When I was a little girl, my Halmoni was the main cook of the house. Mostly she served Korean food, which I loved. But every once in awhile, she became adventurous and tried something new.
One night, she took a bottle of jarred spaghetti sauce and poured it over some chicken legs. She cooked the meat until it was tender and served it with rice and kimchi. Surprisingly, it tasted good. Really good. The chicken and tomato sauce combined into a thick, flavorful gravy. The chicken was moist, the sauce plentiful. My brother and I ate three helpings each and a new household favorite was born!
We cooked and ate “Spaghetti Sauce Chicken” regularly. It was one of those ridiculously easy recipes that required little effort yet everyone loved. Back then, we were confident that this random, tasty dish was our secret invention.
Years later, I discovered this wasn’t a unique recipe at all. In fact, it was a simplified version of Chicken Cacciatore, the Italian catch-all term for chicken stewed with tomatoes, onions, and herbs. People had been cooking versions of chicken in tomato sauce for a long, long time.
Halmoni’s recipe was alarmingly easy. It worked because she used chicken with skin and bones. This is still the key to making good chicken cacciatore. You need the fat and collagen from the skin and bones. Don’t make this with skinless, boneless chicken breast! It won’t taste the same! Part of what makes this dish great is the lusciously thick, umami-packed flavor of the sauce made possible only through chicken bones and skin.
My version is a bit more complicated but totally worth the effort. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with chicken simmered in tomatoes, herbs, mushrooms, and red wine. This is a warming, flavorful dish that is sure to please everyone at your table. The tender meat will fall off the bone. The vegetables will feel hearty and nourishing. And the sauce! Rich and oily, herbaceous and hearty. This is the kind of sauce I dream about during cold Toronto winters.
Halmoni is 88 now and she loves to eat my version of Chicken Cacciatore over rice with kimchi on the side. Even when the chicken is gone, she’ll mix the sauce over rice and eat it straight up!
I like to serve Chicken Cacciatore in a more classic way — with mashed potatoes, polenta, white bean puree, or crusty bread. You need something to sop up that wonderful sauce. A green salad with a citrus dressing is a nice accompaniment.
This dish will help you survive these last few weeks of winter! Enjoy this cozy and hearty dish!
Cozy comfort food for cold winter days. You can't go wrong with chicken braised in red wine, tomatoes, mushrooms, and plenty of herbs. The sauce is everything -- thick, rich, hearty, and herbaceous.
- 8 chicken thighs with skin and bones
- 8 oz cremini mushrooms roughly chopped
- 1 large onion chopped
- 2 large carrots chopped
- 2 stalks celery chopped
- 2 strips bacon (uncooked) chopped
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
- 1/4 tsp. dried chile flakes
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
- 1 14 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup red wine
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley + thyme
Preheat oven to 350 F. On the stovetop, heat a large, heavy-bottomed dutch oven over medium-high heat with enough oil to just cover the bottom (about 2-3 Tb.).
Salt and pepper chicken generously. Brown chicken in batches, one layer at a time, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Cook each side for 5-8 minutes, until crispy and brown. Make sure the chicken does not steam!! Remove chicken and set aside.
Remove and reserve most of the oil from the pan, until only a thin coat remains. (You can use the reserved fat later on if the pan gets too dry.)
Add mushrooms. Saute until brown on all sides. Remove and set aside.
Add onion, celery, bacon, oregano, thyme, chile flakes. Add a pinch of salt and cook until softened, for a good 15 minutes. If the pan gets too dry or dark, add some reserved fat and lower heat.
Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add carrots, tomatoes, red wine, and bay leaves. Add the mushrooms and all their liquid. Stir well and bring to a simmer. Add chicken, making sure to include any accumulated juices.
Cover and move to oven. After 45 minutes, remove from oven. The meat should be tender and falling off the bone. The sauce should be thick and oily looking. Look for a color change in the tomatoes, from a tomato can red to a deep, rust-colored red.
Mix in the fresh herbs into the mixtures, reserving some for garnish. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Serve with mashed potatoes, polenta, white bean puree, or crusty bread.