Sunday, 15 May 2011

A Cacciatore Made for Sea

View from Nice into Villefranche-Sur-Mer

Everyone has ‘their’ dish don’t they?  The dish you have made way more than a few times, perfected and almost claimed as your own. Well mine is my version of the classic chicken cacciatore. I’m almost positive I invented it. I’m not Italian though my Brother-In-Law, the Sommelier, Bil, is Sardinian and once at a party I think I drank my own body weight in Prosecco.

Does that count?

Chicken cacciatore is up there on the Dessert Island Dish list for me with the meatballs. (See, I must be Italian). And once again it is a delicious tomato sauce, slow cooked with beautiful plump chicken thighs, rosemary, moorish black olives all simmering together slowly with a lot of red wine and then served on a perfectly cooked bed of tagliatelle, drizzled with lots of fresh olive oil. Its meaty, it’s rich, it is so deep.

I can get carried away.

It’s all about the slow cooking for me. A dish along these lines can taste one way after an hour of cooking but with exactly the same ingredients and given 2 more gentle hours on the hob, can taste entirely different. It’s a bit like going from economy to first class on an aeroplane (that’s never happened to me actually), like going from flip flops to Jimmy Choos. (This isn’t working for me) I’ll just say it’s another level of good; it’s perfection.

I’m cooking chicken cacciatore in advance for a delivery meal. We leave on Monday for Corsica. It can be gently re-heated and simmering away in one big pot on the gimbaled hob of my boat cooker whilst we sail the high seas. All I have to do when it’s time is to make a big pan of pasta, a big crunchy green salad with parmesan shavings and I’m pretty sure the crew will be happy. It’s a meal that can be made, re-heated and always ends up tasting better the day after it was made and freezes brilliantly. It’s a winner and I’ll say this very quietly due to the very suspicious nature of sailors; it is very good made with rabbit instead of chicken, almost better in fact but I can’t make that on Mariquita. Rabbit on boats is bad-luck. 

To feed 5-6 people you will need;

1 jointed whole chicken, 10 skinned thighs (or 1 jointed rabbit, Sssshhh!)
4 sliced onions
1 tsp sugar
5-6 crushed garlic cloves
1 jar of roasted red peppers or 3 freshly roasted and skinned red peppers, roughly chopped
1 tbsp dried oregano
2-3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 jar of black olives in brine
½ pint of red wine
2 chicken stock cubes
3 tbsp tomato puree
2 tins chopped tomatoes
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar


  • Start by sautéing the chicken pieces in a big pan in sunflower oil until they are browned all over. You're not trying to cook them all the way through, this is just to brown them. When the pieces are browned, remove them from the pan and set aside.

  • Using the fat that’s already in the pan, start to gently sauté the onions with a sprinkling of salt and a tsp of sugar. This could take up to 20 minutes. Your looking for them to just start to colour. Add the garlic and oregano and rosemary.

  • Then add back to the pan the chicken pieces. You may need to transfer to a very large pan like I did, if you’re running out of room.

  • Then bring the heat back up so everything is having a good sizzle and add the tomato paste. Stir it all around to mix well and to fry the tomato paste a bit.

  • Then add the red wine. Let it bubble and reduce for about 8-10 minutes. Next add the tinned tomatoes, red peppers and some of the brine from the black olives. Crumble the chicken stock cubes into the pan and add the balsamic vinegar.

  • Now bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to its lowest setting and leaving the lid off, let the cacciatore sit there for about 1 ½ hours or longer if you wish. It should be just barely simmering.

  • When you put the pan on for the pasta now is the time to add the olives to the chicken. Taste it for seasoning and adjust as you see fit. Garnish with lots of torn basil leaves and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve with rocket and parmesan and a nice big glass of red. Mop up the juices with warm ciabatta bread.

I wish you could smell that.

I have been making this dish as I write it for you so this is exactly how I make it.  But this does mean that you won’t be looking at any pretty pictures of the finished dish just yet. It will be going straight into the freezer once it has cooled, ready for Monday night whilst on our trip to Ajaccio in Corsica. I’ll make sure to remember to take some pictures before I eat it. Well, I’ll try.

I’m going out for dinner tonight in Nice. I’m very excited because apart from a meal at the Delhi Belhi, a great little Indian in the old town, I haven’t really managed to explore Nice all that much. I can say for certain that the super markets are quite a way from the harbour and it’s definitely worth calling a taxi for the Carrefour. There are lots of little Spars around the old town and some open on Sundays, but do watch out for the dog pooh (all week, not just Sundays). French hop-scotch.

Before I go I’d love to hear some feedback from you, so please fill in the comment box below. If you’re struggling with that, I’ve heard it’s not easy, then if you go to my Facebook page, 33 Degrees, and leave a comment there, I would be very grateful. Simply click on the Facebook window on the right, halfway down this page.  If you would like any menu ideas, advice or have any questions at all about food, I would love to be able to assist if I can. And if you want to share some recipes of yours with me, especially your secret little tricks for making good food excellent, I'd be even more grateful. I can try your recipes out on my crew. You'll recieve the best feedback from them. They're a large, hungry bunch of foodies.

Thanks for reading folks. Let’s get talking!  Cheers.