What is in a name? I often think it funny how we accept both the name of dishes and their presentation as though they are ‘original dishes’. I mean original in the sense of – always made this way. In reality the dishes we have today represent the journey the dish has taken both through history, and from its geographical origin. “Pollo alla Cacciatora”, “Chicken Cacciatora” or “Hunter’s Chicken” is just one of those examples. Clearly from the name its origins are Italian. There are, however, also versions from France where it is called chasseur, and Spain where it is called cazadores. These dishes are stalwarts of restaurants from each of these countries but if we go back in time would any self respecting hunter ever gone out hunting and come back with a chicken …………. I think not!
Jamie Oliver in his recipe on which this particular cook is based suggested that it would be the type of food a hunter’s wife would cook for her hunter husband when he returned from a day of hunting. Even if we put the stereotype to oneside here I suspect that the notion is fanciful. More likely that this is a dish cooked using the products of a day’s hunting. I suspect it will have been originally made with rabbit or what we now think of as game birds. The gentle cooking that these recipes have in common would be perfectly suited to these tasty, but potentially dry and often stringy sources of meat
Having said all that, this particular recipe uses chicken as we are yet to try other options ……….. but hopefully we will, and will report back! Cooking with chicken would mean that the time for cooking could easily be reduced as the chicken will cook quickly – often too quickly! But to reduce the time I feel is to miss the point. This is a slow cook dish that develops its taste through slow cooking. Because of this though, rather than use the whole chicken, I would reserve the breasts for other dishes. The drum, thigh and even the wings respond well to slower, longer cooks. For this particular cook we used just thighs and drumsticks!
We had decided to take the leisurely approach to this dish which therefore started out with an overnight marinade (though a couple of hours would probably be fine too!). The chicken pieces were kept with the skin on and were seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper. They were put into a container and bay leaves, rosemary and a crushed clove of garlic were added. The container was topped up with the red wine and it was popped into the fridge to work its magic overnight.
Taking it out of the fridge in the morning the chicken had taken on that rather dusky colour that you get when marinating in red wine. That brought into contrast the deeper yellow colour you get with slower grown corn fed birds. This is a dish that I firmly believe should be cooked with the skin on the chicken. Like most people though I hate ‘floppy’, ‘soggy’ chicken skin!
The answer is to brown off the chicken really well, and render down the fat in the skin which adds enormously to the taste of the dish. And then to cook at least some of the chicken ‘breaking the surface’ of the casserole – so that it is exposed to the heat of the cooking directly. This is a perfect opportunity therefore to cook in the Big Green Egg. Cook at a low temperature, for a longer time. No lid is needed on the casserole, the surface of the skin exposed to heat but in an oven which will not dry out the meat.
The BGE was set up for direct cooking at around 180C. The chicken was drained and the marinade reserved. After removing the chicken it was dried and very lightly dusted with seasoned flour, the excess shaken off. The pans were heated on the BGE and a little oil was added. The chicken was then browned off making sure the fat was well rendered from the skin. This can be done in a shallow casserole or a handleless frying pan such as the Tefal Ingenio pans. We were using the MiniMax which easily accommodates the pans we were using. Once beautifully coloured, the meat can be set aside.
We could have finished this off in the shallow casserole but opted for a slightly deeper one as we were cooking 12 chicken pieces. This was put onto the heat and the sliced garlic was gently coloured. The anchovies, olives, tomatoes (broken up with a wooden spoon) and the chicken pieces with their reserved marinade were then added. The pot was brought to a very gentle boil then the platesetter was put into place to move from direct to indirect cooking. The temperature of the EGG was dropped to around 130C and the casserole left to very gently bubble. As we were cooking in the BGE there was no need to put the lid on the Dutch oven allowing a gentle smokiness to add to the flavour of the dish.
We left it all to cook for more than the 1½ hours suggested in the original recipe We checked a couple of times that more water was not needed and gave it the occasional gentle stir, but nothing else.
Once the chicken was obviously ‘butter tender’ and the sauce had formed a lovely ‘jammy’ finish on the chicken all the vents were closed. All that was left to do was to skim off any oil that’s collected on top of the sauce, taste and add a little salt and pepper if necessary.
Bay leaves and rosemary sprigs were removed and we were ready to serve (and portion some for later too).
We served one drum and one thigh per person. It works well with a salad. as the sauce is not wet and runny. It also works really well with cannellini beans or chickpeas. Try rice or gnocchi or as here, with spiced red cabbage and root vegetables …………………
………..oh yes …………….and plenty of Italian red!!
Pollo alla Cacciatora
Pan roasted chicken pieces in a rich tomato, olive and anchovy sauce
- 6 Chicken thighs and 6 drumsticks
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 8 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 3 cloves garlic peeled (1 crushed, 2 sliced)
- ½ bottle Chianti or similar red wine
- A little flour, for dusting
- Olive oil
- 6 anchovy fillets (more if small)
- 1 handful green or black olives, stoned
- 2 x 400 g good-quality tinned plum tomatoes
- Step 1 Add the chicken pieces (skin on) to a bowl, season with salt and pepper. Add the Bay leaves, rosemary and the crushed clove of garlic. Top up the bowl with the red wine and leave in the fridge – ideally overnight.
- Step 2 Set up the BGE for direct cooking at around 180C. Remove the chicken from the fridge, and the chicken from the marinade (reserve). Dry the chicken then lightly dust with seasoned flour
- Step 3 Heat a handleless pan on the BGE and add a little oil. Brown the chicken making sure the fat is well rendered. Once coloured set aside.
- Step 4 Heat a casserole of a suitable size for the 12 chicken pieces on the BGE. Quickly colour the sliced garlic, then add the anchovies, olives, tomatoes (broken up with a wooden spoon) and the chicken pieces with their reserved marinade. Bring the casserole to a very gentle boil then introduce the platesetter and cook indirectly at a lower temperature of around 130C so that there is just a very gentle bubble. Cook without the lid to allow a gentle smokiness
- Step 5 Cook for around 1½ hours checking occasionally to see if a little more water is needed. Once the chicken is ‘butter tender’ and the the sauce has a ‘jammy’ finish close all the vents and allow to finish cooking.
- Step 6 Skim off any oil that’s collected on top of the sauce, season to taste and remove the bay leaves and rosemary sprigs.
- Step 7 Serve one drum and thigh per person perhaps with cannellini beans or chickpeas, rice or gnocchi or as here with spiced red cabbage and root vegetables