pinches of oregano.
     Add sea salt and ground black pepper.
     Add 1 small bunch of chopped fresh basil.
     Add 1 cup of Italian dry red wine.
     Stir the olive oil into the sauce.
     Heat the sauce, till it barely starts to come to a gentle boil.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.  (Never cover a pot of an Italian tomato sauce!  The sauce will turn out watery and "flat" instead of a glistening red color.)
     Add 2 tablespoons of minced Italian parsley.
     Slowly simmer the sauce for 4 hours. 
     Stir the sauce once every 5-7 minutes, during the entire cooking time.  Stir from the bottom up!  The object is to stir the olive oil into the tomatoes, till the tomatoes grab and hold the olive oil on their own.
     The sauce should be simmering very gently, so that there is very little bubbling on the surface.
     Scrape the sauce that clings to the inside rim of the pot back into the sauce occasionally.
     After 4 hours, the flavors will be melded together and the tomato sauce will have a true rich body.  The excess tomato juices will be reduced by this time.  The olive oil will be well combined with the tomatoes, because of the regular stirring.
     Set the sauce aside.
     Run the salsa di pomodoro through a hand cranked food mill, if you happen to have one.
     The excess amount of sauce that is leftover from this recipe can be refrigerated and used for another recipe.
     Chicken Cacciatore Recipe:
     Either a half of a whole chicken cut into quarters or one large chicken breast is considered to be one serving of chicken cacciatore.  I chose to use 1 large chicken breast.
     Trim the skin and fat off of a 10 to 12 ounce bone-on chicken breast that and leave the bones attached.
     Cut the chicken breast through the rib cage bones into 3 equal size pieces.
     Heat a saute pan over medium heat.
     Add 1 splash of olive oil.
     Add the 3 chicken breast pieces.
     Saute the chicken pieces, till they become lightly browned.
     Add 2 cloves of chopped garlic to the oil in the pan.
     Add 1 small handful of large bite size pieces of onion.
     Add 1 small handful of large bite size pieces of green bell pepper.
     Add 5 or 6 button mushrooms that are cut in half.
     Add 1 bay leaf.
     Add 3 pinches of oregano.
     Add sea salt and black pepper. 
     Saute and stir, till vegetables become cooked al dente.
     Add 1 cup of dry white wine.
     Add 1/2 cup of chicken broth.
     Simmer and reduce the liquid by half.
     Add 1 1/2 to 2 cups of the salsa pomodoro.
     Stir the ingredients together.
     Reduce the temperature to medium low/low heat.    
     Simmer the cacciatore uncovered, till the chicken becomes fully cooked and tender and the sauce reduces to a rich medium bodied tomato sauce consistency.  (Do not simmer the chicken cacciatore all day, or the meat will be dried out like a cheap buffet style chicken cacciatore!)
     Be sure to turn the chicken pieces in the sauce occasionally.
     Cook one portion of fettucini pasta in boiling water ahead of time and drain the water off of the pasta, before plating.  Fettucini takes 10 to 12 minutes to become al dente.  Time the cooking of the pasta to finish at the same time that the cacciatore finishes cooking for the best results!
     Place the chicken pieces on the middle of a plate and leave room for the pasta.
     Spoon the sauce and vegetables over and around the chicken.
     Place the portion of al dente cooked fettucini noodles in the center of the plate between chicken pieces.
     Serve with some grated fresh parmesan cheese on the side.
     Of course, serve with Italian garlic bread on the side too!
     The tomato sauce will turn a little darker color from stewing with the chicken and wine, instead of bright glistening red color, but that is the nature of cacciatiore.  The flavor and aroma of this entree is 100% New York Italian!
     This is another simple perfection Italian entree that has so much history.  It is funny, you never feel full after eating chicken cacciatore!  Some people make this dish with no mushrooms, but this is the way it was taught to me when I apprenticed in fine Italian restaurant kitchens.  Mama Mia!  Yummy!  Ciao baby!  ...  Shawna

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