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Pollo alla Cacciatora

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TasunkaWitko View Drop Down
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    Posted: 18 March 2011 at 21:41
This thread will document my attempt at a very old Italian recipe, different from the one we all know as a tomato-sauced dish. It is certainly an intriguing version of familiar classic, and I was drawn as though by a magnet to the wonderful, browned chicken with its rich, deep sauce. I’m guessing that this version was the original pollo alla cacciatora, pre-dating the introduction of the tomato (il pomodoro); however, I do not know for sure.
 
When I made this, I was very impressed with how easy it was, and also with the "bang for the buck" in terms of flavours versus effort; it is impressive, the amount and depth of flavor you get from this dish from so few, simple ingredients. I must say it was a very good way to prepare chicken in a delicious and unique way, and will be made again in our family. I also learned a thing or two while preparing it, and those lessons will be chronicled as well. 
 
I will warn you, dear reader, that due to a mistake on my part, it came out looking pretty bad; but even in spite of this, the taste was wonderful, and I when I make this again, I will post a better picture, which I hope will redeem myself ~
 
Alright, for starters, here's the recipe, from Time/Life's Foods of the World, The Cooking of Italy, 1968:
 
Quote Pollo alla Cacciatora
Braised Chicken with Black Olive and Anchovy Sauce
 
To serve 4:
 
A 2-1/2- to 3-pound chicken, cut up
Salt
Freshly-ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onions
1 teaspoon finely-chopped garlic
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons wine vinegar, preferably white
1/2 cup chicken stock, fresh or canned
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon slivered black olives
3 flat anchovy fillets, rinsed in cold water, drained and chopped
 
Wash the chicken quickly under cold running water and pat the pieces dry with paper towels. Season the pieces with salt and a few grindings or pepper.
 
In a heavy 10- to 12-inch skillet, heat the olive oil until a haze forms over it. Brown the chicken a few pieces at a time, starting them skin side down and turning them with tongs. Transfer the browned pieces to a plate. Now pour off almost all of the fat from the skillet, leaving just a thin film on the bottom. Add the onions and garlic and cook them over moderate heat, stirring constantly, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are lightly coloured. Add the wine and vinegar and boil briskly until the liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Then pour in the chicken stock and boil for 1 or 2 minutes, stirring constantly and scraping in any browned bits that cling to the pan. Return the browned chicken to the skillet, add the oregano and bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Cover the skillet; reduce the heat and simmer, basting occasionally. In about 30 minutes, the chicken should be done; its juice will run clear when a thigh is pierced with the tip of a sharp knife.
 
To serve, arrange the pieces of chicken on a heated plate. Discard the bay leaf and boil the stock left in the skillet until it thickens slightly and has the intensity of flavour desired. Stir in the black olives and anchovies and cook the sauce for a minute or so longer. Pour the sauce over the chicken.
 
Here's a run-down of my preparation, using boneless, skinless chicken thighs and a doubled recipe:
 
I began by flouring the chicken pieces and browning them in the Dutch oven, doing the work in batches:
 
 
Note that I probably shouldn't have done this; the recipe doesn't call for flouring the chicken, and I did it out of simple habit. As the final results demonstrated, I ended up with a clumpy sauce that look awful, in spite of its very good taste. Flouring chicken before braising doesn't seem to work unless you leave the skin on, for whatever reason; I don't know why this is, but I have seen skin-on chicken cooked this way, and it looked scrumptious, without any of the flaws that mine had. Perhaps I didn't shake the flour off enough - I just don't know. Next time, if using skinless chicken, i'll brown it a bit without flouring, and see how it works.
 
Anyway when the pieces were as nicely browned as possible:
 
 
I would remove the peices and set them aside while i did the succeeding batch until all were done. I then removed the largest share of fat in the pan and sautéd the onions, adding the garlic right near the end in order to keep it from scorching and turning bitter:
 
 
As the onions and garlic cooked in the Dutch oven, they picked up the wonderfully-flavoured brown bits in the bottom of the pan. When everything was done, I deglazed the Dutch oven with the wine and vinegar, and when it reduced I also added the chicken stock:
 
 
Next, I forgot the recipe a bit and added everything else, the oregano, bay leaves, olives and anchovies:
 
 
I should have added the olives and anchovies at the end, but it's no big deal.
 
After covering the Dutch oven, I reduced the heat to low and braised the chicken, for about half an hour, give or take. 
 
When the chicken was done, It was clear that flouring the chicken before browning had resulted in a very thick, clumpy gravy-like sauce that looked terrible. As mentioned above, flouring was not called for in the recipe, and I simply shouldn't have done it, but in spite of this, it tasted really good!
 
I served the chicken topped with the sauce on a bed of capelli d'angelo that had been cooked al dente and seasoned simply with olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch or two of salt: 
 
 
At the time, we didn't have any Parmesan or Romano cheese in the house, or even any parsley for garnish, so this dish had to be enjoyed without that final touch.
 
This was a very good-tasting dish, and I was truly impressed with the flavour punch that resulted from such a small number of ingredients. The olives and especially the anchovy, which may seem a bit unusual, were very good compliments for such a dish, and even though we are all accustomed to seeing this dish made with a robust tomato sauce, I certainly did not miss the pomodori in the slightest. Another thing that impressed me was that the capelli d'angelo, even though it was simply seasoned, was so perfectly suited for the flavours of this recipe. 
 
 
In all, this was wonderful and truly rustic example of Italian cooking at its finest. I could easily see this dish (when prepared and presented properly) being served either at a hunter's table after a day in the field, or at a rural trattoria in Italy; perhaps even at a classy urban ristorante.
 
The main mistake I made while preparing this recipe was in flouring the chicken before cooking, as mentioned above. It seems that skinless chicken doesn't do well when floured before browning, resulting in a clumpy-looking sauce. My second mistake, of course, is that I added the olives and anchovies - which are indeed important flavour components that compliment this dish very well - before braising the chicken rather than toward the end of preparation. This did dilute the "pop" of those components somewhat, but at the same time it also allowed the flavours to meld into and wrap around the entire dish, so it didn't hurt too much. Having said that, I could definitely have done just a little better and endeavour to do so next time!
 
Despite the mistakes, it all worked out in the end, but then again, there really is no way to completely screw this one up as it is so easy and packed with so much goodness. The errors I made were not enough to take away my enjoyment of this dish; the rest of the family apparently agreed, since there were no leftovers and Mrs. Tas seemed to enjoy the meal. I would strongly recommend this dish, assuming the correction of my aforementioned errors, to anyone looking for a wonderful and unique Italian feast that is first-class and will impress family and guests alike.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AK1 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 July 2012 at 12:53
I'm having a hard time trying to imagine the taste of olives & anchovies in this dish. It just seems really weird to me. I'm having a hard time putting it all together in my head.

I'll have to try it just to see how it all works together.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 July 2012 at 12:57
Originally posted by Darko Darko wrote:

I'll have to try it just to see how it all works together.
 
That's the best way to find out, Darko!
 
In truth, it seemed a little strange to me at first, also - but it was also intriguing at the same time, and I am glad that I tried it.
 
Please learn from my mistakes above! If you use skinless chicken, you might not want to flour it before browning it. Chicken with skin on seems to be alright when floured - I've seen pictures of it and it looks great; removing the skin seems to have some effect, but I'm not sure what wht it is.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 July 2012 at 14:56
I don't understand the problem, Darko.
 
Black olives/garlic/anchovies are the basic flavors of an olive tapenade, and a piece of chicken (or fish, for that matter), topped with tapenade, is a standard. This recipe, seems to me, just carries that idea to the next level.  
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AK1 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 July 2012 at 20:42
Honestly Brook, I never thought about it that way. I guess what I was doing is imagining the individual flavours and trying to put them together as individual flavours rather than imagining the final blend of flavours.

I hope that makes sense.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 July 2012 at 05:11

Plenty of sense, Darko. Just represents different ways of looking at things.

I try to envision what a final dish will taste like from the blending of flavors, rather then how the individual flavors taste on their own. That is, after all, the whole point of combining flavor ingredients---the total should be more than the sum of its parts.
 
However, even looking at this dish the way you do should work. Each of those flavors, alone, works well with chicken. And we know they work and play well together. So we should expect that they'd work combined in this dish.
 
The key to  a dish like this is ingredient amounts, rather than the ingredients themselves. We're talking about three strong flavors, and we don't want any of them to dominate to the point where it overpowers everything else. Looking at the ingredients list, I don't see that as a problem here.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 July 2012 at 11:37
Tas, Historic Foodie & Ak1, Buonasera,
 
As all of you know I live for professional purposes in The Madrid Capital, we rent a Loft in the city centre, and we own a little Condo, with Adriatic views in Puglia, Italia ... ( the southeast of Italia ).
 
Anchovies, black olives, Olive Oil and numerous other ingredients are the main local products of Italia ...
 
Anchovies and black olives are found in the following famous dishes:
Pasta Puttanesca 
Antipasti
Black Olive Tapenade  
Chicken Marengo ( Napolean´s Chef prepared this in northern Italy for the former Emperor )
Napoli Pizza: anchovies, black olives and tuna or shrimp  
 
And numerous other dishes throughout the country ...
 
Give it a try in small dosis !
 
Have nice summer,
Buonasera,
Ciao,
Sempre.
Margi
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AK1 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 July 2012 at 19:47
Oh, no worries! I have no issues at all with olives or anchovies. Hell, I could sit down and eat a whole jar of anchovies with nothing else as accompaniment, same with olives. Around here I can buy jars of anchovy stuffed olives. I've been known to polish off a whole jar as a late night snackBig smile
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 July 2012 at 04:49
Ak1,
 
You would love Spain and Italia ... if you like olives and anchovies in their uncountable combinations, alone, as a snack, as an ingredient in  a dish or simply out of their jars and / or olives out of the old oak barrels in the Markets ... Anchovies and Pecorino or Manchego ... or with Caprese with mozzarella di bufala.
 
Have a nice wkend.
Margi. Ciao.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 July 2012 at 04:53

Tas,

 
Firstly, thanks so much for my new Avatar ... and all your technological assistance.
 
I have a question: have you ever prepared Black Olive Tapenade ( black olives, anchovies, GARLIC and Evoo combined in FP or Blender ) ? 
 
I believe this might work fab in your recipe and I am going to try it ...
Suggestions ?  Views ?

I can post the TAPENADE recipe with the amounts later this evening ( 18.00 hrs. Puglia time ).
 
Kindest,
Ciao, Margi.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Hoser Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 July 2012 at 07:57
You know Ron...I must agree with Margi on the tapenade angle. 

Here is my recipe if you're interested, and I believe I included it in my cookbook as well, so you should have it on file.

Oh....by the way....love your new avatar Margi
Go ahead...play with your food!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 July 2012 at 09:20
hey, everyone - i've never made tapenade, but i have tried it and did like it.
 
dave, i remember the recipe in your cookbook:
 
 
and really should try it when i make this recipe again. i suppose one could simply stir it right into the recipe at the end, rather than use the olives and the anchovies - no reason not to do it and i bet it would be really good. but i'm thinking it would also go good on garlic bread or possibly bruschetta, as a side?
 
darko, dave or margi - if any of you try this, please be cautious of the pitfalls i mentioned above, and take a picture of the finished dish!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 July 2012 at 10:10
Tas and Hoser,
 
What  I have been thinking is, green olives and anchovies could produce that greyish color, which is not the prettiest color gastronomically. However, black olives, capers, anchovies, Evoo and the garlic would produce a nice rich black  color and it could be added at the final part of the cocoction.
 
Of course, it is also delicious on Italian style toasted bread as a canapé ... 
 
Have great wkend,
Ciao Margi.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 September 2016 at 13:35
We've made this 3 or 4 times over the past few months, as written (without flouring the chicken), and it has tasted very, very good each time. I am guessing that my first attempt should not have used flour - or, at the very least, it should only have been very lightly dusted with flour.

This seems to be a very old recipe and is well worth the effort. I've seen slightly-different versions of this, using green olives, that are touted as Sicilian in nature; however, it was my impression that this particular dish is from Northern Italy. It is also possible, of course that we are talking about two entirely different dishes (three, if you count the familiar, tomato-based version of Chicken Cacciatora).

If anyone knows or has the inclination to track it down, it might make an interesting project.

In any case, I heartily recommend this recipe as a wonderful way to cook chicken; with autumn approaching, this should be on your menu, in my opinion!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 September 2016 at 05:03
Ron, "Sicilian" olives are more than just green. They are a specific, rather large variety (cerignola (sp)), cured in a special brine. Obviously, they originated in Sicily, but are now widely available.

For my taste, they are one of the best.

Although tapanades are made with green olives as well as black, imo this dish cries out for the black ones, both for the flavor profile and visual effect.

When using anchovies in dishes like this, I mash them instead of chopping, so their salty, umami flavor infuses the dish.
But we hae meat and we can eat
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 September 2016 at 08:58
Agreed, Brook - I always mash the anchovies as well, as it seems to make more sense.
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