Chicken Cacciatore in a Terracotta PotMar 03, 2017Posted by Chef LeoPrint
In Chicago, we don’t get 4 seasons…
It’s either blistering heat or frigid cold. We like to blame this phenomenon on Lake Michigan. Locally, we refer to it as the “Lake Effect”. In the winter months, when we are all tucked in and waiting for the weather to warm up, usually we will go from Winter to Summer in a 24 hour period without really knowing the joys of Spring or Fall, there’s nothing better than preparing a slow cooked meal in front of an open fire.
As a kid, I can remember coming home from school on a cold winter day and immediately smelling the house filled with whatever goodness my mother had been cooking up in the kitchen. As southern Italians, our regional winter cuisine was always something that was simmering in a pot low and slow. This method of Terracotta cooking would allow magical things to happen as flavors and textures would change as they cooked slowly for hours. My recipe for Chicken Cacciatore in the oven is a tribute to my mother and her passion to make meals in the same manner that her mother taught her.
“Clay pots need to warm up slowly to prevent cracking. Give your pot 5 minutes to warm before placing it in a hot oven.” – Leo
This recipe for chicken cacciatore in the oven may seem like it has a lot of steps but most can be done ahead of time and then simply put together in the pot and placed near the fire. I’ve done this dish as a special in many restaurants in Chicago and I feel that if the entire dish is made ahead of time and then allowed to sit in the fridge for 24 hours, the flavors develop depth and intensity. When using this method, all you’re really doing is rewarming this dish before serving. I like to use smaller clay pots called “cazuelas” for this. I put an entree sized portion into each cazuela and then when an order comes up, it’s simply placed into the mouth of the oven until ready. It’s usually fast too, like 15 minutes and the sauce is up to a fast simmer.
Try this dish as I wrote it at first but remember, in Italy, this dish is referred to as “Casalinga” which means home-style. It’s not supposed to be exact, just good! Add some crushed red pepper for spice or anything else you might have in your pantry. This dish is also fantastic if you replace the chicken for rabbit, pork, or veal. Get creative, artichokes are nice as well as roasted red peppers. I like to serve my chicken cacciatore with polenta. I find that the sauce with all the tomatoes, onions, pancetta, and olives goes great with the creamy polenta. I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I do. Buon appetito!
Cooking in clay pots has been used by almost every culture throughout history. In Southern Italy, the clay pot used for Terracotta cooking is called “La Pignata”. The food inside the pot loses little to no moisture because it’s surrounded by steam, creating a tender, flavorful dish. Water absorbed within the walls of the pot prevents burning as long as the pot is not allowed to dry out completely.
Clay pots come glazed or unglazed. It is important to select glazed pots that are lead-free and safe for cooking.
Cacciatore (catch-ah-toh-ray) in Italian means hunter. This style of cooking is believed to have originated in Central Italy during the Renaissance period. Since poultry was considered a delicacy during these times, the first variations of this dish probably used pheasant or quail as the meat and not chicken. This makes sense considering a hunter probably wouldn’t be roaming through the woods looking for wild chickens to shoot!
After the hunt, it’s believed that these hunters would collect ingredients they could find in the forest to bring home to cook with like foraged mushrooms, fragrant plants, and wild onions. These ingredients would all be combined and allowed to slowly cook in a pot until the meat was very tender and the sauce had reduced down into something hearty that could be eaten with crust bread.
Yield: Serves 3 – 4
- 3-4 Lbs Chicken Thighs, Bone In
- 1 Lemon, halved
- Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper
- 1/2 cup + 2 tbs Olive Oil
- 1/2 cup Pancetta, chopped
- 1/2 cup Applewood Smoked Bacon, chopped
- 4 Yellow Onions, sliced
- 4 Garlic Cloves, minced
- 2 tsp Fresh Thyme, chopped
- 1 tsp Fresh Sage, chopped
- 1 – 28oz can Carmelina whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 cup Dry White Wine
- 1 lb Fresh Mushrooms, quartered
- 1 cup Oil-Cured Black Olives, pitted
- 1/2 cup Fresh Italian Parsley
- Preheat your wood fired oven to 500 degrees f
- Rinse Chicken and pat dry with paper towels.
- Rub Chicken pieces with lemon halves and sprinkle with salt and pepper
- In a large sauté pan, add 2 tbs Olive Oil and heat.
- Add Pancetta, Bacon, and Mushrooms. Cook until brown.
- With a slotted spoon, transfer Pancetta, Bacon, and Mushrooms to a separate plate. Retain rendered fat in pan.
- Add onions to pan and return to heat until they take on some color. Add garlic and continue to cook unti translucent.
- Deglaze pan with white wine and then add Thyme, Sage and Tomatoes.
- Bring Sauce to a gentle boil and then return cooke mushrooms, pancetta, and bacon to the sauce. Allow to reduce for 15 minutes.
- In a sizzle plate, add half cup of Olive oil and place chicken on top. Cook for 10 minutes until browned on all sides.
- Prepare clay pot or enamel coated cast iron dutch oven with a light coating of Olive Oil.
- Once sauce and chicken are ready, remove them from oven.
- Inside clay pot, add enough sauce to cover bottom. Add 4-5 Chicken pieces then cover with more sauce. Continue to fill pot in layers until add of the chicken and sauce are inside.
- Cover pot and cook for 50 minutes near mouth of oven, rotating pot half way through.
- Remove lid from pot, add black olives and continue to cook for 10 minutes uncovered.
- Carefully remove pot from oven.
- On a serving platter, arrange chicken pieces and then top with sauce.
- Finish with Fresh Chopped Italian Parsley.
- Serve Immediately. Buon Appetito!
* Once chicken has cooked, it can be cooled and refrigerated for 24 hours to allow flavors to marry. After 24 hours, reheat until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
To learn more about Leo Spizzirri visit www.askleopizza.com