I also want to thank another friend, George Zering, for providing some venison and a chili recipe. I plan to give it a try over the weekend while temperatures have plunged to fortify me for the week ahead. Deer hunting is popular in Western Kentucky, but I have to admit that I have little experience preparing venison. Thankfully he provided detailed instructions for me to follow.
When I first moved to Trigg County last year, people asked me if I hunted. I haven’t really tried it much, but some of the recipes prepared by hunters remain in menus in restaurants everywhere.
Last week’s recipe featured a German “hunter’s sauce” on schnitzel. This week, we will take a ride down the Autobahn to Italy for another hunters’ recipe, chicken cacciatore.
I never really considered chicken to be a game bird, though I guess there are wild chickens here and there. I bought mine in a local grocery store rather than using shotgun or snare. To make this recipe, I used a pound-and-a-half of well-trimmed boneless chicken. Cook it in a skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil. Season the meat with a teaspoon each of basil, rosemary, thyme and oregano. Add salt and pepper to taste. Many chefs do not use boneless chicken for this recipe, though I really do not like bony chicken. I’ll leave that choice to the readers about chicken choices, boneless or not, skinless or not, etc.
Once the chicken is browned on the outside, set it aside. I have made this recipe twice now and found that the secret is to make a good vegetable stock before adding the tomatoes. Dice one onion well, and add it to a stockpot with a tablespoon of olive oil and four crushed cloves of garlic. Add one chopped carrot, an equal amount of celery and one green bell pepper to the mix. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper. Sautee until the onions begin to soften and add a half-pound of clean thinly sliced white mushrooms. Continue to sauté the vegetables, and add a pinch of salt over the mushrooms. Like the jagerschnitzel, we want to sweat the liquid from the mushrooms for a flavorful stock. Cover the pot after stirring well and wait a few minutes as it cooks on medium-low heat.
Once the mushrooms and onions create a nice stock in the bottom of the pot, I added a half-cup of beef broth. The beef broth infuses the mushrooms with extra flavor. Simmer on low heat for 15 minutes to soften the vegetables a bit more.
Once the carrots and celery appear tender, add tomatoes. To keep things simple, I used two 16-ounce cans of diced tomatoes. Stir the pot well. To season the sauce, I added a half-tablespoon of oregano and basil, a teaspoon of rosemary, a tablespoon of parsley, two bay leaves, at least a teaspoon of freshly cracked black pepper and some sea salt to taste. For a little extra warmth, I decided to add a half-teaspoon of crushed red pepper. The black and red pepper are essential to the sauce. Freshly ground black pepper showcases the meat in this dish perfectly.
At this point, cut the reserved chicken into large chunks and add back to the sauce. To infuse extra flavor, I added a quarter cup of dry red wine, always a friend of any tomato-sauce dish.
Simmer the sauce for 45 minutes until the chicken is very tender, but not quite falling apart. I served my cacciatore sauce over pasta. There are many different types of pasta, so experiment a little. I usually prefer a thick marinara sauce over a thinner, spaghetti-style pasta. The cacciatore sauce is not so much a “gravy” sauce that pours, but a thin broth sauce with pieces of vegetables. To catch as much sauce as possible on one bite, I used a thicker paste, such as penne to capture it. Thicker pastas work well for thinner sauces like Alfredo or pesto as well.
A little bread on the side, and freshly grated Parmesan cheese finished our bowls filled to the top with pasta and sauce. Hawkins and I finished the final season of the television show “Six Feet Under” on DVD. After beginning in January, we finished in early April. Now our sights are set on another HBO program, “The Sopranos,” so expect a few more Italian treats like this in the weeks to come. I am offering a dinner for two, -with groceries and cooking provided to this week’s Rotary Auction. Come to the Jamboree and bid on a meal of chicken Marsala, pasta and vegetable to be prepared in your own kitchen. Yes, I even clean up my own mess. Some lucky winner will have a prize that guarantees a good time to be had by all in his or her home. Good eating.