Let’s Make Chicken Cacciatore
This Italian chicken dish is a family favorite for a reason! Tender chicken simmered in a rustic, tomato-rich sauce defines comfort food. Serve some pasta or polenta to catch all the sauce, and you’ve got yourself a weeknight win.
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I grew up with varying versions of chicken cacciatore, the much-loved Italian dish. They were mostly slap-dash, working-mom dinners, and they were okay — but they didn’t make my young heart sing. It wasn’t until years later, during a stint as an assistant in a restaurant in Italy, that I got reacquainted with cacciatore and learned how to make it truly special.
As with a lot of Italian dishes, it pays to buy good ingredients, especially dried mushrooms and quality canned tomatoes. But what surprised me was that you need relatively few ingredients to build the flavors, and a couple of basic techniques, and you can have this Italian meal ready in less than an hour total time. Read on for all the tips to get this chicken dinner on the table fast, and make the classic Italian chicken dish memorable.
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Chicken cacciatore Q & A
Start here if you’re new to cacciatore.
What is chicken cacciatore?
Cacciatore is a classic Italian dish that originates in the Abruzzo and Tuscany regions of north central Italy. The name “a la cacciatore” means “hunter’s style.” It refers to the way hunters commonly prepared their catch (be it rabbit, wild fowl, or chicken) braised with forest-gathered mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. The name evokes a hearty stew that’s easy, satisfying, and can be made with ingredients that are at hand.
What is chicken cacciatore sauce made of?
Cacciatore sauce is made from sauteed onions and peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, and herbs. Some recipes add dry white wine, too.
What to serve with chicken cacciatore
In Italy, chicken cacciatore is often served with soft polenta. Here in the United States, the stovetop meal is frequently enjoyed with plain boiled pasta — chunky shapes like penne or bow ties are easier to eat than spaghetti with the bone-in chicken in my recipe. You also can’t go wrong with a batch of crusty toasted garlic bread — or some mashed potatoes, for that matter.
How to store chicken cacciatore
It’s doubtful you’ll have leftovers, but just in case you do, you can refrigerate chicken cacciatore in an airtight container up to 2 days. Just reheat it over medium heat, covered, until it’s hot in the center.
How long does chicken cacciatore last?
Chicken cacciatore keeps 2 days in the fridge.
How to make chicken cacciatore
Here’s how my easy chicken cacciatore recipe comes together. These are all basic techniques you can apply to other recipes, too.
1. Build flavor with dried mushrooms
Some recipes call for fresh mushrooms to make cacciatore, but for the richest flavor, I use dried porcini mushrooms. They’re packed with concentrated mushroom-yness, and once soaked in boiling water, they create a flavorful mushroom broth to use in the braise.
Look for dried porcini mushrooms at well stocked grocery stores or online. They may seem expensive, but a little goes a long way. You’ll only need 1/2 ounce for this recipe. You can use mixed dried mushrooms instead, but the flavor won’t be quite as meaty and earthy.
2. Brown the chicken in hot olive oil
Photo by Olga Ivanova
I use bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (vs. boneless chicken breasts or skinless chicken thighs) for our cacciatore because they will remain moist and tender and the bones add flavor and body to the sauce. First season the meat with regular salt or kosher salt and black pepper. Then dredge it in flour, and brown it in a skillet over medium-high heat.
This browning step adds flavor to the chicken and the bottom of the pan will accumulate juices and browned bits, making the sauce taste as if it simmered for hours instead of 20 minutes. Transfer the browned chicken pieces to a plate.
3. Saute the vegetables
Next saute an onion and a red bell pepper (any color of pepper is fine) in the same pan you used to brown the chicken. This step will tame the raw flavor of the veggies and help release the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. You want to wait to add the 3 cloves garlic until the vegetables are limp, and then only cook the garlic briefly (about 45 seconds). Otherwise, it can burn and add a bitter taste to the sauce.
4. Drain and chop the mushrooms
Use a fork to gently retrieve the mushrooms from their soaking liquid without stirring too much. You want to make sure that any grit that has sunk to the bottom of the measuring cup stays settled. Chop the mushrooms and add them to the pan. Carefully pour the soaking liquid into the pan, but stop before you get to the bottom of the cup where you’ll see a bit of grit and dirt that was on the mushrooms (discard this).
5. Add tomatoes and herbs
Photo by Olga Ivanova
If they’re available in your area, I recommend canned cherry tomatoes because they are reliably sweet and create a nice chunky sauce. Look for them where canned tomatoes are sold, or buy them online. You could also use high-quality whole canned tomatoes such as San Marzano and chop them. Dry Italian seasoning and a small sprig of fresh rosemary add authentic flavor to the sauce. It’s not uncommon for Italians to limit the seasonings to only rosemary, but I like the additional boost that dried mixed Italian herbs gives the sauce.
6. Simmer the chicken, then add fresh basil
Now return the chicken to the pan and be sure to turn it with tongs so that it’s coated in the sauce. Simmer the chicken, stirring now and then to make sure that the tomato sauce isn’t catching on the bottom of the pan. If it is, reduce the heat just a bit.
After about 20 minutes cook time, use an instant-read thermometer to check for doneness. It should register 165°F when inserted into the center of the largest thigh near but not touching the bone. If you’re not ready to eat, you can keep the dish warm over low heat for up to 1 hour.
Garnish with fresh basil, and you’ve got yourself a delicious recipe. A glass of red wine is optional, but recommended!
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