Thursday, July 23, 2009

Reporter's Table: Chicken cacciatore

By Helen Klein

I came late to the slow cooker.

Actually, the appliance had been around for more than three decades before I acquired one, earlier this year.

It’s not that I don’t take to technological advances, and it’s not that I’m not always looking for devices that make cooking easier. I have relied on a food processor since I got my original Cuisinart as a wedding present in 1979. I’ve had a heavy duty mixer (the beloved Kitchen-Aid) since the 1980s, and I’ve been cutting and dicing with santoku knives for a couple of years, pretty much since they were popularized in this country.

Let’s just say the lack of a slow cooker was a gap in my culinary battery which I have only recently filled.

Now, of course, I’m learning what it can do, and how to adapt my tried-and-true recipes to take advantage of its capabilities.

I recreated my family’s favorite Chicken Cacciatore dinner using my slow cooker just last night. In terms of multi-tasking it was incredibly helpful. Once I’d browned it on the stove, the chicken cooked downstairs while I worked at my computer upstairs, freeing me from hovering near the stove when I needed to be working elsewhere.

The dish is a simple one, which relies on a few basic ingredients cooked for a long time together to maximize flavor. It’s wonderful served on a bed of egg noodles, and the bright red of the long-simmered tomatoes and brilliant green of the fresh basil leaves tossed in at the end make the dish as appealing to the eye as it is to the palate.

A key to maximizing flavor is to sauté the sweet onion over high enough heat to caramelize its sugars, without burning. To save on calories, I use the minimum amount of olive oil that I can get away with, salting the vegetables lightly to help them render their liquids, and adding a splash or two of water if the liquid in the pan is almost evaporated before I’m ready to braise the mixture.

While I’m giving instructions for preparing the Cacciatore in a slow cooker here, it can easily be made from beginning to end on top of the stove. Instead of transferring the meat and vegetables from the large skillet or sauté pan that they have browned in to the slow cooker, continue cooking in the original vessel, covered over low heat, till done, at least 45 minutes to one hour. The dish is done when the chicken is fork tender and the flavor of the tomatoes and aromatics has penetrated it thoroughly.

Chicken Cacciatore


1 pound chicken cutlets, cut into chunks
1 large sweet onion, sliced
1 large red or yellow pepper, cored and sliced
Olive oil, sufficient to brown the chicken and vegetables
2 bay leaves
1 cup white wine
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
A large handful of fresh basil leaves, rolled and sliced (chiffonade)


Heat just enough oil to coat the bottom of your skillet or sauté pan, then add onion. Sprinkle in salt, to help the onion render its liquid. Sauté over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until transparent and slightly golden.

When the onion is nearly done, add the slices of pepper, and saute till crisp-tender, stirring frequently to prevent burning, still over a moderately high flame.When the vegetables are cooked, remove from pan and put in the slow cooker. Add oil if necessary to the sauté pan, then, when oil is hot, add the chicken, sprinkle lightly with salt and freshly ground pepper, and cook till golden brown on one side. Turn the chicken chunks and continue cooking till golden on the second side.

Once the chicken is browned, add to the slow cooker. Add bay leaves, wine and tomatoes to the slow cooker, making sure the interior vessel is at least half, but no more than two-thirds full.

I set my slow cooker on high, because I planned on serving the dish five hours after I put it up to cook. You should consult the instructions for your slow cooker to determine what setting to use, and follow instructions particular to your machine.

Add basil leaves just before serving.


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