By Cat, Jun 2014; updated April 2017 (photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)
Back in the 1970s, I challenged a roommate who was going on a 500 calorie a day diet, to see who would fare better after 2 months: her ultra-low cal plan; or my mostly low-carb plan of 1200 calories/day (except I allowed 1500 cal on Sundays).
To reach my goal, I bought The Dieter’s Gourmet Cookbook Volume II (1), which was more like a Weight Watchers diet than low carb, but I made it work. It included a recipe for Chicken Cacciatore, something I’d never tried. It was quite good, with its thick tomato sauce and flavored with herbs and mushrooms.
Although I’m not doing a weight loss diet now, I tried this dish again, following a recipe on Fine Cooking’s website (1). It is surprisingly similar to that old diet recipe; the main difference is that the diet version used brandy extract, and this version uses red wine. While the recipe is for a whole chicken, cut up, I tested it as a half-recipe, using half a Hutterite chicken; the recipe below includes ingredients for full or half-recipe.
2017 update: I’ve updated to add bell peppers as an optional ingredient, and grated Romano or Parmesan cheese as a garnish (based on recipe in “365 ways to Cook Chicken.” (5)
This same basic recipe can also be used for different types of small game, including game birds like grouse or pheasant, or rabbit.
- See also: 1. Brining Chicken; 2. Brining Poultry; 3. Butterflying & Brining Game Hen; 4. Braised Italian Chicken, with Green Beans, Tomatoes & Olives; 5. Poultry & Fowl Menu; Other sites: 1. Quick Polenta (3); 2. Polenta (4)
About that 1970s diet challenge:
I don’t recall what kinds of things she could eat, but it sure wasn’t much. She lost more weight initially, but then started having sleep and other issues.
I mainly avoided/minimized high-carb foods (grains, legumes, sugar). My weight loss was slower, with ups and downs, but by the end of the 2 months,
- I’d lost more weight (based on percentage of weight at start of the challenge) than she did; I dropped 3 dress sizes; she dropped only 1.
- Throughout, I was healthy and full of energy; she had to increase her calories to 900/day after 3 weeks because of health issues.
Hunters’ Chicken (alla Cacciatora)
This recipe is adapted from Fine Cooking (2). I’ve not made many changes, other than to provide a game hen variation in addition to the chicken recipe, and to brine the game hen or chicken breast before cooking. In 2017, I added optional bell pepper and oregano; and grated Parmesan or Romano cheese as a garnish.
Ingredients & Equipment
NOTE: half recipe amounts are in parenthesis
- 1 whole chicken, cut up (breasts brined), or 2 game hens, brined (1/2 whole chicken or 1 game hen)
- unrefined sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 Tbsp (1 – 2 Tbsp) lard or bacon fat; or about ¼ (⅛) lb bacon strips
- 1 (½) yellow onion
- 2 – 3 (1 – 2) cloves garlic
- ¾ cup (6 Tbsp) dry red wine
- 4 (2) fresh sage leaves
- 2 (1) sprigs fresh rosemary, each about 3″ long
- 2 (1) sprigs fresh parsley
- 2 (1) bay leaves, fresh or dried
- 1 – 2 sprigs oregano (or ½ tsp dried), optional, or instead of any of the other herbs
- 3 (1 ½) cups ripe tomatoes, chopped fine; OR one 28-oz (14.5 oz) can whole or chopped tomatoes
- Optional veggies:
- 1 (½) green bell pepper, cored, seeded and sliced
- ½ lb (¼ lb) button or cremini mushrooms, sliced
- grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
- Large bowl (for brining)
- Medium bowl (for chopped tomatoes and their juices)
- Chicken: Cut up bird into thighs, drumsticks, wings, and half-breasts, then cut each half-breast into 2 pieces, crosswise. Set back and neck pieces plus giblets aside for another use (like making stock or soup).
- Game hen(s): Butterfly each hen (cut along each side of spine to remove spine).
- Brine at least breast pieces of chicken, or entire butterflied game hens. Remove from brine, rinse off, then pat all pieces dry. Season with salt and pepper
- Prep: While chicken is in the brine, cut up onion into fine dice, and set aside. Mince garlic and add to onion. Cut up tomato into fine dice and set aside separately (juice included). If using mushrooms, slice enough to make about ½ cup (or more, as desired), and set aside. If using bell pepper, core, then slice lengthwise and set aside with the bell pepper.
- If using bacon, cut bacon slices into ¼” – ½” dice. Transfer to warm saucier and cook until brown and crispy, and much of the fat has rendered. Remove bacon pieces to a plate; if desired, you can add them to the pot when you simmer the chicken.
- Sear chicken pieces/butterflied hens over medium-high heat, skin side down, then turn over and sear the other side, about 3 – 4 minutes per side. You may need to do this in 2 or more batches. If using game hens, sear one hen at a time, both sides. You may need to reduce heat to medium for the second batch. Transfer to a plate.
- Braise: If you have less than 1 Tbsp fat left in the pan, add lard or olive oil to make 1 Tbsp. With heat at medium, add onion and garlic with a pinch of salt and cook 1 minute, stirring and scraping up browed bits with wooden spoon. Add optional bell peppers and mushrooms and cook another 5 minutes, until veggies lightly browned.
- Add red wine to deglaze the pan over medium high heat; continue to boil until wine is reduced by half, 3 – 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, tie up the herbs in a bouquet garni. Add to pan with tomatoes and their juice. Add sliced mushrooms and reserved cooked bacon bits (if using). Return seared chicken or game hens to pan, turning to coat each piece in the sauce. Simmer gently, uncovered until just cooked through, 30 – 45 minutes; turn the pieces occasionally while cooking. The sauce will cook down and thicken.
- Remove chicken pieces to serving platter, using tongs; keep warm. Remove herbs from sauce, and adjust seasoning of sauce with salt and pepper. Spoon sauce over chicken and serve with grated cheese.
7/21/14: used half Hutterite whole chicken, cut up (1 each thigh, leg, wing and breast). Brined breast 30 minutes; seasoned other pieces with salt and all with pepper. Otherwise, ingredients as written, including 3 medium button mushrooms, sliced thinly (about ¾ cup). At first it seemed like it was too much mushroom, but after it was all done, they had cooked down quite a bit. I simmered the chicken for 45 minutes, then removed from saucier to add some broccoli and cook down the sauce a bit more until broccoli was done. Result: very good, and would be even better served on top of polenta (if I weren’t on a low-carb eating plan). See Food Network (3) and Huffington Post (4) for easy polenta recipes, but be sure to use Organic corn meal to avoid GMOs.
- The Dieter’s Gourmet Cookbook Volume II, First Printing Edition (1975), by Sondra Blumenthal
- Fine Cooking Classic Chicken Cacciatore (Hunters’ Style Chicken) recipe (finecooking.com/recipes/classic-chicken-cacciatore.aspx)
- Food Network, Polenta recipe (foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/basic-polenta-recipe.html)
- Huffington Post, Polenta recipe (huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/23/how-to-cook-polenta-recipe_n_3964352.html)
- 365 Ways to Cook Chicken, by Cheryl Sedaker, © 1986 by John Boswell Management, Inc., and published by Harper and Row