The Lighter Side of Chicken Cacciatore

On Lidia's Italy the other day, she was making her version of Chicken Cacciatore, and I was immediately reminded of this recipe from Michael Chiarello: Chiarello's Chicken Cacciatore. It may very well be the first recipe I ever made that ventured outside the lines of spaghetti and meat sauce or some version of Helper. The kids were small, so I know it was YEARS ago, back when I barely knew what olive oil was and had never cooked with fresh herbs before. (Yes, I am that old.) I loved Mr. Chiarello's PBS show, so much so that I signed up for his catalog and ordered these:

Yes, they're old. Worn. And mainly sitting up there on the shelf for decoration...along with a can of Arizona Sunshine that I found in my grandpa's house after he passed. I miss my grandparents. I hold on to the tiny things to help me remember the best times in life. ANYWAY!  Back to cacciatore.  This recipe made me see parsley as something more than a garnish. I have never stopped using Italian parsley since I first made this. It's amazing. Try it, if you never have...the fresh stuff!!! 

So, I went searching for the recipe and found it on another food blog (see link above). I was overjoyed!  However, having recently discovered that my digestive system is not what it once was, I am now trying to lighten everything up, that and I'm not all that fond of chicken thighs, so I revamped the recipe to fit my dietary and budgetary needs.  

Chicken boobs. I did leave about half of the fat on them just because my mind tells me that it will add more flavor that way. A total falsity, but it got me through!  Mushrooms. The recipe calls for dried porcinis. My wallet screamed NO! $6 for about 1/2 cup of mushrooms?  HELL. NO!  So, instead I picked up some Porteenies (some hybrid, I suppose) and used the Baby Bellas I had here. There are ways to get more mushroom flavor without having to take out a 15th mortgage!  I'll tell you how, in a moment. 

Fresh parsley. It MUST be fresh. THAT is where alot of the flavor comes from in this dish. Pick out most of the stems, if you like, and use a fairly sharp knife to chop it up fine. 

Part one of mushroom intensification. Slice and roughly chop the shrooms, then sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt and coarse-ground black pepper. Add about 1 teaspoon of olive oil to a skillet, heat it to medium and then add the mushrooms and spread them out evenly, then LET THEM BE. Set the timer for a good 3-4 minutes. Salt draws out the moisture....which is why you need very little oil. After the timer beeps, stir them and let them go for another 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and let them sit. 

I pounded the bejesus out of the chicken boobs to help them cook more evenly. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet, heat it to medium, liberally salt and pepper one side of the boobs and then put them in, seasoned side down. Now, season the nekkid side. I cooked them approximately 7 minutes on side one, letting the fat melt off and getting that lovely golden brown. Chicken with no color freaks me out. Ick.  

Back to the shrooms. I put the cooks shrooms in a bowl. The recipe calls for 1/2 cup broth and 1/2 cup water. Water? Just no. Add more flavor. Live on the edge. Use a whole cup of broth. Turn the skillet back on medium or med-high, and add the broth to loosen up any remaining mushroomy bits. Bring it to a boil, then pour the hot broth over the mushrooms in the bowl. Let it sit. THIS is where you will get a TON of that mushroomy flavor. 

Remove the boobs from the skillet and put them in the oven, which should be on because you should be having some format of garlic bread, because why not? Meanwhile finish the sauce. I always, always, ALWAYS burn garlic. Seriously. No matter how low I set the heat, I burn it. Never good. So, this time, I made sure I was ready, added the garlic to the remaining oil/fat in the skillet (there wasn't much, probably about a tablespoon), let it saute for about 15 seconds (yes, seconds) then poured in the mushrooms and liquid. Add about 2 tablespoons of the chopped parsley and 1/2 a 28 0z can of pureed tomatoes. I'm not sure how my version didn't become overwhelmingly tomatoe-y, but it didn't. You never know till you try, right?  Let the sauce cook for a minute or two, then add the boobs back in so they can absorb that saucy flavor. 

I put a lid on the skillet, but I don't think that's a requirement. If you leave the lid off, though, you may end up with a thicker sauce. Let it cook on medium for a few minutes, then reduce heat to med-lo and let it simmer. The color is amazing....almost blood-like or rusty....very deep, very dark. Very tasty!  

While the recipe calls for polenta cakes, and while I LOVE polenta, my husband does not, so I subbed cappellini. Put the pasta on the plate, add some sauce, with lots of the shrooms, add a boob, more sauce, then sprinkle it all with more fresh parsley.  Add garlic bread. Eat!  

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