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Try chicken alla cacciatora sans tomatoes

By CHRISTOPHER KIMBALL, Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street
Published: April 3, 2024, 6:04am
2 Photos
Chicken alla Cacciatora (Milk Street)
Chicken alla Cacciatora (Milk Street) Photo Gallery

Tomatoes are non-negotiable in Americanized versions of chicken alla cacciatora, but it’s a different story in Umbria, a region in central Italy.

Instead of tomatoes, the rustic chicken braise gets its flavor from lemon, olives, garlic and herbs.

Capers also are customary, but for this recipe in our book “Tuesday Nights Mediterranean,” which features weeknight-friendly meals from the region, we omit the briny flower buds and use pancetta to build rich, savory depth, browning the onion in the fat from the cured pork. Deglazing the pan with dry white wine adds bright acidity, and scraping up the browned bits from the pan ensures every bit of flavor makes its way into the dish.

Garlic, rosemary and olives provide a savory backbone for the sauce, and strips of lemon zest infuse the dish with subtle citrusy notes. Use a sharp vegetable peeler to plane off wide, long strips of zest from the fruit; a sharp Y-style vegetable peeler is the best tool for the job, but try to remove only the colored peel, not the bitter white pith just underneath.

You will need a 12-inch, oven-safe skillet for this recipe. Keep in mind that when you remove the pan from the oven, the handle will be hot; it’s a good idea to slip an oven mitt over the handle as a reminder.

Umbrian Style Chicken alla Cacciatora

Start to finish: 45 minutes. Servings: 4

3 pounds, bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, trimmed and patted dry

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

3 to 4 ounces pancetta, finely chopped

1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced

1 cup dry white wine

4 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 rosemary sprigs

1 cup pitted green or black olives or a combination, drained and halved

4 or 5 strips lemon zest (see headnote), plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

Heat the oven to 450 degrees with a rack in the middle position. Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. In an oven-safe, 12-inch skillet over medium-high, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the chicken skin-down and until golden brown on the bottom, 5 to 8 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the chicken skin-up to a large plate.

Pour off and discard all but 1 tablespoon fat and set the pan over medium. Add the pancetta and onion, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a simmer over medium-high and cook, scraping up any browned bits, until most of the liquid has evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic, rosemary, olives and lemon zest. Return the chicken skin-up to the skillet and pour in the accumulated juices. Transfer to the oven and cook until the thickest part of the thigh reaches 175 degrees, 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the oven; the handle will be hot. Transfer the chicken skin-up to a serving platter, then remove and discard the rosemary and lemon zest. Bring the liquid in the pan to a simmer over medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened and reduced, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and vinegar, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce around the chicken.

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