Many years ago, even before America's culinary taste became more sophisticated, chicken cacciatora was a red sauce cliché. Once considered a gourmet dish because it used wine, the chicken was blanketed in mushrooms and tomato sauce, both often straight from cans. The sauce was flavored with so-called Italian seasoning, a commercial blend of dried herbs and dehydrated garlic.
The original cacciatora was created in central Italy during the Renaissance, not long after tomatoes, which were discovered in the New World, were introduced to Italian cooks. Cacciatora means “hunter’s style,” and this rustic dish was originally served during game season. Only the wealthy could enjoy it because to get the meat, often pheasant or rabbit, you had to be rich enough to own land where you could hunt the game.
Like most cucina casalingua, or Italian home-cooking, chicken cacciatora is a dish with some constants – tomatoes, mushrooms and parsley – and many variations, including olives, wild mushrooms like porcini, or grated cheese. In place of wine, some cooks prefer red wine vinegar, which has an edge they believe better compliments the full-bodied sauce.
Cacciatora is sometimes seasoned with oregano, tarragon, or rosemary. When fresh oregano and tarragon are not available, their dried versions are acceptable, but not so with rosemary. Fresh rosemary, when finely chopped, disappears into the sauce, while dried rosemary, even when crumbled, leaves sharp, needle-like bits in the sauce. Parsley is another essential herb. Its flavor enhances the sauce as much as its color adds appealing contrast.
As the local tomato season ends, chicken cacciatora, hearty but not heavy, is a perfect way to enjoy tomatoes in the winter because it is best made using processed tomatoes. Italian cooks favor strained tomatoes, but canned diced tomatoes, so plentiful in American supermarkets, work fine.
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Yield: Makes 4 servings.
- 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lb. whole skinless and boneless chicken breast, cut in 4 pieces
- 1 medium red onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 8 oz. sliced white mushrooms
- 3 Tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided
- 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary, or 2 tsp. dried, crumbled
- 1 can (about 15 oz.) diced tomatoes, with their juices
- 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the chicken lightly on both sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.
- In the same pan, sauté the onion until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until they release their liquid and soften, about 6 minutes. Mix in 2 tablespoons of the parsley and the rosemary. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and vinegar, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to incorporate any browned bits into the sauce.
- Return the chicken to the pan. When the sauce bubbles, reduce the heat, partially cover and simmer 15 minutes. Turn the chicken and cook until it is no longer pink in the center at the thickest part, about 5 minutes longer. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Divide the cacciatora among 4 plates. Garnish with the remaining parsley and serve.
Nutritional Information Per Serving:211 calories
5 g. total fat (less than 1 g. saturated fat),
12 g. carbohydrate
29 g. protein
3 g. dietary fiber
222 mg. sodium
Diabetic Exchanges: 3-1/2 Low-Fat Meat, 2 Vegetable