Rose’s Chicken Cacciatore

By Denise J. Dubé

Chicken cacciatore simmering "on the range."

Growing up chicken cacciatore – or hunter’s stew – was frequently served at our house. It was filling and held large chunks of chicken, Mom’s tomato sauce, green beans and potatoes. It was a satisfying meal that filled the tummies of a larger-than-average family.

It’s been decades, but I still remember the distinct flavor created from the simmering chicken as it melded with the tomatoes and spices.

At the time I remember being annoyed with the constant interruptions caused by bits of bone and joint cartilage. And, I could have done without the potatoes.

Its flavor was incredible though and as the years and my mother passed, I thought about how many dishes she created in her small Waltham kitchen.

Like sauce, everyone’s has a varied nuance, one that was never duplicated in my kitchen – well, not until last week.

I searched online for something that looked like Mom’s version.  There were four recipes and none resembled hers. She never used wine or peppers, which was an ingredient in all that was found.

Factoring in the time, my mother’s need to scrimp and use whatever was on hand, and her ingenuity with food, I started cooking.

Instead of boneless thighs, breasts and legs I bowed to Mom’s chicken pieces, bones and cartilage.

Admittedly, I veered off the path and removed the skin, something that wasn’t done in the 1960s.

I peeled, prodded, pulled and cut the skin from each piece. Reproducing her dish was key, but so is my cholesterol count. Admittedly, I left a ribbon of fat on each piece just for flavor.

The chicken pieces were lightly salted and peppered before hitting the sizzling olive oil that bubbled in my over-sized sauté pan. I watched them carefully for about 5-10 minutes.

While the chicken sautéed I took another pot and added chopped onions and extra virgin olive oil, one that came from my grandmother’s homeland.

Each piece of browned chicken was added to the larger pot.

The bottom of the chicken pan was browned and crusty and just what the stew needed for more flavor.

Instead of wine, I deglazed the pan with almost two cups of chicken broth and poured the bubbling beige elixir through a strainer and into the bigger pot with the chicken pieces and onion.

Lots of garlic slivers, one or two cups of marinara sauce, basil and just a little more salt and pepper were added.

When it burped hot bubbles of red sauce I turned down the heat and covered the pan, leaving a space to evaporate excess fluid.

The green beans and potatoes were left out – and in hindsight that was probably a mistake.

A few hours later, when the chicken was falling off the bone, and the house smelled like decades past, I tasted the cacciatore.

This was my mother’s stew – minus the veggies.

Rotini was boiled, oiled and placed in a bowl on the counter as the stew base and in place of the potatoes.

Smells and tastes bring back memories and as I ate my ambivalence over the cacciatore resurfaced.

The boned chicken is necessary for a hearty and flavorful stew; but it’s also a huge pain to stop eating the meal every few seconds to remove a piece of bone or cartilage.

I’m an adult now and have a little more patience, not a lot – but enough. As an adult I’m quite capable of stopping every few seconds to nibble the meat off a bone or discreetly remove a bit of cartilage – and make this dish again and again.