Monday, November 16, 2009

Pollo Alla Cacciatora Cookoff

I recently did a Chicken Cacciatora Cookoff . . . with myself!  Pollo alla Cacciatora (we often see the Americanized spelling of cacciatore) is a northern Italy dish which, tradition has it, was prepared on the eve of a hunt, hence the name, “Hunter’s Wife’s Chicken.”  It is, to me, the very definition of home cooked comfort food.  I have several different recipes for the dish, and I decided to prepare three of them to see if one became a favorite.  Note: I prepared them in succession, not the same day, because a) I don’t have that many burners, and b) even with my brother coming for dinner, we couldn’t hope to consume enough of them that I wouldn't have leftovers for weeks.

I started with Chicken Thighs Cacciatore from the Sept. 2002 issue of Cooking Light.  I’ve made if before, and it is fast and easy.  I used a cut up chicken, rather than just thighs, and used only red rather than red and yellow peppers, but otherwise pretty much followed the recipe.  It calls for canned diced tomatoes, thyme, fennel, bay leaf, and red wine.  I like this chicken, the flavor is quite good, if somewhat heavy on the red bell pepper flavor (it calls for 2 cups chopped, for heaven sake!).  The sauce is a bit thin, almost watery.  Its ease and speed work in its favor, however – it is on the table within 45 minutes.

Next I prepared Marcella Hazan’s version of Pollo alla cacciatora.  The two recipes differ slightly, in that Marcella’s dish uses green bell pepper (cut into thin strips rather than chopped), less onion, and a bit of carrot and celery thinly sliced.  The chicken is floured prior to browning, and I like the substance (one can’t really call it crispiness) this gives to the chicken.  Also, Marcella calls for white wine rather than red (and more of it), and I think results in the most prominent difference in flavor between the two.  I used all chicken breasts rather than a cut up chicken, but otherwise followed the recipe closely.  The flavor was quite rich, although the texture is chunky due to Marcella’s instructions about cutting all the veggies in thin strips and slices rather than dice.  I’m not sure I prefer that, but I can always dice the veggies instead when I make it again.

My third recipe was the version from my Saveur Cooks: Authentic Italian cookbook.  This recipe uses onion and garlic only, no peppers or other vegetables.  It calls for whole canned tomatoes with juice, rosemary, bay leaf, white wine, and chicken stock.  The sauce is quite thin; I think the recipe contemplates the wine and juice from the tomatoes evaporating off more rapidly than it actually did - and I was cooking the dish at a good simmer.  I feel I didn’t need the stock to replace the evaporating tomato juice (as described in the instructions), but I added some anyway for flavor, although not the full cup called for.  I have to say I liked this recipe the least; the flavor just wasn’t balanced.  It was too heavy on the canned tomatoes, not enough of anything else.  Interestingly, I prepared this dish the first time “incorrectly,” in that I used diced instead of whole tomatoes, probably more rosemary than called for (which I particularly liked), and no broth.  I actually liked the dish better the first time, although there was still a large quantity of sauce.

All in all, I believe my vote goes to Marcella Hazan’s version.  As noted, I really like the effect of flouring the chicken (this no doubt thickened the sauce as well), and I love the rich flavor.  I have simply made a note to dice the veggies rather than slicing them next time.

Note:  I do have two more chicken cacciatora recipes to try, so there may be a second installment.  Bon appétit!

No comments: