Braised Italian Chicken or Game Hens, with Green Beans, Tomatoes & Olives



By Cat, Oct 2010 (photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

Braising meats is one of the most healthful ways to prepare them, as they cook in a moist, warm environment. If you use bone-in meat, you also get the benefit of the minerals and other nutrients in the bones, when they cook in this moisture.

This is a great dish, especially in the summer when you can use fresh green beans and tomatoes from your garden or a farmers market.

I love brined kalamata olives, which are thankfully becoming available in rural Montana, but if you can’t find brined kalamatas, look for them in jars in the olive section. I do not recommend using canned ripe (black) olives, but green olives would be OK. Or bottled capers.

Braised Italian Chicken with Green Beans, Tomatoes & Olives

This recipe is adapted from Fine Cooking (1), and is a close relative of Hunter’s Chicken (alla Cacciatora). The original recipe uses boneless thighs, which you can certainly do if you don’t want to contend with the bones. But be aware that chicken packaged in pieces, especially if boneless, likely comes from factory chicken farms, most of which use inhumane practices. Also, when you braise bone-in meats, your braising liquid will be enhanced with the minerals and other nutrients from the bones.

If you start with a whole chicken, you can opt to use all the pieces, or a select few such as just the legs (thighs & drumsticks), or just the breasts. Bone-in meat takes longer to cook than boneless; I’ve included instructions for either version in this adaptation.

One of the times I made this dish using a game hen, I had some mushrooms on hand, so sliced and sautéed them with the green beans. I didn’t remove them with the beans, but rather let them cook with the hen. This was a good addition. Another time, I had some fennel leaves to use up so added them with the tomatoes; another good addition.

Serves 4. This has become one of my favorite dinners.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • 1 whole pasture-raised chicken or 4 legs (drumsticks & thighs)
  • kosher salt (for brining, optional)
  • ½ cup unbleached white flour or whole grain oat flour
  • Unrefined sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • ¾ lb fresh green beans
  • 4 – 6 button mushrooms, sliced (optional)
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed & peeled
  • 1 ½ to 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (or one 14.5 oz can of chopped tomatoes); or a mix of 2-parts fresh and 1-part sundried tomatoes
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary (or ½ tsp dried)
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp olive, coconut or avocado oil
  • ½ tsp unrefined sea salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ⅓ cup dry red wine
  • ¼ – ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • ⅓ cup pitted & quartered kalamata olives
  • Equipment:
  • large bowl (for brining, optional)
  • 3-quart saucier or Dutch oven


  1. Cut chicken into pieces (drumsticks, thighs, wings, breasts, backs, neck). Set aside the bony pieces (backs, neck) for another use such as broth. If the breasts are large, cut each half-breast into half.
  2. Brine just the breasts for 30 minutes, or all the pieces for 1 hour or more. Rinse and pat dry. Generously salt any pieces that have not been brined, and sprinkle pepper over all.
  3. Meanwhile, wash and trim beans; smash garlic and remove peel. Chop tomatoes and rosemary.
  4. Dredge chicken pieces in flour, then brown in hot olive oil over medium high heat, 2 – 3 minutes per side. You may need to do in batches to avoid overcrowding; removing each batch to a plate until all pieces are browned.
  5. Add 1 Tbsp olive oil and return pieces to pot. Add mushrooms (if using), green beans, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, about 2 minutes. Drain off all but 1 Tbsp fat. If using bone-in meat, remove beans and set aside, to be added back later.
  6. Add red wine and cook until it almost totally evaporates, 1 – 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and their juices with rosemary and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer; braise 15 min. (chicken) or 30 min. (game hen), stirring occasionally. If using boneless meat, go to next step. If using bone-in, add beans back to pot and cook another 15-20 minutes, or until chicken is done.
  7. Add olives and continue to cook with lid ajar until chicken is tender, 5 – 10 minutes more. Adjust seasoning and serve.

Assembly or Serving ideas

  • A salad of greens with balsamic dressing is a nice first course.
  • Arrange the chicken pieces and beans over a bed of linguini or bow-tie pasta (farfalle) and spoon sauce over.
  • Accompany with a rustic crusty bread and olive oil or butter; or slice the bread, brush with garlic butter and warm in oven. See my Ciabatta Integrale (whole-grain Italian sourdough).

Variation: Braised Cornish Game Hens, Italian Style

Serves 4. Make as above with following changes:

  • Use 2 cornish game hens, about 22 oz ea, instead of chicken pieces. These just barely fit in my 3-quart saucier, when braising in the tomato liquid. A Dutch oven would be better.
  • Brine hens: plan on 1 quart brine per pound of whole bird (or 1 quart brine per butterflied bird), and up to 1 cup Kosher salt per gallon water for the brine. For more info on brining game hens and other poultry see my posts: Brining ChickenBrining PoultryCornish Game Hens, Grouse, Pheasant & Other Small Fowl (scroll to Brining section).

For 2 hens weighing 22 oz each or 1.75 pounds, total, I use ¾  cup Kosher salt, ¼ cup brown sugar and about 1 tsp crushed dried rosemary in 11 cups water, for 2 hours in the fridge.

  • After brining, rinse hens and then cut them in half lengthwise, removing the backbone (I add the backbones to the cooking mixture, but remove before serving. It adds flavor and minerals to the sauce; and my cats like the backbone).
  • Because brining softens the skin so that it doesn’t get as crispy as desired, Place halved hens to dry on a plate, skin-side up, uncovered, in the fridge overnight. Then resume recipe with step 3.
  • Braise with tomatoes about 30 minutes before adding seared beans and olives, then 10 – 15 minutes more, or to desired doneness. If you want the meat to fall off the bones, it will need another 15 minutes or so of simmering.


Testing 10/12/10: Used 4 thighs, bone-in, for half recipe. Made as instructed except after searing beans with garlic, I removed the beans, then added back after the 15 minute braising period, then braised another 20 minutes before adding olives. This allowed enough cooking time for the thighs to get done, without overcooking the beans. Result: Flavor excellent, with a bit of heat. If you don’t want that much heat, reduce the amount of red pepper flakes.

Testing 12/19-20/10: Used 2 cornish game hens instead of chicken pieces, as detailed above. NOTE: I used Muir Glen canned Organic chopped tomatoes because good fresh tomatoes are just not available in winter Montana. Result: Excellent! I served over bow-tie pasta (farfalle), which was a nice combination.

Testing 9/11/11: Today is a somber day, but it’s Sunday and I like to make something special, so it will be this dish. I bought some fresh fennel (to make my Beet, Fennel and Orange Salad) and need a use for the stalks and feathery leaves, so I decided something Italian would be appropriate. This recipe doesn’t call for fennel, but I’m adding some anyway, about 1 stalk and its leaves (for a half recipe), chopped, to add with tomatoes & fresh rosemary from my garden. Otherwise made as written, cutting recipe in half. I used 1 leg, 1 wing and 1 breast – a half chicken. I got some nicely ripe, locally grown (hydroponic) tomatoes, so used a little more than half recipe. Result: Fresh fennel is a nice addition, and very Mediterranean.

Testing 11/25/12: I didn’t do my own turkey for Thanksgiving and didn’t get any leftovers, so I have a hankering for chicken. Decided to try this recipe with a whole cut-up Hutterite chicken, brined for 2 hours in the same brine I use for game hens (Kosher salt, Rapadura sugar, water). This time of year I have to use whole frozen green beans, and canned tomatoes (or home-canned/frozen). I added halved crimini mushrooms and capers, in addition to the olives, to be more like cacciatore. Otherwise made as in recipe. A whole cut-up chicken is too much for my saucier pan – fills to the very top. No room to add back the beans, so I removed all the pieces except what I would eat the first dinner; the removed pieces will finish cooking when I reheat. In future, use only of the half breasts (halved), and save the other half-breast for something else.

Testing 8/9/18: Bought 4 thighs and one half breast (from local free-range chickens); all were quite large, totaling 4 pounds, so should be 4 servings. Cut the half breast into 4 pieces, and dredge all 8 pieces, then cooked in hot coconut oil in batches. Prepped 8 oz fresh, local green beans, enough ripe grape tomatoes cut into quarters (some were older and had dried so I soaked them in some water to soften, then cut each in two, and added to the fresh ripe ones)  to make 1¼ cups Chopped and squashed 4 small garlic cloves, plus sliced 3 garlic scapes from my garden. Made as written, using 4 Tbsp red wine (since pieces are so large), ¼ tsp red pepper flakes, and a couple twigs of frozen rosemary (from last year’s garden). Since chicken is bone-in, I removed the beans after a few minutes, then added back after 20 minutes braise-time, for another 15-20 minutes of braise. Added about ¼ cup brined and sliced Kalamata olives, and braised additional 5 minutes. Did not use mushrooms because I forgot to buy some… It smells wonderful as it cooks (and I lost my sense of smell a couple years ago, so this is a surprise). Result: Very good but I cooked the beans a bit too long when I got distracted by a phone call. Tomatoes were delicious, especially the ones that had dried – nicely sweet. In future I will use sundries tomatoes for part of the tomato amount.


  1. Fine Cooking recipe (

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