“You must be Jewish,” the produce man said to my mother. She couldn’t figure out if this was his idea of flirtation, or a peculiar response to her request for bigger onions. He must have realized that the appropriateness of his comment was questionable, so he explained. “Jewish women like big onions.” I know not whether this is statistically true, or whether he was a flaming anti-semite, but there you have it.
This incident occurred 40 or so years ago, and I still think of it almost every time I buy an onion. The onions you see pictured here were grown locally and I bought them at the end of the season at Warwick’s wonderful Farmer’s Market. Perhaps I was destined to move to onion country because my mother’s need for big onions was never fulfilled? Perhaps I was destined to continue her lifelong search for a big-enough onion?
Short days and cold nights make me dream of a house that smells like the browned onions at the beginning of a stew. The Italian translation of cacciatore is “hunter style.” I am not a hunter. As a matter of fact, no one in our family has ever hunted anything more animate than an onion…but we all like this sort of stew. Come to think of it, I’m not sure why it came to be made with chicken. The hunter struck out and had to go to the coop and cut into her supply of laying hens?
There are two little secrets to the wonderfulness of my version of Chicken Cacciatore. The first is the use of a bit of tomato paste, which is sautéed along with the onions and caramelizes on the bottom of the pot, creating depth of flavor and giving nice body to the sauce.
The second is the addition of a piece of parmesan rind to the stew. Are you familiar with this trick? It is great for all kinds of soups and stews. I save the “outer skin” of the cheese after the rest has been grated, and use it for this. Some markets also sell pieces. This also contributes body and also gives extra umami to the dish. And after the stew is cooked, the cook gets to nibble on the now-soft parm rind. Try it!
This cacciatore is one of my favorite fall and winter suppers. Great after a day in the woods hunting…just kidding, trail running or cross country skiing. Or scraping kiln shelves in the cold garage. It is hearty, filling, and comforting without being heavy; one of those stewy dishes that is wonderful right off the stove, but even better the next day. Perfect for Chanukah, whether you’re an onion-loving Jew or not!
Deb’s Chicken Cacciatore
Naturally gluten free and low carb. Leave out the parm to make it paleo and dairy free.
1 large onion, sliced pole to pole
1 lb. cremini mushrooms, quartered
3 tbs. olive oil, divided
2 tbs. tomato paste
3 lbs. boneless chicken thighs
1 piece parmesan rind
28 oz can tomatoes
1/3 cup red wine
salt and pepper to taste
grated parm for serving
Heat half of the olive oil in a large pot or dutch oven. Add the mushrooms and a bit of salt, and sauté over med-high heat until they are lightly browned. Remove them from the pot and set aside. Heat the remaining oil and add the onions. Cook for a few minutes until they begin to soften, then add the chicken and a good sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook for five minutes or so, moving everything around a couple of times with a wooden spoon. Now, made a clear spot in the bottom of the pot and put in the tomato paste. Try to spread it out on the surface under the chicken so it gets good contact with the heat. Let it cook for a couple of minutes and then stir so it begins to coat the chicken.
Now you want to let everything cook for a good 8-10 minutes until the bits and paste that are on the floor of the pot look like they are very dark brown but not burnt. Don’t let them burn!! Then, add the wine and tomatoes. Stir well.
Bring to boil, reduce to simmer, cover, and cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. During those stirs, break up the whole tomatoes with your wooden spoon. Toward the end of the time, I also like the break up the chicken a little so there are more pieces of different sizes. Add the mushrooms, cook a few more minutes to heat them through and serve. Or refrigerate and serve later.
This is great served over your favorite pasta, polenta, or rice. It’s also nice over Cauliflower Hash Browns. Terrific sides: Zucchini Fries, Umami Roasted Cauliflower, Sweet and Spicy Glazed Brussels Sprouts, Umami Bomb Asparagus, Arugula Salad, or Surprising Kale Salad. Happy holidays!