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Chicken Cacciatore - Pollo alla Cacciatora

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Chicken Cacciatore, or Pollo alla Cacciatora: This is one of those recipes that almost everyone has made, and almost everyone's version differs: For some it's plain chicken stewed in tomatoes with a little wine, some add olives, others shrimp, and others entirely different ingredients.

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes


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The simplest recipe I've found is Pellegrino Artusi's, from The Art of Eating Well (my translation of his book, published by Random House in 1996), though if truth be told it's older -- he copied it almost word-for-word from Il Re dei Cuochi, The King of Cooks, a book published anonymously by Salani in 1885:

"Chop a large onion and soak it in cool water for at least a half hour," Artusi says, "then drain it and fry it in oil or lard. Once it's done, set it aside. Chop a chicken, fry it in the grease left in the pan, and once it has browned return the onion. Season the mixture with salt and pepper and sprinkle it with a half cup of San Giovese or other good quality red wine, a half cup of tomato sauce, and simmer for five minutes before serving it.

"I warn you that this dish isn't suitable for weak stomachs."

As you might expect, the pollo alla cacciatora presented by Livio Cerini del Castegnate in A Tavola per Amare is quite different; he says, "ours is for lovers," and goes on to suggest that the chicken should be cut into bite-sized pieces, and, should you not feel up to the task, that you should find a kind-hearted butcher to do it for you.

Flour the chicken pieces, salt them lightly, and set them aside.

Julienne two carrots, four to five stocks of celery (you may want to reduce this), and dice four or five medium-sized potatoes.

Take a large, high-sided pot, melt two tablespoons of unsalted butter in it, and as soon as the butter starts to crackle add about 3 ounces (75 g) shredded cured lard or pancetta, assuming your chicken weighs about 2 1/4 pounds (1 k), together with abundant fresh sage and a very thinly sliced onion. Cook, stirring, over a brisk flame until the onion begins to color, then add the chicken pieces and continue cooking, stirring them about so as to brown all sides. Cook the meat for about ten minutes, and in the meantime warm a half cup of dry white wine. Once the ten minutes is up stir the wine into the pot, dust with freshly ground pepper, and cook until the wine evaporates. Add the chopped vegetables and cook, stirring, still over a brisk flame; should things look like they're beginning to stick down, add a little hot broth.

Keep cooking for about 15 minutes, shifting things around in the pot as you do and adding liquid should it be necessary (it likely will), then stir in a brimming ladle of hot broth into which you have dissolved two tablespoons of tomato paste. Mix well, cover, reduce the flame to a low simmer, and cook until the meat is fork tender. At this point add a handful of freshly shelled peas, which will gain grace from a grind of pepper. Five minutes more and the dish is done!

Serve with a zesty red wine, along the lines of a Chianti d'Annata or a good Valpolicella Classico, rice that's buttered and dusted with freshly grated Parmigiano, and, if you like, finely sliced white truffles.

A note: Many recipes essentially follow the lines laid down by the anonymous cook Artusi copied from, but add olives or shrimp (or even both) together with the tomatoes. Experiment, and see what you like!

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