A Chicken Cacciatore Upgrade!
By Dennis Linden
This month’s featured dish is a deliciously hearty cacciatore recipe from the cutting board of Chef Miki Hackney, a member of Melissa’s Corporate Chefs team. Chef Miki combines some of the company’s most popular fresh and processed-from-fresh products to create her own tasty version of this centuries-old Italian favorite. While that long ingredient list may look a bit challenging to novice cooks, Chef Miki’s easy to follow recipe organizes the process into a few simple steps for any level of culinary expertise. This tasty dish definitely has a warming, comfort food goodness to every bite; the perfect dinnertime remedy to the blustery early-spring weather of March, Italian style!
The word “cacciatore” is Italian for “hunter” so the origins of this dish no doubt started in a single pot on an open flame with a few basic ingredients, traditionally onions, peppers and herbs, plus whatever the aforementioned hunter could add to the pot, probably rabbit. Chicken Cacciatore is the modern day domesticated version of this ancient dish, smothered in a rich tomato sauce and served over pasta. Interestingly, in doing a little research on the ‘net for this feature, I found that culinary historians have traced this dish back to the centuries BT (Before Tomatoes). That is, tomatoes were introduced to Italy from the New World sometime in the 16th Century; by that time cacciatore [aka hunter’s stew] was already an established dish in the region. Hard to believe that there was once an Italy without tomatoes!
The most traditional ingredient missing from Chef Miki’s cacciatore is pasta, which is replaced by quinoa. Personally, this carb-counting writer appreciates the substitution, however it was done by the chef for strictly nutritional reasons. In fact, in her own kitchen Miki’s ingredient list for this dish sometimes varies based on what she has in her refrigerator.
“I wanted to submit a dish that was relatively easy to prepare to encourage others to cook without fear of failure,” explained Chef Miki, then continued. “This dish has a lot of flexibility to it as I sometimes raid my vegetable crisper for leftovers -- adding in maybe a handful of broccoli, green beans, carrots, celery, asparagus, fresh peas or squash -- just to change it up a bit. Serving the cacciatore mixture over quinoa in place of traditional pasta makes for a more complete protein meal; I have also used Fioretto cauliflower and Spaghetti squash for the pasta with great success.”
While the recipe itself is very straightforward and easy to prepare, the aforementioned tomato component in this dish does call for a bit more edification. Considering that Melissa’s is a fresh produce company and that I have been a part of that industry for many years, my knee-jerk reaction to Miki’s cans of crushed tomatoes and tomato paste was to swap in fresh tomatoes without even checking with the chef. However, those same “many years” have taught me to NEVER alter a chef’s recipe without permission and/or, in this case, question a woman’s logic. (Culinary or otherwise!)
“Rarely do I incorporate commercially processed fruits or vegetables into my cooking. However, because of the short braising time in this recipe, the texture and flavor of the entire dish would be greatly affected by using fresh tomatoes,” was Miki’s explanation to my query. “Still, I guess the canned tomatoes could be replaced with about 1½ pounds of fresh Romas that have been seeded and chopped. The liquid (wine, stock or water) would also have to be increased by about ¼ cup as well as adding another 15 minutes to the final simmering time.”
Chef Miki Hackney has been a member of our Corporate Chefs team for some fifteen years, starting as an intern while in cooking school and then becoming a full-time staff member once graduated. A more complete culinary profile and the day-to-day role she has in the company’s marketing efforts can be accessed by following the link Meet our Corporate Chefs on this site’s Home Page.
Outside of the office [test kitchen] Miki has many interests that provide a good balance between work and play. She is very involved in famed Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s national non-profit organization Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), which helps underserved high school students develop life skills through cooking and a possible future in the culinary trade. She volunteers as a mentor and to help organize events for the students. This work is actually a continuation of her own experiences in raising her two adult sons.
“Our sons were taught many life skills by learning to cook from an early age. It was a great way to help teach key educational skills and concepts like math, including fractions and decimals, reading comprehension, critical thinking, creativity, socialization, as well as learning about other cultures through food. Most importantly, as a parent it was also a wonderful opportunity to spend some quality time with them cooking together. So both the boys are good cooks in their own homes.”
Being gluten intolerant has actually been a major incentive for Chef Miki to continue her own culinary education. She enjoys reading about ingredients and studying how they are used to simulate the characteristics of gluten and how other countries’ non-gluten ingredients are used in traditionally gluten dishes. Currently, she is educating herself about Middle Eastern ingredients, which she says pack a load of flavor and function without a lot of added sodium or fat.
“I recently renewed my passport with the idea of doing more travel after a recent trip to Oregon my husband Tom and I planned around the solar eclipse as well as a cruise up the Columbia River following the route of Lewis & Clark (in reverse). We do not have anywhere specific in mind yet, but historic trade routes and their influences on cooking ingredients are fascinating to me. Spices used to be a form of money and measure of wealth, you know. So I now have the travel bug and am eager to explore!”
Hopefully Chef Miki will share some of her own “wealth” with the rest us in the form of another recipe submission in the not too distant future. Meanwhile, enjoy preparing and feasting in comfort food delight with her delicious Chicken Cacciatore!
4-6 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on (Chef’s note: eliminate for a vegetarian regimen)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 TBS Olive Oil
2 pkgs. Melissa’s Exotic Mushroom Medley, reconstituted, pat dry and rough chopped
8 oz. Melissa’s Veggie Sweet Peppers, seeded and cut into ¼-inch rounds
1 Melissa’s Perfect Sweet Onion, thinly sliced
1 TBS Melissa’s Minced Garlic
½ cup dry white wine (option: chicken or vegetable broth)
½ tsp Melissa’s Hatch Green chile powder
28 oz. can chopped tomatoes
2 TBS tomato paste (1oz)
1½ TBS Melissa’s Italian Spice
2 tsp dried Basil, crushed
1 tsp Melissa’s Organic Blue Agave Syrup
2 TBS Lemon juice
1 pkg Melissa’s Quinoa with Seasoning Packet, cooked
1 zucchini, small chopped
Fresh chopped Italian parsley and grated Parmesan cheese
For efficiency, it is best to have prepared and organized all ingredients before starting the cooking process. In French cooking this technique is called mise en place.
Season thighs with salt and pepper to taste. Place a heavy oven proof skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Heat oil and add chicken, browning on all sides; about 7-8 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate and cover to keep warm. Carefully drain all but about 1 tablespoon fat from pan. Add sweet pepper rounds, onions and garlic to pan. Cook until veggies are tender but not limp. Carefully add wine to veggies and deglaze pan, loosening up any bits of veggie or meat stuck to pan.
Add the Hatch powder, mushrooms, crushed tomatoes including juice, tomato paste, Italian spice, basil and agave. Combine well, then return chicken to the pot, cover, and reduce heat to simmer. Simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Chef’s note: Careful not to boil as this will toughen the chicken.
Meanwhile, cook the quinoa according to the cooking instructions on the seasoning packet, but reduce water to 2 cups. With five minutes of cooking left add in the chopped zucchini.
Plating: Blend in the lemon juice to the cacciatore just prior to plating. Serve individually or family style, spooning the cacciatore mixture over the quinoa, then garnish with a sprinkle of fresh parsley and Parmesan cheese.