Pollo alla cacciatore, or Hunter’s Chicken, is a traditional hearty dish we all think we know well, made with tomatoes and heavily seasoned, cooked slowly in the oven for happy eating on a cold wet day.
Not so in Rome!
The tomato version is Tuscan in origin and Romans have their own style, cacciatore in bianco. The white sauce edition of this beloved chicken dish. No one teaches this aromatic, gorgeously rich and golden dish better than Chef Max.
“I never make the Tuscan cacciatore,” Chef Max tells us as he wipes down the marble counters and brings out rosemary, marjoram, olives and other ingredients in preparation for our lesson.
This should come as no surprise, since Max is Sicilian (a fact he repeats often, with huge pride). He explains that the white version is more delicate, easier to digest, lighter and more respectful of the ingredients that he uses.
Max produces a bright yellow, free range, grain fed chicken wrapped in paper, fresh from the morning farmers' market, which he teaches us to butcher with a giant shining cleaver, that he dramatically brandishes and sharpens “Sicilian style.”
Nothing goes to waste, with bones, feet and neck all heading for the stock pot. The lungs, heart, liver and kidneys are diced and used to season the oil before the chicken pieces are browned.
We discuss the pros and cons of adding carrot, celery and onion to the stock or to the oil before browning the chicken and we learn Chef Max’s secret - a few hundred millilitres of white wine vinegar poured into the pan as the chicken pieces brown, skin sides down.
Adding a crisp white grechetto wine, salt, pepper and debatable amounts of chilli flakes, Chef Max shakes the pan vigorously to stop the chicken from sticking and burning and making sure the ingredients are well blended and caramelizing beautifully.
The smell is intoxicating and we can see the flour we used to coat the chicken magically evolving into a creamy golden, olive oil rich sauce.
Chef Max brings an energy and a great southern sense of humor to the kitchen. He zips back and forth, bemoaning his lack of height, winkling his favorite ingredients from the beautiful cabinets lining the walls. He exhibits that innate Italian sense of style, presenting the simple herbs and spices in attractive dishes, all the time reassuring us in our efforts to follow his instructions.
We watch as Max expertly pours our newly homemade chicken stock into the pan, covering the chicken pieces in silky broth, and lets us throw in the fresh parsley, rosemary and marjoram. Wafts of perfumed steam drift around the kitchen before he declares the cacciatore ready to simmer slowly under a tight lid of aluminum foil.
As he prepares the plates and goes on a hunt for his special olives, Max tells us about the importance of the “scarpetta,” the slipper, which is the traditional Italian word for the pieces of thick chewy bread absolutely necessary for soaking up all the sauce and wiping the plates clean at the end of the meal.
We can’t wait to try it.
And finally the moment arrives, as Max grins warmly and fills our plates with the glistening golden chicken pieces, dotted with olives and herbs and drenched in beautifully pale yellow, chilli flecked sauce.
Everyone dives in, forks in one hand and scarpettas in the other, not a drop is left behind, all washed down with smiles and more grechetto.
Want to learn more about polla alla cacciatore and other similar Italian recipes? Check out our Italian Sunday Lunch class and try your hand at making these recipes yourself!