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Chicken Cacciatore

2011 January 27
by Mrs. FoodieLawyer

This is delicious “comfort food” recipe that we found in Cook’s Illustrated Italian Classics, when we were looking for a way to use sage from our garden.  This recipe isn’t as quick as some of our weeknight dishes, but you could easily make it on a weekend and have the leftovers (if there are any) the following week.  We weren’t really sure if we would like this recipe the first time we made it, since we (I) aren’t huge fans of stew-like dishes, but we were pleasantly surprised.  It has just the right amount of stew type ingredients (meat, tomatoes and mushrooms), and we love just about any recipe that includes chicken thighs.

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The ingredients include bone-in chicken thighs, olive oil, an onion, “baby bell” mushrooms (or portobello mushrooms), garlic, flour, red wine, chicken broth, diced tomatoes, parmesan cheese rind (optional), fresh thyme and fresh sage.

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Start by chopping up the onion.

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Then slice the mushrooms.  Slice off the stems and discard them (or find some other use for them if you’re crafty like that) — you’ll only be using the caps.

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Slice the mushroom caps into bite-sized pieces.

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Set aside the onions and mushrooms until you’re ready to cook them.  (With any recipe, Dan likes to cut the veggies before he prepares whatever meat ingredient the recipe calls for — that way he only has to dirty one cutting board and there’s no cross-contamination.)

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Prepare the chicken thighs by trimming any excess fat (kitchen shears are handy for this process, but a knife works fine too).  Leave the skin on for now, but you’ll remove it later.

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Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides.

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Heat about a teaspoon of olive oil over medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven that is safe to go in the oven without cracking.  Add the chicken thighs, skin side down.

Here is where Dan would do his (unsolicited and uncompensated) commercial for Le Creuset Dutch ovens if  he were writing this post.  Let’s just say he loves his and uses it all the time.

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Cook the chicken for about 5 minutes on each side.  Wait until the skin on the chicken is crisp and browned to turn each thigh.

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Once both sides are done, remove the chicken to a plate to cool.  Spoon out and discard all but about 1 tablespoon of leftover fat from the Dutch oven.

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Add the onions, mushrooms and a pinch of salt to the Dutch oven.

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Saute the onions and mushrooms over medium-high heat until they begin to brown and the moisture from the mushrooms begins to evaporate.

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Add 2-3 minced garlic cloves and saute until the garlic is fragrant (about 30 seconds).  You don’t want to saute the garlic too long at this point, or else it can develop a bitter flavor.

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Add a tablespoon of flour and stir for about a minute.  This will help to thicken the final sauce.

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Next, add the red wine and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom and sides of the Dutch oven.

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Then add the chicken stock and tomatoes…

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…And the thyme.  Note that we used dried thyme, since someone forgot to put fresh thyme on the grocery list.  Because dried herbs are usually more than adequate substitutes for their fresh counterparts, it’s good to keep thyme and other dried herbs (oregano and basil for example) in your pantry or spice cabinet (especially if your grocery-list-maker sometimes doesn’t pay close enough attention to recipes and misses an herb ingredient on occasion, which is perfectly understandable.)

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The parmesan rind in this recipe is optional, but we think it adds a lot of flavor (and makes for a cool picture.)  You could either cut the rind off a fresh block of parmesan, or save them over time as you use up a block of cheese.  They should keep for a very long time in a resealable plastic bag in your fridge.

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Remove the skin from the chicken thighs.

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Add the chicken thighs and any accumulated juices from the plate to the Dutch oven, and season with salt and pepper.  Bring the cacciatore to a simmer.  According to the recipe, the next step is to put the lid on the Dutch oven and place it in the real oven, preheated to 300 degrees, then cook until the chicken is done (about 30 minutes).  If you’d rather not heat up the real oven, you can cook the cacciatore in the covered Dutch oven on the stove, over low heat for about 30 minutes.

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Remove the Dutch oven from the regular oven (or take it off the heat if you used the stove), fish out the parmesan rind and discard, then add the sage.  Salt and pepper as needed.

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We thought the cacciatore would be even better served over garlic pasta.  We boiled some thin spaghetti, then tossed it with a little garlic olive oil and salt and pepper.  If you don’t have any garlic olive oil, just add 1-2 cloves of minced garlic or a few generous sprinkles of granulated garlic to the pasta, and use regular olive oil.

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We were right – the pasta added a nice texture to the meal and soaked up the cacciatore sauce in a very delicious way.  This is a hearty, somewhat earthy and just-rich-enough dish that we will definitely keep in our rotation this winter!

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