I was recently gifted with a copy of Giuliano Bugialli’s The Fine Art of Italian Cooking. I haven’t read it yet, but thought I would try out one of his recipes. As I skimmed through the book, I found an interesting one for pollo alla cacciatora, chicken hunter’s style.
Most recipes for this popular dish use a heavier tomato sauce, as well as a couple of vegetables like peppers, onions, mushrooms, and the like. Bugialli, however, presents a more austere Tuscan version that gets most of its flavor from woodsy herbs like rosemary and sage. And rather than tomatoes, the recipe calls for tomato paste, which when toasted a little gives the sauce a deeper, darker flavor.
I think this was one of the best versions of the dish I have ever had. We served it with some couscous and peas. Below is my edited version of the recipe.
Chicken alla cacciatora
1 chicken (3 to 3 1/2 pounds)
1 Tbs fresh rosemary leaves
10 fresh leaves sage
2 large cloves garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pinch of hot red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 bay leaf
2 Tbs imported tomato paste
1 1/2 cups hot water
- Cut the chicken into 16 pieces; coarsely chop the rosemary, sage, and garlic. (I used 8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs. Also be sure to coarsely chop the herbs and garlic so that they do not burn when sautéed in the oil.)
- Heat the oil in a large casserole or Dutch oven that is big enough to hold the chicken in a single layer. Add the chopped herbs and garlic and sauté gently until lightly golden (10 to 12 minutes). (Be sure to keep your eye on the pot during this stage. I kept the garlic on top of the herbs to prevent burning and kept adjusting the heat to allow for a slow cooking of the ingredients.)
- Add the chicken and sauté over moderately high heat until golden all over (about 15 minutes). Add salt, pepper, and hot pepper flakes.
- Lower the heat and pour in the wine. Let it evaporate very slowly (about 10 minutes), then add the bay leaf, tomato paste, and 1/2 cup of the water. (I stirred in the tomato paste making sure it was evenly distributed in the pot. I also turned the chicken pieces at this point to coat them with the sauce.)
- Cover the pan and let simmer very slowly for 20 minutes, adding more of the hot water if needed. (I turned the chicken pieces one or two times to ensure even cooking. I also found that I did not need any additional water.)
- At this point, the chicken should be cooked and there should be a small quantity of thick sauce. Remove the bay leaf and transfer the chicken and sauce to a serving dish. Serve hot. (I found a lot of fat on top of the sauce and skimmed off a good deal of it before plating the chicken.)
Bugiialli says this dish is even better when reheated.
Wine Pairing: Barbera d’Alba, Sangiovese, Merlot