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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Whatsa matta you? How I survived the end of the world. Pollo Alla Cacciatora


   I love coming from an Italian family. I love that cousins are loved as ferociously as siblings. I love that siblings are a part of our soul. I love that Dads are thought of as highly as the Pope and that Mothers are living Saints. I love that we can eat and drink together, laugh seemingly forever and never get tired.
  I love that with only 48 hours notice, I got to cook for my generation of the Atonna family.

  A coupl'a chickens, a tug of rosemary some mushrooms and a head of garlic. Lots of love.

 Here's the story. When I started cooking ( I was maybe 15) I found a recipe in my Mom's old Better Homes and Gardens for chicken cacciatore. I tried making it and was really unsatisfied with the results.
  Seriously, what the heck is this nonsense. Over-cooked chicken in a bland tomato sludge. NOT what I was hoping for. I tried it again and again. Nope, it all sucked.

  Here's why. THEY DUMBED IT DOWN.

  Years went by. I kept learning. I kept researching. REVELATION. I found an Italian cookbook written by (gasp) Italians.
   I understand that this was; according to legend, made by hunters out in the woods with what they found OR it was prepared by wives anticipating a poor hunt and using what was on hand. Whatever. I think it was a little of both. So here's what you'll need.


Mise en place. The Italians taught the French how to cook, yes we did.

1-2 whole chickens. Important notes on this later
A whole lot of extra virgin olive oil
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves, skin off
some sliced wild mushrooms, about a hand-full. Today all I could get was baby 'bellas but oyster, woodear all work great.
a good tug of fresh rosemary, separate leaves from twigs. 2 TB at least
red wine vinegar, if using 1 chicken about 1/2 cup, if using 2 well duh double it
dry white wine, if using 1 chicken about 4 ounces, blah blah, ok you get it
one BIG pinch of kosher salt
a big pot with steep sides and a heavy lid
if you have a spatter screen, I'd get it out
a set of tongs
a wooden spoon

ok here's the thing.
 I could never understand why hunters would spend all friggin' day standing over a pot with a chicken in it, aren't they supposed to be HUNTING? I figure the version of this dish that calls for a quick and messy fry in oil makes more sense. This calls for a bit of work but it's worth it. Trust me.

OK divide the bird into it's 4 basic parts. Cut these in half again. Cut THOSE into even smaller parts, try for about 10 to 12 pieces. Leave skin and bones intact as much as you can. Chop off the ends of the drumsticks and the tips of the wings. Save for stock.
trust me, use a sharp knife

 Dry all your chicken chunks with paper towels. Wash your hands. 

 Get the pot HOT. High heat please, yes. 

  Add about 1/2 inch of oil. Add 1-2 clove of garlic.

 Add 2-3 chunks of chicken. Skin down first. 

I know you're scared. Here's the problem. Extra virgin olive oil SMELLS like love but it contains a grip of water so it's gonna splatter. Ladies, please use your splatter screen to cover the top. Guys please wear shirts. 
 This takes some timing, remove the garlic clove before it burns but keep that chicken on heat until it turns a dark golden brown, on ALL sides. Alternate your heat from high to medium high, do not let it reach the smoking point. If it does, take off heat for a coupla seconds. I KNOW this is advanced stuff and if you need me to, I will come to your house and show you. 
 Add the chicken, a few pieces at a time, alternating cloves of garlic, as everything browns remove it to a plate nearby. 
save those garlic cloves on the same plate as the chicken

and if you are doing 2 birds you'll need to dump out and change your oil half-way through. 
 You'll end up with a plate of this...

Once all the chicken pieces are done. Dump out the remaining oil. Don't worry, you won't have to add any for the next step. There's enough left in the pan. NOW add your sliced mushrooms. These will brown quickly

 once they do, remove them to a separate plate. 

 It's magic time. Still over high heat. Add the vinegar to the pot and scape up all that love on the bottom, once it STOPS smelling really sharp (your nose will wrinkle) dump in all your chicken and mushrooms. Add your fresh rosemary and big pinch of salt. Toss that around. Decrease heat to medium and add the wine. Let boil for a few seconds.  Put the lid on and turn the whole mess upside-down and shake. Distribute all that goodness.

 Serve with some cooked pasta, tomato sauce, some good bread and a fresh salad to keep up the fiber. Need a recipe for Tomato sauce? Check out the March 20th 2010 post, omit sausage.

 Cooking poor, eating rich. Get your grub on, Ciao.

The next generation
My Niece Brynn

Chef Nick with nephew Hayden

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