Don’t be chicken, show you’ve got game with this version of a favorite.
I’m not a hunter. I’m barely a fisherman. But I like game when it’s properly prepared. And I figure, if anyone has gone to the trouble of stalking and killing some wild bird or mammal, it should be eaten.
That said, I’ve always had this question about the dish “chicken cacciatore” (pollo alla cacciatora)…chicken hunter’s style.
Isn’t the term “chicken” used to refer to a domesticated fowl? I don’t know of any wild chickens running around in the hills of Tuscany, right? It just seems to me that chicken hunter’s style is sort of an oxymoron. Rabbit or a game bird hunter’s style I can understand. Chicken? Maybe not.
Now pheasant, that’s a game bird with an exotic heritage (in fact, I believe the ring-necked pheasant we have come to associate with American fields is actually a native of Asia). And there just seems something so much more appropriate, more fitting to the dish “fagiano alla cacciatora” or pheasant hunter’s style.
A longtime neighbor of my mother’s used to hunt a lot. For many years he didn’t eat pheasant (or venison if he had shot the deer) so we did. Mom just treated it as she would a chicken and that was that. No big deal. Symbolic of the sprawl that has taken over the former farms and fields of the Garden State, sightings of pheasant in the wild have diminished over the years. Sadly, so did the birds appearance on our table.
Honestly, I never rarely gave it much thought until the last decade or so. What brought the notion to mind, I am not sure.
Before Marsilio’s closed and Tattoni’s moved out of Trenton, I occasionally found myself enjoying their (white) cacciatora…versions that rely more on white wine and stock than tomato for the sauce. I started wondering what a white cacciatora would taste like with pheasant instead of chicken.
Since I’m not a hunter a trip out to the Griggstown Farm Market provided me with the primary ingredient for the dish. Conveniently cut up and partially de-boned I brought two of their pheasant home and stashed them in the freezer. Then I started looking around for “white” cacciatora recipes. They are not that common or easy to find, even on the web. Robbing a little from here and taking some tips from there, I cobbled together a process utilizing a slow cooker. It’s a great dish to put on early in the morning of a busy day so you can enjoy an elegantly rustic dinner later in the day.
Finally, I thought I had done enough research to try the dish. Ann was away on a business trip so I invited my mother to join me in tasting the results of the experiment. To say we enjoyed it would be an understatement of grand proportions.
- 1 pheasant boned/cut up (about 1.25 to 1.5 pounds)
- 4 oz. of pancetta, diced
- 8 oz. fresh mushrooms coarsely chopped
- 2 tbs. olive oil
- 2 – 3 tbs. Italian parsley, chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 4 -5 springs of fresh thyme
- 2 sprigs of rosemary
- bay leaf
- 1 cup dry white wine (pinot grigio or a Chardonnay that isn’t too oaky)
- 1 to 1 1/2 pts of chicken stock (depending upon how much broth you want)
Brown off pancetta in a large skillet and remove the pieces (reserve for another use). Add olive oil to fat rendered out of pancetta
Salt and pepper pheasant to taste and add pieces to skillet, skin side down. Cook over medium high heat until browned (3-5 minutes)
Turn pieces over and cook for another 3-5 minutes. When pheasant is done, remove from skillet and add to slow cooker
Replace skillet over medium high flame and add the cut up mushrooms and chopped garlic. Stir or shake to prevent from sticking and burning.
Add parsley and thyme to pan and mix.
Cook until mushrooms have given up all their moisture and caramelized slightly. Add to slow cooker.
Return skillet to flame and add wine. Cook, stirring well to de-glaze pan, until wine reduces by about half. Pour over pheasant and mushrooms in slow cooker. Turn slow cooker on low.
Add stock to slow cooker. Toss in the bay leaf. Cover and let cook for 6 – 8 hours. Stirring occasionally if you feel like it. Dish is done when meat all but falls off the bone.
The same preparation would work for rabbit or, if you must, chicken thighs or a cut up fryer. But splurge a little and try it with pheasant.
Serve over polenta, pasta, rice or alone in a bowl with some crusty bread to sop up the juices. Drink the wine you used in the dish or, if you are fond of reds as I am, I enjoyed a nice sangiovese with the dish. Add a salad and you have a simple and satisfying meal.