20 March 2012

Poulet chasseur, or chicken cacciatore

A couple of weeks ago I got it into my head that I wanted to make chicken cacciatore. The French equivalent of that Italian-American dish is called poulet chasseur, which means something like « poulet cuit à la façon du chasseur » — "chicken the way a hunter would cook it." The French word for "to hunt" is « chasser ».

The main ingredient, besides chicken, is mushrooms, it turns out — not tomatoes. Where do you find mushrooms? In the forest, and often French dishes like omelets or pâtés that have mushrooms in them are named « forestière ». It all makes sense, because hunters hunt in forests.

Chicken cacciatore, or poulet chasseur, American-style,
as it came out of the oven

Even in Marcella Hazan's The Classic Italian Cook Book, she give a recipe for a chicken dish that resembles French poulet chasseur more than my memory of cacciatore. She calls it a fricassee of chicken with wild mushrooms, not chicken cacciatore. She puts a little bit of tomato in the sauce, but not much — just as most of the French recipes specify.

One way to do it is to cut the chicken in half...

The French versions and Marcella Hazan's call for adding two to three tablespoons of tomato sauce or paste (concentré in French) to a cooking sauce that's basically a white wine sauce made with a flour roux and mushrooms. It's just enough tomato to improve the sauce's color, really.

...and brown the two halves in the oven
while you make the sauce.

One French cookbook I have, Ginette Mathiot's classic of home cooking called Je Sais Cuisiner, gives a recipe for poulet chasseur with mushrooms but no tomato at all. Mathiot cooks a whole chicken, but a lot of the French recipes I see on the web call for just thighs or leg-thigh sections.

I just looked at the Joy of Cooking (1997 ed.) and saw this in the introduction to the chicken cacciatore recipe: "Italian hunters who cook always seem to have tomatoes and olives handy." It goes on to say the "basic ingredients" of the dish are "chicken... tomatoes, onions, and sometimes mushrooms." The recipe calls for a whole small can of tomatoes.

Pour the sauce over the partially cooked chicken halves
and cook it for an hour, covered.

That's what I remember about American versions of chicken cacciatore — a lot of tomato sauce. And that's what I wanted: a chicken cacciatore that corresponded to my memories from childhood and the rest of my life in America. So I made it that way, using a pint of tomato sauce from the freezer and from our garden tomatoes last summer. Since I didn't have any fresh bell peppers, I added in half a cup of red pepper puree, also from the freezer and last year's vegetable garden.

Serve with pasta

Along with mushrooms and white wine, of course. Onions, garlic, carrots, thyme, and olive oil, but no olives. I used dried shitake mushrooms, which I rehydrated in hot water, and I added the mushroom water to the tomato sauce as well. The chicken was a Label Rouge poulet fermier — a farm-raised, free-range bird, that I got at the supermarket. I thought the whole thing was delicious and satisfying. The leftovers were good too.


  1. That is very interesting Ken... the only Chickin' Chaser I've ever come across is a white sauce version with white mushrooms... this seems far more realistic [given the quote from the book] as it becomes more seasonal... mushrooms being a sometime thing.
    Have you tried the tinned 'wild' mushrooms from the supermarchés? Although the tin is big, the remainder freeze well.
    Oh.. and I found fresh beansprouts in Leclerc.

  2. Good for the fresh bean sprouts. But it's kind of like fresh tofu — they are products that don't keep so you have to use them immediately. And driving to Loches or Blois or Romo for fresh sprouts when I get the urge... well, I don't do that.

    I haven't tried the tinned mushrooms but maybe I will. I like the dried ones, but the dried cèpes are too expensive for me. I've seen them at Grand Frais.

  3. Your memories of the ingredients for chicken cacciatore are like mine. I haven't made it in a long time and will give it a go.

    One must examine labels more now. I recently noticed that Walmart sells canned mushrooms and they come from China! In my childhood all the children in China were hungry, so I should clean my plate. The world is not what I was told!

  4. Your version of anything always sounds more appetizing than any other description :) I've never been too tempted by chicken cacciatore because of the tomato sauce with the chicken. But, your description with the white wine addition and the red pepper purée sounds very good (not to mention the fact that your tomato sauce comes from your garden tomatoes!).

  5. Judy, thanks. The secret to tomato sauce with chicken is to make it a light sauce. Adding the red bell pepper puree helped, and the white wine. And some chicken broth to thin and lighten the sauce is good too.

    Evelyn, do try it. I thought it was really good. Next time, I'll make a French poulet chasseur.

  6. The tomato version sounds like poulet maringo


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