The “caccia” in cacciatore means “hunt,” so I guess this is chicken hunter’s style. Somewhere along the line—probably on its trip from Italy to America—the pheasant or guinea hen in this dish was replaced by chicken. If you don’t want to cut up a whole chicken, you can buy pieces—get all legs and thighs if that’s what you like. They are very good in this dish. It can be made using only chicken breasts, if that’s your preference, but to keep the chicken from drying out, you should cut the cooking time in half, reduce the wine to 1/4 cup and the tomatoes to 3 cups. Best of all, though, is to make this dish with an older hen. In this case, increase the cooking time by 20 minutes, adding more water or stock as needed to keep the hen covered as it cooks.
When you cut up chicken, or anything for that matter, your knife should glide along. If you’re struggling, stop for a second and take a look at what you’re cutting; you should be cutting between the bones at the joints, not actually cutting through the bones. If you’re off target, just wiggle the blade of the knife to get a feel for where the joint is, then make another cut. With practice, you’ll get a sense for where the joints lie.
- 2 broiler chickens (about 2 ½ pounds each, preferably free range)
- Freshly ground pepper
- All-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 1 cup)
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- One 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, with liquid, crushed
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably the Sicilian or Greek type dried on the branch, crumbled
- 2 cups sliced white or shiitake mushrooms (about 8 ounces)
- 1 each, red and yellow bell peppers, cored, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch strips (about 2 cups total)
Cut each chicken into 12 pieces: With a sturdy knife or kitchen shears, remove the backbone by cutting along both sides. Remove the wingtips. Reserve the backbone, wingtips and giblets— except for the liver— to make chicken stock. Or, if you like, cut the backbone in half crosswise and add it to this dish.) Place the chicken, breast side down, on a cutting board and cut the chicken into halves by cutting through the breast bone lengthwise. Cut off the wing at the joint that connects it to the breast, then cut each wing in half at the joint. Separate the leg from the breast. Cut the leg in half at the joint. Cut the breast in half crosswise, giving the knife a good whack when you get to the bone to separate the breast cleanly into halves. Repeat with the remaining chicken.
Season the chicken pieces generously with salt and pepper. Dredge the pieces in flour, coating them lightly and tapping off excess flour. In a wide (at least 12-inch), 5-quart braising pan, heat the vegetable oil with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil until a piece of chicken dipped in the oil gives off a very lively sizzle. Add as many pieces of chicken to the pan as will fit without touching. Do not crowd chicken; if skillet is not wide enough to fit all of the chicken, brown it in batches. Remove the chicken from the skillet as it browns, adding some of the remaining pieces of chicken to take their place. Remove all chicken from the skillet, add the onions to the fat remaining in the pan and cook, stirring, 5 minutes.
Pour the wine into the pan, bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and oregano, season lightly with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Tuck the chicken into the sauce, adjust the heat to a gentle boil and cover the pan. Cook, stirring a few times, 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and peppers and toss until the peppers are wilted but still quite crunchy, about 8 minutes. Season the vegetables with salt.
Stir the peppers and mushrooms into the pan. Cook, covered, until the chicken and vegetables are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Check the level of the liquid as the chicken cooks. There should be enough liquid to barely cover the chicken. If necessary, add small amounts of water to maintain the level of liquid as the chicken cooks.