Everyone knows that chicken skin has little redeeming nutritional value (except Mr. Smith, who insists that it’s high in vitamins and “flavorines”), but a recipe that calls for it suffers terribly from its omission. Don’t make the well-intentioned mistake of substituting boneless, skinless breasts for the following dish, unless you’re feeling a little heavy in the jowls and could use a jaw workout. Cacciatore means hunter in Italian, and evidently Italian hunters of yore had lots of peppers, onions and tomatoes on hand, an enviable step up from the questionably edible fare being consumed by my ancestors on the great island of potatoes and oats. My mother has made this for as long as I can remember, and every time I review the recipe, I’m surprised that oregano is missing from the ingredient list. Being a New Englander, I assume I’ll need basil and oregano for anything Italian, but the combination of the spices that are called for below produces a distinctly subtle and woodsy flavor, so hang back on enhancements until you give it a try. Especially you, Mrs. Hamilton.
1 small cut-up chicken (official pieces)
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 C chopped white button mushrooms
3/4 C chicken stock
1/2 C dry white wine (real wine)
1/4 C tomato paste
2 tbsp brandy
1 tbsp capers
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 bay leaf
1/8 tsp thyme
1/8 tsp majoram
Set your oven to 200. Dredge the chicken pieces in flour, and really pack it on. Heat the oil in a large, deep pan or pot over medium-high until it’s hot, and sear the chicken for 5 minutes on all sides, dividing the parts up into shifts if space necessitates. Afterward, put them on a heat-proof plate and stick it in the oven to warm.
In the same pan (do not rinse!), still over medium-high heat, add the onions, peppers and mushrooms, and saute for 5 minutes, turning occasionally. Add the wine, enjoy the steam show, and let it cook for 2 minutes before adding all the other ingredients. Stir it up well, then put the chicken back in and bury the pieces in the sauce. The liquid should cover the chicken; add water to bring the level up if needed. Turn the heat down to low, cover the pot, and simmer for 30 minutes. Check the thickest part of one of the breasts to make sure nothing’s still pink.
The only remaining question (which, by the time you’ve completed the above steps, you’ll have answered) concerns the alarmingly absent starch. There are three ways to go: boiled red potatoes, white rice, thick slices of the paradoxical store-bought “artisan” bread (you know, bread from the fancy real-bread section). The bread works best if you’ll be having company and bragging about how you braised the meat.