A rustic Italian classic, this Chicken Cacciatore is a deeply satisfying braise of fork-tender chicken and vegetables in a rich tomato sauce with pops of briny olives throughout. The perfect dish for a family meal or for entertaining friends.
Easy Chicken Cacciatore
I could say with almost absolute certainty if my mother-in-law was cooking us dinner on a Sunday there would be chicken cacciatore. Never a complaint from anyone. The adults loved it, my kids loved it. Alongside her infamous risotto, it was just about the most exquisite, comforting meal we could be spoiled with.
Years of tinkering with this dish did not come close to hers. Until now. Turns out I was trying too hard. The beauty of this dish lies in its very simple, rustic roots. For too long, I was also relying on recipes that have been very “Americanized”. Delicious in their own right, but not what we remembered. Google “Chicken Cacciatore” then google “Pollo alla Cacciatora” and you will see the difference.
I’m not saying red peppers and mushrooms don’t belong in chicken cacciatore, but omitting them, along with other bits of information I experimented with throughout the years, has brought me to what I believe is a version very close, if not identical, to my mother-in-laws. A version that has fewer ingredients, could not be simpler to make, and will have you scraping up every last morsel on your plate. You’ll see.
What Is Chicken Cacciatore (Pollo alla Cacciatora)?
Cacciatore means “hunter style” in Italian. “Pollo alla cacciatora” is a dish originating from Italy’s countryside and refers to the style of hunters braising bone-in chicken with lots of wonderful aromatics and splashes of wine. Other game animals can be used such as rabbit, guinea fowl, or less commonly, boar.
There are infinite variations of this robustly flavoured, rustic dish and every Italian will tell you theirs is authentic and the best one. It likely is since this is a dish everyone can tweak to their family traditions and liking.
Aside from the chicken, the braise itself generally contains little more than tomatoes and wine, plus your classic assortment of aromatics, like onion, garlic, carrot, and celery. You would think a dish with such basic ingredients, and so simple to prepare, will result in a tasty but unremarkable braise. And yet, when done right, chicken cacciatore’s distinguishable flavour is absolutely exquisite. A dish you will be dreaming about for days once you’ve eaten it for the first time. Some chicken cacciatore include tomatoes, others do not making it a bianco cacciatore. White wine can be used but if trying to keep with tradition, stick to red wine.
Depending on the season, or region of Italy, some traditional recipes will include foraged mushrooms, olives, or red peppers. Though I love mushrooms, I find I don’t miss them in this dish. The same goes for the red peppers which I find almost a little too sweet for this dish. Instead, I like to add a few red chili peppers which seem to be an ingredient more in keeping with many of the Italian recipes I came across.
Olives may be optional but their briny, sharp flavours pair wonderfully with the earthiness of this chicken stew. Either green or black olives will work. Just be sure to start out with unpitted olives which have so much more flavour than those already pitted.
Ingredients And Notes
- Chicken – Bone-in chicken is best for the most flavourful chicken cacciatore. Dark meat will always be better for braising since it almost never dries out. You can use a cut-up whole chicken, chicken thighs, drumsticks, or a mix like I have. If you prefer to use boneless chicken thighs or breast, just make sure you reduce the cooking time accordingly.
- Onions, garlic, celery, and carrots – The classic Italian soffritto that will inject loads of flavour into this chicken cacciatore. It is important to note, however, that we are not looking for chunky vegetables here. Cooked until meltingly-soft, the finely minced vegetables form the sauce along with the tomatoes. Thankfully, there isn’t that many vegetables to chop and a little bit of extra work will reward you with something extraordinary. If you simply don’t feel like chopping, go ahead and use a mini chopper to help you along.
- Tomatoes – Here it is not so much about which tomatoes you use but the quantity—a chicken cacciatore braise should not be very tomato-heavy. You will only need about two cups of fresh chopped tomatoes, crushed canned tomatoes, or whole tomatoes crushed with your hands. A good passata will also work.
- Red chili – A few chopped chilis add lovely flavour and just a mere touch of spice that will make you want to keep coming back for more. You can omit it, if you wish, or use a few pinches of red pepper flakes.
- Red wine – You will want to enjoy this exquisite chicken cacciatore with a nice glass of red wine, yes? Use a cup from that bottle for the stew.
- Olive oil – Try and use a good extra-virgin olive oil here. It is an important ingredient for adding a lot of flavour to the stew.
- Fresh herbs – Sage and rosemary infuse the cacciatore with lovely aromas that to me taste like Italy. I prefer to use a whole rosemary sprig, and whole sage leaves but you can give them a rough chop if you prefer. I was out of bay leaves when I was photographing this cacciatore but if you have some, throw one in. To finish, chopped fresh parsley will add brightness and colour.
- Seasonings – I season with just salt and pepper but a bit of dried oregano would not be out of place here.
- Black or green olives – Use your favourite olives here, as long as they still have the pit when you buy them. I use gaeta olives and I never bother taking the pit out, either. It goes without saying that olives are optional but I find they add more rich flavours to the braise.
How To Make Chicken Cacciatore
Simple enough for a weeknight, yet lovely for entertaining, this rustic classic braise has a luscious blending of flavours that is truly like no other. Here is the step-by-step to make it:
- Pat dry the chicken pieces then season all over with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan with a lid over medium-hight heat. Brown the chicken, 3 minutes a side or until the chicken releases easily to flip. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Reduce heat to medium, add the onions, celery, carrots, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally and scraping any meaty residue from the bottom of the pan, until vegetables soft are and tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the bay leaf, rosemary, and sage, season with salt and pepper.
- Place the chicken pieces with all their juices back in the pan. Pour in the wine and simmer over medium heat until wine is slightly reduced, about 3 to 4 minutes.
- Stir in the tomatoes and reduce the heat to low. Cover, and simmer gently, stirring occasionally until sauce has thickened and chicken is cooked through and fork-tender, about 30 minutes. Uncover, add the olives (if using) and cook, uncovered, for 3 to 5 minutes longer. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve immediately garnished with chopped parsley, if using.
Recipe Notes And Tips
To flour the chicken or not: Many recipes for chicken cacciatore will have you dredging the chicken pieces in flour before browning them. This step might help brown the chicken faster and prevent it from sticking. However, the flour will also cause the braising liquid to thicken too much for my taste and it can also dull the flavours of the braise. I omit this step but feel free to lightly flour the chicken pieces if you wish.
To brown the chicken or not: Browning the chicken is essential for a more deeply flavoured braise. For this dish, the browning really is more for flavour than for crispy skin so don’t sweat it you don’t have a lot of time to spend browning the chicken perfectly.
Trim the fat and skin: Chicken thigh pieces come with a lot of fat. Sure, this fat will add a lot of flavour but I don’t want my braise swimming in it. I like to use kitchen shears to trim off most of the fat and some excess skin.
Make ahead. As with all stews, this one is great the day you make it and even better the next day. When ready to serve, reheat it gently on the stovetop until completely warmed through.
What To Serve With Chicken Cacciatore
I like to fantasize that I will eat my chicken cacciatore straight from the pan, with only some piping hot bread to dunk repeatedly into the mouth-watering sauce. As amazing as that sounds, I show restraint and serve it with one of these favourite sides:
- Creamy Polenta
- Risotto milanese– The most traditional side to serve with cacciatore and hands down everyone’s favourite.
- White or Brown rice
- Crispy roasted potatoes or boiled, buttered potatoes
- Plain pasta noodles such as tagliatelle egg noodles
*Tip* This doesn’t mean I omit the bread though, definitely do not omit the bread.
Other Chicken Recipes To Enjoy
- Slow Cooker Chicken Stew
- Sheet Pan CHicken with Caramelized Onions
- Instant Pot Chicken Thighs
- Chicken Marsala
- Chicken Tikka Masala
- 1 chicken about 1.2 kg (2.6 lb), cut into 8 pieces
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 medium yellow or red onion finely minced
- 1 celery stalk diced
- 1 carrot diced
- 1 clove garlic finely minced
- 2 small red chilis, finely chopped or 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 5 sage leaves
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 cups crushed tomatoes (I use Mutti) or whole tomatoes crushed by hand
- a handful of black olives (preferably unpitted)
- Pat dry the chicken pieces then season all over with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan with a lid over medium-hight heat. Brown the chicken, 3 minutes a side or until the chicken releases easily to flip. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Reduce heat to medium, add the onions, celery, carrots, garlic, and red chili, and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally and scraping any meaty residue from the bottom of the pan, until vegetables soft and tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the bay leaf, rosemary sprig, and sage, then place the chicken pieces with all their juices back in the pan.
- Pour in the red wine and simmer over medium heat until wine is slightly reduced, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and reduce the heat to low. Cover, and simmer gently, stirring occasionally until sauce has thickened and chicken is cooked through and tender, about 30 to 35 minutes. If at any time the sauce seems too thick, add 1/2 cup of water.
- Uncover, add the olives (if using) and cook, uncovered, for 3 to 5 minutes longer. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve immediately garnished with chopped parsley, if using.