Chicken cacciatore may be one of the most perplexing dishes I’ve ever encountered. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t really exist. I know that sounds nuts, because of course chicken cacciatore exists. But, after analyzing dozens upon dozens of recipes, what I’ve come to realize is that there is no single common thread from one version to the next that we can say clearly defines the dish. There are just a couple of vague givens—namely, the fact that there’s always chicken, and it’s always braised. But beyond that, there’s not much that “cacciatore” means with any certainty.
In Italy, alla cacciatora, as it’s called there, describes a dish prepared “hunter-style.” It can be made with other meats, like rabbit and pheasant, though chicken is one of the most common choices today, especially in the United States. Most versions in the US include tomato, red bell pepper, and onions, but this doesn’t hold true throughout Italy. Garlic and olive oil are in nearly every version I’ve seen, but then again, they’re in almost all other Italian dishes, too, so that’s not saying much.
This kind of vagueness can be maddening to some, but I love it because it means I’m free to riff on the dish however I want, and no one can tell me otherwise. You should love it for the same reason, since, as long as it involves braised chicken, chicken cacciatore can be whatever you want, too.
I’ve tried many different recipes over the years but decided to give Giada’s recipe a whirl using red bell peppers, wine, tomatoes, and garlic. Believe me, I was not left unimpressed. This is my new go-to!
- 4 chicken thighs
- 2 chicken breasts with skin and backbone, halved crosswise
- 2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour, for dredging
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 3/4 cup dry white wine
- 1 ( 28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
- 3/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 3 tablespoons drained capers
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
- Sprinkle the chicken pieces with 1 teaspoon of each salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour to coat lightly.
- In a large heavy saute pan, heat the oil over a medium-high flame. Add the chicken pieces to the pan and saute just until brown, about 5 minutes per side. If all the chicken does not fit in the pan, saute it in 2 batches. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.
- Add the bell pepper, onion and garlic to the same pan and saute over medium heat until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 3 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes with their juice, broth, capers and oregano. Return the chicken pieces to the pan and turn them to coat in the sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Continue simmering over medium-low heat until the chicken is just cooked through, about 30 minutes for the breast pieces, and 20 minutes for the thighs.
- Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a platter. If necessary, boil the sauce until it thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Spoon off any excess fat from atop the sauce. Spoon the sauce over the chicken, then sprinkle with the basil and serve.