So, with the podium temporarily transferred as such, I cannot resist commenting on food and how it has been central to our marriage and the merger of two cultures in one household. When we left the U.S. to come to Malaysia I had some understanding that there were large differences in the foods we ate and their preparation. I had visited here quite often before and Veronica had cooked Straits Chinese specialties for me in the U.S. However, I wasn't quite prepared for the rapid modernization of Malaysia and the embrace of international foods that was, and still is, going on here. The consequence of this array of foods and styles is that we have fed pretty "high on the hog" to use an American colloquialism. But I digress. Since Cheryl, and our guests that evening, were all Western food friendly, I set out to make an old recipe that is usually a crowd pleaser, with the advantage of essentially being a one pot meal and fairly simple to assemble. In fact, I approach this traditional dish with a crock pot slow cooker and with a couple of variations that yields something a bit different than the usual dish called Chicken Cacciatore. Cacciatore means "hunter" in Italian and I imagine that this dish was originally intended for preparing small game such as rabbit, grouse, or pidgeon. However, it has evolved into a chicken dish; one that is somewhat complex in flavors, using multiple herbs and spices, which are most likely a vestige of the desire to attenuate a gamey taste. In my recipe I have made two major changes to the traditional dish. First of all I use red wine instead of white, looking for the deeper dark color and flavor that it yields versus the bright red found in the usual preparation. Secondly, though chicken is the mainstay, I have added several pieces of sliced Italian sausage. Quite simply, the peppers and onions found in cacciatore, are exactly what is used in another great southern Italian dish; sausage & peppers. So I reasoned that two kinds of meat is more festive, and...it is. So if you try the recipe below, you should be plating a richer, heartier meal than you might expect. Let's get started:
Chicken Cacciatore with a Catch
What you will need:
A large mixing bowl
A large slow cooker or braising pot, (4 quart size is best)
A 10-12 inch non-stick frying pan
A three to four quart pot for boiling pasta
A large wooden spoon and a frying spatula
1 500 gram pkg of penne pasta (macaroni would also work well)
1.5kg (3 1/3 lbs.) - deboned, fresh chicken (I remove the skin, but if you wish a richer dish, by all means, leave it on)
1 kg (2.2 lbs)Italian sausages (either the spicy version or regular depending on personal taste)
3-4 tblspns grape seed or sunflower oil
4 tblspns of regular press olive oil
1/2 large lemon Balsamic vinegar
1 tbspn finely chopped fresh oregano (increase to 2 slightly rounded tblspns if using dried)
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, finely minced (thank goodness for food processors)
3 rounded tbspns dry oregano
3 tblspns minced fresh garlic
1 1/2 cups dry red wine (my choice was Chianti)
1 cup chicken stock
2 large onions, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
3 large bell peppers (I like to use three different colors)
1 12 oz can of tomatoe paste
1 12 oz can of black olives
Rinse and pat dry the chicken, cut into large double forkful chunks. Note: I used skinned chicken breast meat.
In a large bowl place 1/3 of your chicken pieces, some of the cooking oil, a couple of healthy dashes of balsamic vinegar, 1 tblspn of minced garlic, and a partial squeeze of the lemon half.
Using your hands (it is a must, in my opinion, to take every opportunity to feel the food, just be sure to wash your hands very well or use food prep gloves) fold all the ingredients together gently until well distributed and the chicken is well coated. Repeat twice more. Place all of the prepared chicken in a plastic food bag and put in the refrigerator for one hour.
Slice the Italian sausages in 50cm (2 inch) lengths. Place a bit of cooking oil in the frying pan (avoid olive oil for this step) and bring to a medium high heat. Fry the sausage pieces just long enough to obtain a slight caramelization (browning) on their skin. Drain and set aside.
Slice bell pepper (capsicum) into strips, removing inner pulp & seeds. Set aside
Oil the bottom of the slow cooker with 2 tablspns of regular-press olive oil. Slice onions approximately ten cm (1/4 inch) thick, place evenly distributed in the bottom of your slow cooker.
Place bell pepper strips on top of the onion. Spoon tomato paste in dollops over the pepper strips.
Remove chicken from the fridge and fry on medium-high heat in 3 shifts and just long enough to obtain some caramelization to the chicken. Avoid burning the garlic. This should be done very fast, no more then one minute for each side of the chicken pieces. Drain chicken and place in the slow cooker. Sprinkle with chopped basil and oregano.
Add sausages to the slow cooker on top of the chicken.
Add 12 oz can of black olives (after draining and discarding the water) Sprinkle all with remaining olive oil.
Pour red wine and chicken stock over all. Start your slow cooker on the high setting, and allow to reach a safe cooking heat (should take about 45 minutes). Return and set cooker on low. Go have a glass of the Chianti, and stretch your legs. This step is essential.
Return to the hot pot in two hours and gently toss ingredients again, taking care to raise some of the liquid collected at the bottom and spoon over the mix.
Check the pot again in another two hours. In our cooker the chicken was perfect and the sausages thoroughly cooked through. Look for the slightest tinge of pink in the sausage and for the chicken to be white all through, but juicy. By all means taste test at this time. Pour another glass of Chianti. Savor both. Salt and pepper to taste. Add red chili pepper at this time for some zing if you like. Taste again, and repeat as neccessary, but erring on the cautious side with these spices. All can be added by your guest at the table if they want more. When finished cooking, and tasting, turn off the slow cooker and let rest for one hour. Prepare the pasta to finish just before serving and just after the one hour rest time of the cacciatore. Serving may be in the normal style with platters of pasta and the cacciatore spooned over, or tossing the pasta with the cacciatore for a single dish presentation. Since we were serving buffet style we chose the latter.