The originally Tuscan dish called pollo alla cacciatora has been a part of my family repertoire as long as I can remember. When I prepare it, I am invariably reminded of growing up in the northern Italian countryside — years that proved formative in more ways than I can describe in an introduction to preparing a stew. Suffice it to say that being surrounded by Renaissance villas helped to make me the (hopeless) romantic that I am today. And just exactly what this has to do with a baked chicken is quite simple – it’s perfectly logical I promise.
My senses are triggered by the perfume of rosemary and tomatoes. Their aroma remind me not only of Italy but also bring back important memories of my childhood. This is what home cooking does — it connects the past with the present. If recipes tell the stories of our lives as I believe they do, the food story below carries a diary of unwritten personal history along with its cooking instructions. It is also my answer to winter’s supper.
Like any good food baked in a pot, pollo alla cacciatora also known as hunter style chicken takes time. Fortunately, waiting around the stove is not a part of the cooking process. After a bit of cutting and chopping — something I find quite relaxing — the oven does the work of mingling flavors and textures all by itself.
- one whole organic chicken weighting 1500-1750 grams . or 6-8 organic chicken thighs
- a generous teaspoon of coarse sea salt
- 75 ml extra virgin olive oil .
- two red onions equal in weight to 500 grams
- three celery stalks equal in weight to 250 grams
- one head of garlic
- one orange . my favorite in the winter are blood oranges
- a generous handful of rosemary . about 12-15 sprigs
- one 400ml can of plum tomatoes . my favorite are the San Marzano type
- one glass of dry red wine . about 75 ml . this is optional but definitely recommended
- one bunch of rainbow carrots . equal in weight to one kilo
- three bay leaves
- 100 grams purple Taggia or Kalamata olives
- 1/2 bunch of flat leaf parsley
Remove the chicken from the refrigerator one hour before putting it in the oven. Get together all of your ingredients. Peel the onions and cut them in half. Lay the flat side of the onion on a chopping board and slice them vertically into thin wedges. Heat two tablespoons of oil at medium heat in a skillet. Add the onions with a pinch of sea salt and saute them until softened and translucent, stirring occasionally. Pour in the glass of red wine and allow the alcohol to evaporate, by simmering it five minutes. Stir in the plum tomatoes and turn off the heat. This is the basis to the sauce that gives this dish its name. Preheat the oven to 120 degrees Celsius (250 degrees Fahrenheit).
Wash the celery stalks. Cut the blood orange and the head of garlic in half. Squeeze the orange wedges into the chicken cavity before stuffing them with the rinds, adding the garlic and celery. Tuck the rosemary into the cavity – and if it doesn’t all fit lay them between the drumstick and the chicken breast. Rub in the skin of the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle it generously with sea salt. Place the chicken in a casserole dish and pour over the onion-red wine-tomato mixture. Wrap the chicken tightly with parchment paper. Bake the chicken one and a half hours.
Meanwhile wash and peel the rainbow carrots, cutting them in half lengthwise. Fill a pan with enough water to cover the vegetables. Add a good pinch of sea salt and bring the water to a boil. Add the bay leaves and blanch the carrots about four minutes until al dente (the lovely Italian term for food with a bite). Drain the carrots and set aside.
Remove the chicken from the oven. Spoon the tomato sauce and the roast chicken juices over the skin and arrange the carrots around the meat. Turn up the oven temperature to 135 degrees. Remove the lid or loosen the parchment paper covering the chicken and put it back in the oven for 45 minutes, or until the drumstick juices run clear. Increase the oven temperature to 145 degrees, removing the parchment paper. Baste the chicken with the tomato sauce once more, returning the chicken to the oven no more than 10 minutes to brown the skin before removing it and setting it aside to cool every so slightly.
Wash and dry the flat leaf parsley and chop it fine. Pit the olives and crush them with the parsley in a pestle and mortar with a tablespoon of olive oil. Serve the chicken with crusty bread, roasted or mashed potatoes or simply with a stir fry of rainbow chard next to a bowl of smashed parsley olives.
This one pot recipe keeps well at room temperature and makes the ideal afternoon supper dish. I bake my chicken at low temperature because it makes the meat fall off the bone. There are many ways to roast a chicken. So if you find yourself pressed for time — increase the oven temperature to 200 degrees. The chicken will still taste wonderful and will be done in half the time.
The olive mash is not essential and actually not traditional to the originally Tuscan recipe – but it makes for a salty and savory addition to the sweetness of the tomato and wine in the dish.
This recipe is my twist on one of Jamie’s 10 Food Revolution recipes. I gladly contribute to Mr. Oliver’s campaign as super ambassador of the Food Revolution. I too feel that teaching and passing on cooking skills to friends and family makes life not only more meaningful but infinitely more valuable on an emotional level. Read more on this here.