This classic chicken cacciatore recipe makes a traditional Italian chicken stew with a luscious tomato sauce. Called pollo alla cacciatora in Italian, which translates to ‘hunter’s chicken’ – ‘pollo’ is ‘chicken’ and ‘cacciatore’ means ‘hunter’ – it’s a rustic old Italian dish typically eaten alone as a main course with crusty bread to mop up the rich sauce.
If you’ll be seeing in the New Year tomorrow with an intimate sit-down dinner at home with your nearest and dearest, as Terence and I will be, and you’re looking for an elegant yet comforting main course to cook, consider this deliciously-rich yet easy Italian chicken cacciatore recipe.
If you’re not and you’re inviting family and friends over for a New Year’s Eve party to celebrate having survived the third year of this pandemic (who ever would have thought?!) then see this collection of our best New Year’s Eve recipes for homemade dips and chips, finger food and filling snacks.
That compilation is an update of last year’s round-up of New Year’s Eve party food ideas, with the best of that collection, plus more than a dozen new recipes published in the last 12 months, along with some of our favourite cocktail recipes.
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Chicken Cacciatore Recipe for a Traditional Italian Chicken Stew with Luscious Tomato Sauce
Our classic chicken cacciatore recipe will make you a very traditional Italian chicken stew with an incredibly luscious tomato sauce, which we smother the succulent chicken thighs in and serve with thick slices of sourdough bread to mop up the rich sauce – just as the Italians do.
Chicken cacciatore is an old dish called pollo alla cacciatora in Italian, which translates to ‘hunter’s chicken’ – ‘pollo’ is ‘chicken’ and ‘cacciatore’ is ‘hunter’ – and historically, Italian hunters are said to have made the stew over an open fire while out on the hunt or en route home.
In different parts of Italy, hunter’s stew has long been made with different types of game, such as wild pheasant (fagiano alla cacciatore), wild boar (cinghiale alla cacciatore) and wild rabbit (coniglio alla cacciatore), while in Calabria it’s made with the addition of spicy Calabrian sausage and red peppers (salsiccia Calabrese al cacciatore).
Italians traditionally eat chicken cacciatore by itself as a main course or second course with crusty bread to soak up the rich sauce. Although in some parts of Northern Italy, chicken cacciatore is also eaten with polenta or risotto.
In the Italian diaspora, where the first Italian-American chicken cacciatore recipe was published in the USA in the 1920s, chicken cacciatore is typically served with pasta. We’ll share an Italian-Australian spaghetti cacciatore recipe over coming days.
An Italian-American chicken cacciatore recipe usually includes olives, bell peppers and mushrooms (any kind), whereas only some regional Italian chicken cacciatore recipes include porcini mushrooms and/or olives and/or red peppers.
Those ingredients are by no means found all together in the chicken stew in traditional Italian recipes, which differ from region to region, town to town, village to village, and home to home, depending on the ingredients locally grown in each place.
Another difference is that Italian-American chicken cacciatore recipes often forgo the soffritto – the sautéed minced onion, carrot and celery combination that is the basis of so many classic Italian dishes, and which is what makes the tomato sauce so rich and luscious – and instead stew the chicken with chunky pieces of carrot, onion and celery, as well as bell peppers and olives. Don’t skip the soffritto!
Traditionally, in Italy, a salad would be eaten after the chicken cacciatore, but these days Italians, especially younger Italians in the cities, are much more relaxed about the rules of dining, especially when eating casually with family and friends. In the Italian diaspora, anything goes.
I think a panzanella – an Italian bread and tomato salad from Tuscany – is fantastic on the side. If I was feeding a group of family and friends, I’d also be inclined to serve roast potatoes, such as these hasselback potatoes or, in winter, creamy mashed potatoes. Just don’t tell your Italian friends that suggestion came from us!
Tips to Making this Chicken Cacciatore Recipe for a Traditional Italian Chicken Stew
Just a few tips to making this chicken cacciatore recipe for a rustic Italian chicken stew of melt-in-your-mouth, fall-off-the-bone chicken thighs that have been browned then slow-cooked in a rich tomato sauce, fragrant with fresh rosemary.
A traditional Italian chicken cacciatore recipe calls for a whole chicken to be broken down, but I’ve only used chicken thighs, so that they’re cooked evenly, and because I adore thigh meat.
I’ve recommend eight chicken thighs if you’re feeding four people, so you have two thighs per person – or leftovers if there’s just the two of you. However, if you’re feeding a larger group and serving the chicken with polenta, risotto or pasta, and salads or vegetable sides, one thigh per person would be satisfying. Be very generous with the sauce and bread!
Our chicken cacciatore recipe calls for lightly browning the chicken first in a good quality extra virgin olive oil, which is key. You can cook the dish in a sauté pan, skillet or even a flat-bottomed wok, which is my preference.
I like to make the soffritto in the oil I’ve sautéed the chicken in for extra flavour, scraping off any chicken bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan for extra flavour. And there’s no question that you need to make the soffritto.
The soffritto is what makes the tomato sauce so rich and intense, and while I note that there are many chicken cacciatore recipes that claim the dish can be cooked in 30 minutes, the longer you cook it, the richer and more luscious that tomato sauce will be.
As for those tomatoes, many Italian recipes call for fresh tomatoes, however, we can’t always source sweet red tomatoes, let alone Italian tomatoes, so I use a can of quality canned Italian tomatoes, plus half a can of pureed tomatoes.
If my sauce reduces too much, I’ll add a little more pureed tomatoes, rather than water. But many Italian recipes suggest adding water or even chicken stock.
And as for the wine, a cup of wine is essential, and while I’ve gone for red wine, Italians use either white wine or red wine. I find that red wine results in more intense flavours.
Fresh rosemary is much better than dried rosemary and I use more than most Italian chicken cacciatore recipes, as we use a lot of fresh herbs in our cooking and a single sprig simply doesn’t result in enough flavour or aroma for me. I’m sure there are some nonnas rolling in their graves somewhere.
I garnish with lots of fresh flat leaf parsley and basil, which we grow on our balcony. If we’re out of flat leaf parsley, I’ll use celery leaves. I’ll also use celery stalks in the soffritto if we can’t find celery.
Lastly, we love to grate some Parmigiano Reggiano on the chicken when serving, but most traditional Italian chicken cacciatore recipes don’t call for grated Parmigiano cheese. I don’t care what our Italian friends think about that.
Chicken Cacciatore Recipe for a Traditional Italian Chicken Stew
- 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 8 chicken thighs bone in, skin on
- 1 large onion minced
- 2 medium carrots minced
- 2 celery stalks minced
- 1 garlic clove minced
- ½ tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp white pepper
- 4 rosemary sprigs fresh
- 2 bay leaves
- 250 ml red wine
- 400 g crushed tomatoes
- 400 g tomato puree
- 1 cup plump green olives optional
- 2 tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley and/or fresh basil leaves roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp Parmigiano Reggiano
- In a large sauté pan, skillet or flat bottomed wok over medium-high, heat the extra virgin olive oil until hot, pat-dry the chicken thighs and add them to the pan, sauté for a few minutes each side until the skin starts to brown, then remove and set aside, and turn the heat down.
- Scrape any chicken pieces from the bottom and sides of the pan, and to the same pan add the finely diced onion, carrot, and celery and sauté on low-medium heat until soft and fragrant, stirring frequently, to make a soffritto.
- Add the minced garlic, salt and pepper, rosemary and bay leaves to the soffritto and continue to sauté for a few minutes until golden brown, taking care not to let it burn.
- Pour in the red wine, stir for a couple of minutes, add the crushed tomatoes, half the can of tomato puree, stir to combine well, then return the chicken pieces, ensuring they’re fully immersed in the sauce.
- Simmer on low for 15 minutes uncovered until the sauce starts to reduce, then cover and simmer, stirring every 10-15 minutes, for 30 minutes or so until the chicken has cooked and is tender, and the sauce has thickened. If the sauce reduces too much, add a little more tomato puree as needed. For an even more luscious sauce, cook up to an hour.
- When the sauce is rich and shimmering and the chicken almost falling off the bone, taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed. If you’re adding olives, add them now, and simmer for another 5 minutes.
- Plate the chicken, generously spooning the sauce over it until it’s swimming in the stuff, garnish with chopped fresh parsley and basil, sprinkle with grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and serve with slices of sourdough or another crusty bread to mop up the sauce.
Please do let us know in the comments below if you make our classic chicken cacciatore recipe, as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.